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Bringing about a sweet revolution

Bringing about a sweet revolution

Always on the lookout for innovative ideas to change the face of the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said along with 'Shwet Kranti' there is also a need to launch 'Sweet Kranti'. The PM's vision is to make India a world leader in the production of honey and beeswax and convince the farmers to increase crop production through cross pollination.

Flowering plants first appeared on earth about 5 to 8 crore years ago. Honeybees are presumed to have evolved from their wasp-like ancestors simultaneously or immediately after the appearance of flowering plants on the earth. This is so, because both flowering plants and honeybees are interdependent. Honeybees use nectar and pollen collected from flowering plants as food and also transfer pollen, the male sperm of the flowers, from one flower to the female part of another flower of the same species. This brings fertilisation in flowers. This cross-pollination results into formation of large quantity of quality seeds and fruits.
HONEYBEES AND ENVIRONMENT
In forests, trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers, weeds etc., flowers provide food to honeybees for a major part of the year. The forests also provide shelter to honeybees. They reciprocate their obligations by offering pollination service, assuring formation of large quantity of seeds, and maintaining genetic diversity in plants. Honeybees are therefore an integral part of forests and their ecology. A healthy forest is an indication of healthy bee fauna in the forests. Thus, honeybees and forests have co-evolved as one biological unit over past millions of years. Hills and mountains are distributed all over the country. Hills and adjacent agricultural belts dotted with a mixture of forests and agricultural land are unique biological wealth that could be converted into economic wealth and a source of livelihood on a substantial basis. These are the best areas for promotion of beekeeping industry for honey production, colony multiplication, and providing bee colonies for pollination of various agricultural crops.
HONEYBEES AND AGRICULTURE
Honeybees are of great importance to farmers for pollination and increasing crop yields, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Agricultural scientists in America have estimated that value of the increased crop yields due to bee pollination is 15 to 20 times more than the value of honey and wax the bees produce.
The ongoing Central projects for increasing crop yields have not been very effective. Vegetable yields per acres are declining; out-put increase is linked to area expansion.
During 2016-17 India imported edible oil equal to 70 per cent of the home production. A majority of the oil producing crops depend on insect's pollination. A large number of plants are fruitful only when pollen from the flowers from one plant is transferred to the flowers of another plant of the same species to ensure fertilisation. Under present day conditions, honeybees are, by far, the most efficient, reliable, and leading agent in this pollen distribution, most commonly known as pollination.
In the case of highly self-sterile crops, presence of honeybees during the flowering of such crops certainly increases their yields significantly. Some of the crops, benefited by honeybee pollination are: Oil seeds: Mustard, rapeseed, toria, safflower, sunflowers, etc; Pulses: Tur (Arhar), Mung, Urad. Etc; Orchard crops: Apples, Pears, plum, peach, cherry, litchi, citrus, almond, pomegranate, guava etc; Legumes and fodder crops: soybean, broad bean, dwarf bean, alfalfa, berseem, clovers etc; Vegetable seeds: Radish, cabbage, turnip, carrot, onion, cauliflower, gourds etc; Condiment crops: Cardmom, nutmeg, pepper, coriander, etc; Misc: Cotton, coffee.
According to the report of FAO, honeybees play a role in nearly 74 per cent of the world's edible oil production. The value of the increased crop production due to insect pollinators is worth $ 203 billion. In America, farmers and orchardists pay $ 100 to 150 per bee colony per month to the beekeepers for bee pollination service. In California, Almond orchardists pay about $ 15 crore to beekeepers for bee-pollination service rendered during two months of flowering season. In India, crop yields per hectare of all crops are just 40-50 per cent of the world productivity per acre. Honeybee pollination can play a major role in bridging the gap.
CONSERVATION OF HONEYBEE COLONIES
Over 70 per cent of the several hundred major cultivated crops of the world are dependent on insects for pollination. Physical and chemical changes in the environment have accelerated a crisis of decline in the richness of the species of honeybees and other pollinators. Environmentalists and scientists have been warning that excessive use of insecticides, pollution, resulting into depletion of the population of insect pollinators, is threatening to reduce our total supply of food by 1/3. As a result, 50 per cent of the population of the developing countries could suffer from malnutrition. As honeybees are the most efficient, leading and reliable pollinators to boost up crop productivity, apiculture must be integrated with forestry.
WORLD AND ASIAN SCENARIO
About 5 crore honeybee colonies, mostly European honeybees, are maintained all over the world. They produce nearly 10 lakh Millions Tons honey and 1 lakh MT beeswax. Fifteen countries in the world account for 90 per cent of the world honey production. China leads with one crore bee colonies producing about 1.6 lakh millions tons honey, and 12,800 million tons beeswax. Beijing is the biggest exporter of honey, beeswax, and other honeybee products. America has 50 Lakhs bee colonies and Russia 50 Lakhs., Canada, Latin America, European countries, Australia, New Zealand are other important countries each maintaining 5 to 10 lakh bee colonies. Israel, a small arid country with geographic area equal to one or two Districts of India and with an average rainfall of only 7 to 8 inches, maintains 84,000 honeybee colonies, produces nearly 30 lakh Kg. of honey. Israel also uses these colonies for planned pollination of crops, making it 97 per cent self-reliant in crop production. While number of bee colonies in developed countries is decreasing due to insecticides and general pollution, China has increased the bee colony number from 60 lakhs to 1 crore during past five decades. India has about 10 lakhs indigenous bee colonies and 2 lakh imported European bee colonies. India is fortunate to have four species of honeybees and endowed with different types of forests and variety of agricultural and horticultural crops. By adopting a strategy to increase the number of honeybee colonies, India can also become a major producer and exporter of honey and beeswax.
Considering the area under forests and crops useful to honeybees, National Commission on Agriculture has estimated the potential of India at 5 crore Honeybee colonies. The Scientists at the Indian council of Agriculture have estimated that the country requires minimum 70 lakh honeybee colonies just to pollinate 12 important crops that depend on insects like honeybees for pollination. As against this minimum need, only 10 to 12 lakh bee colonies are available at present.
Beekeeping industry has quadruple benefits: 1) Producing lakhs of Kg. of honey and beeswax from the nectar of flowers which otherwise dries up and goes waste, 2) Providing employment to forest population, marginal farmers, and landless laborers, 3) Providing employment to rural educated youths in collection, processing and marketing bee-products and finally the most important, 4) Increasing productivity of various crops through bee-pollination.
According to the report of the National Family Health Services (2017), 50 per cent of the children under 5 years of age are under-nourished. 50 per of the school going girls are anemic. The population of India is expected to reach at 150 crore by 2030.
Providing sufficient and nutritious food to all is the challenge before planners and agriculturists. Beekeeping Industry in its humble way can play an important role in increasing crop productivity and doubling the income of farmers. Making the farmers "Farmer-Beekeepers" and doubling the crop productivity is the need of the hour.
Keeping in mind the importance of honeybees, the KVIC has launched "Honey Mission" under which it will distribute 1 Lakh Bee boxes with bee colonies across the country to the farmers and prospective beekeepers. To celebrate the World Honey Bee Day on August 19, the KVIC set up an apiary of 200 bee boxes in Rashtrapati Bhawan. This will not only produce high quality honey and beeswax, but it will show that large government properties with lots of flora- fauna can be utilised for such novel purpose.
(The author is Chairman, Khadi & Village Industries Commission. Views are personal.)

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