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On visits to hill stations like Ooty in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, it isn’t uncommon to see bicycles plying the serpentine roads, their carriers laden with jars of honey. The sight of the jars, mounted precariously and sticky with the viscous liquid, draws tourists in droves, all sold on the idea of pristine, unprocessed honey. The sellers, whether they know it or not, are the lowest rung in a revolution quietly playing out across the country.

The honey and beekeeping industry in India has reportedly seen a 200% growth in the production of honey in 12 years—from 35,000 metric tonnes of honey to 105,000 metric tonnes today. Compared to horticulture production, which grew at 69%, and fisheries, which clocked 50% growth, the honey production business clearly has some untapped potential.

India’s honey market was worth Rs 1,550 crore ($216 million) in 2018, and it is estimated to double in size in the next five years, according to the market research company IMARC. And the Indian government is trying to supercharge the space.

Over the last two years, the agricultural ministry has been setting up Integrated Bee Development Centres (IBDCs) across 20 potential states in two phases offering a range of services from stock production, to infrastructural facilities, handling, storage, marketing, and the export of honey. 

The bee potential

According to the BDC report, an estimated 400,000 people in India are involved in beekeeping who keep about 3.4 million bee colonies and produce about 90,000-95,000 tonnes of honey. But, less than 10% of the existing potential has been utilised so far

And there have been a few changes since.

The number of bee colonies maintained by beekeepers have risen from 2.2 million in 2015 to 3.4 million in 2018. Correspondingly, honey production has jumped from 80,000 to 100 thousand tonnes, with more than half of it coming from the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar.

Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC)—an apex body under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises—has been the focal point for the government’s beekeeping efforts. These range from conducting training programmes to distributing beehives and other equipment at subsidised prices, and offering loans. As of 2017, KVIC christened its efforts as ‘Honey Mission’, allowing the government to marshall its funds and resources under a single banner. 

On paper, the ‘Mission’ is clear, even if ambitious.

India aims to grow to 200 million bee colonies from the existing 3.4 million colonies, according to a report submitted to the Prime Minister in July by the government-nominated Beekeeping Development Committee (BDC).

Not only is there no clear time-frame for this grand ambition, but growing India’s bee colonies is no easy task.

AUTHOR

Vasudevan Sridharan

Vasudevan Sridharan is an experienced journalist based in Bengaluru. His work has appeared in publications like South China Morning Post, Deutsche Welle, Haaretz and Mongabay.

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