PM’s push for a “Sweet Revolution”

Context:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently urged cooperatives to venture into areas like beekeeping and seaweed farming to help farmers double their income by 2022 and boost the rural economy. He noted that cooperatives were mainly present in the sugar and dairy sectors, and there was a need now to explore new avenues like beekeeping through which farmers could bring a “Sweet Revolution” to the cooperative movement.

Numbers, organisation

The web site of the Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC), which according to experts keeps official data on beekeeping in India, says: “Presently there are 25 lakh bee colonies, 2.5 lakh beekeepers and wild honey collectors who harvest around 56,579 MT of honey, valued atRs 476.04 crore”.

The sector was organised in 1953, and KVIC subsequently established a Directorate of Beekeeping in Mumbai and the Central Bee Research and Training Institute in Pune, which started “beekeeping in [a] modern and scientific way throughout the country”. Field observation stations and zonal beekeeping extension centres (now state beekeeping extension centres) were established in states with beekeeping potential.

Honeybees in India:

* The government recognises four species of honeybees that are available and/or cultivated in India: Apis dorsata, Apis cerana, Apis florea and Apis mellifera. The first three are indigenous species, the last was introduced in 1987.

* Bees are essentially pollinators who play the crucial role of transferring pollen from male to female parts of plants to help in fertilisation.

* But a bigger problem apiarists are facing is the use of pesticides.

* A decline in bee population has led to a “pollination deficit”.

Production problems

Only 30%-40% of the honey is harvested, while the rest simply dries up. There is huge variation at the national level. 70% honey is not harvested mostly because of a lack of awareness. Beekeepers say they are harassed by farmers who believe that bees sucking out nectar cause plants to fade.

Way forward:

The Prime Minister has indicated a stronger government push towards helping the industry. If the government is concerned about honeybees and committed to improving the economic health of farmers, the entire farming system will have to be overhauled, including reducing or stopping pesticide use in crop fields. It cannot be a piecemeal offering.

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