Bees in India play a vital role in agriculture. A study facilitiated by the Non Governmental Organization Under the Mango Tree working with subsistence farmers, has shown that pollination can increase productivity by 4x (in chillies).
Bees can dramatically improve lives. Small farmers can grow one and occasionally two additional crop as a result of the pollination, for example, sesame and mustard, these tree (cash) crops have higher yields. In particular mangos and cashews, can yield around 50% more if a bee box is stationed nearby, and the regular vegetables grown yield more too. This means that some of these small farmers no longer are forced to migrate to towns and cities during the dry season, when nothing grows, in order to earn some money on constructions sites and as day labourers. With the increase in yield and an additional income from honey, they can stay with their families all year round.
It does not cost much to introduce beekeeping. A wooden hive, made by a local carpenters, costs around £10, but for aspiring beekeepers that may still be too much; they prefer mud hives that which cost around £4 to build. Under the Mango Tree is working to come up with a design combining a bamboo frame with mud (half timbered?), so that these bee-homes can be moved. The bees prefer mud to wood because it keeps it cooler in the in the heat.
There are four types of honey bees in India: Apis Cerana, also known as the Asian or Indian honey bee – slightly smaller than apis Mellifera. Apis Florea, the ‘dwarf’ bee, which nests in the open on single combs about the size of a badminton racket and apis Dorsata, or ‘rock bee’, roughly twice the size of the European cousin, also nesting in the open and described as one of the most dangerous animals of the jungle …
Apis Mellifera has been introduced to India too because it provides more honey, and theoretically is a more hard working pollinator. However, it brought with it disease and competition, leading to the collapse of a thriving apiculture e.g. in Coorg, the coffee growing region in the Western Ghats.
The farmers with whom Under the Mango Tree work keep apis Cerana, or they harvest honey from apis Florea or apis Dorsata.
In India we have knowledgeable beekeepers so there is less of a requirement for training. However, the existing projects need to expand to include more women. Our aim is to work with Under the Mango Tree to promote healthy bees for healthy growth. By working together, we can share best practise and use our skills to help communities build a sustainable livelihood.