Environmental and Economic Prospects of Beekeeping in South and Southeast Asia: Challenges and Ground Realities

Unorganized and unskilled cheap labor is the cornerstone of agribusiness worldwide, with particular emphasis on developing and emerging countries. Hunter-gatherer operations, both commercial and non-commercial, legal and illegal, as seen in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans in India (West Bengal) and Bangladesh, are a perfect example of this ecological and especially economic erosion.

Mangrove wild honeybees are Apies dorsata Hill. They collect nectar and pollen from the flowers of various mangrove species, and their comb sizes are very large. Although some of the commercial beekeepers keep bee boxes near the mangrove forest to facilitate the collection of nectar by commercial honey bees from the local mangrove plants. However, this effort has not been very commercially viable or successful compared to placing beehives in conventional crop fields with a permanent crop in full bloom.

However, harvesting honey directly from the mangrove forest is still the preferred option for many in the suburbs. As mangrove honey has high market value and demand in local, regional and international markets, most of this hill type variety is used by extremely poor and marginalized communities for their main livelihood. But damage to bee populations is a double-edged sword due to the crude unscientific method of honey collection, as well as the vulnerability and high risk to human life deep in the mangrove forest. The collected honey is also contaminated with various impurities, dead insects, excreta, eggs, larvae due to raw collection process and lack of proper honey processing facilities for such marginal communities.

Overall, both the environmental costs and the human cost outweigh the small economic benefits achieved. Proper commercial beekeeping practices are not yet common to people living in this region. Their relationship is still akin to hunting abs for short periods of time, both legally and illegally. Here, accidents caused by tiger and crocodile attacks, snakebites, piracy, harassment by forest guards, moneylenders and village politicians negatively affect their lives and livelihoods, rapidly destroying local ecosystems. There is little or no support from local government and related agencies.

Commercial beekeeping is practiced successfully in mainland China and many parts of South and Southeast Asia. Cultivation of honey bees in beehives, collection without harming the honey grains by a simple hand operated machine with centrifugal force, filtering with muslin cloth is known to many farmers and can be found in many villages. It has been an important means of livelihood for many marginal rural and aboriginal communities, living on the forest edge. India’s Khadi Gramodyog trained and sold bee boxes to interested farmers. But the challenge of the Sunderban region is a well-established fact, especially due to various natural and anthropogenic factors. This is a very sensitive topic that needs immediate attention for scientific culture by creating awareness, providing necessary training and support.

But the ground realities are extremely grim. State banks do not lend to these poorest because they are unable to repay their loans due to a number of factors. Unfortunately, they depend only on local moneylenders for investment. The same banks have no qualms in giving a few million rupees in cash to our respected industrialists who are very good at stealing money and making the banking industry sick. Then there is no problem for the government, the administration, as well as the court; problems marginal farmers deny the failure of payments of several thousand rupees.

Honey producers live at the mercy of these eminent socialists, abs are exploited at every stage. The points collected, both legally and illegally, are sold at a fixed price set by influential middlemen, supported by both government and bureaucrats with close ties to corrupt businessmen, who keep their profits high and reduce farmers’/producers’ profit margins to a minimum. they may just survive to continue the vicious cycle next year. The honey is then sold to big brand companies who professionally adulterate it with cheap sugar, synthetic colors and flavors and dump it on your breakfast table at a reasonable premium. The best quality honey is brought to international markets to bring huge profits and tax benefits to our beneficiaries. Often pesticides contain Ami step or other imported low grade honey is rejected from abroad and dumped into our local market to sell to local consumers at a cheaper price. The poorest of the poor farmers continue to suffer and be affected by poverty. The beekeeping industry is a migratory one, and beekeepers have to move beehives in trucks to different agro-climates depending on the flowering season and the plants available in the field.

Such nomadic beekeepers are subjected to physical, moral and economic violence by farmers, police and civic volunteers, panchayat members and local thugs who put boxes. They have to pay bribes at every stage just to get their work done. Due to internal political and business understanding as well as under the table covert operations, there is no support from both the state and central governments to these helpless communities. This is due to the influx of cash from both local and foreign economies, while the poor beekeepers continue to suffer while those around them are floundering. A small number of beekeepers’ cooperatives and other related sham organizations operate, but on a very limited scale. Ignorance and negligence towards the development and establishment of a modern beekeeping industry both in India and in West Bengal have resulted in failure. But despite all the difficulties, beekeepers and producers are struggling to survive. Unfortunately, our ecology and economy do not go hand in hand.

There is little awareness among farmers about the benefits of pollinators. Because of this, beekeepers are subjected to physical violence by product producers in many places. Private companies are now the main producers of commercial honey, Khadi is an institution of a bygone era. If any pure quality honey is still sold, it comes from organizations such as Khadi and local forest departments. Beekeeping is the worst neglected agricultural sector in India. India and China are two huge producers, consumers and distributors of fake honey.

Recently, the New Delhi Science Center demonstrated that all major honey samples in sealed bottles from well-known commercial producers in India were openly selling adulterated honey using cheap sugar syrup indiscriminately. There is little or no monitoring by our regulatory agencies, knowingly or unknowingly. China has brought honey counterfeiting to an artistic level of almost international excellence and prestige.

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