It’s not just about the money, honey


By H H Mohrmen

Bees are probably the only insects that can be found in almost every part of the world. There is perhaps no place in the world where honey or bees are not known. Clare Gately in the November 22, 2014 issue of the Inquirer (a fortnightly magazine of the British Unitarians) said that there is evidence that bees have been around in the planet for about 80 million years now, while humans have inhabited the planet only between 1.5 and 2 million years. And bees and human beings are interconnected in so many ways that Einstein is believed to have said once that if bees go then human beings have just three more years left to live in this planet before they also follow the path to extinction. Humans have been so selfish that they see bees only from the immediate benefit that they could derive from the insect. They fail to recognize that bees are not just our benefactor and symbol of hard work but they are in a way also our co-partners in this planet earth.

My childhood relationship with this tiny black and yellow striped creature was a short one. A curious five year old child that I was, I played with the fellow not knowing what it was capable of doing. I was stung till my left hand was swollen. That was my last encounter with this tiny creature until recently when in the course of my work in the village I chanced to visit one beautiful hamlet just about 14 kilometers from Jowai. In Moosakhia village like any other village there are few enterprising villagers who apart from their agriculture and farming activities also keep few bee hives because bee keeping is another tradition of the Khasi Pnar. But among the many bee keepers in Moosakhia there is ma Shahjop Khongiong a villager who has taken bee- keeping to a different height in the village. The name Shahjop may mean something else (and maybe there will be an opportunity to tell this story some other time) but in the village he is considered to be master bee keeper. While his fellow villagers keep few boxes of bee hives just for their own use, ma Shahjop has more than 50 beehives and they are kept inside a hollowed tree trunk where the bees are kept. This is the traditional method of bee-keeping of the Khasi Pnar.

Although I later learnt that beekeeping is quite a profitable venture, yet farmers in the area have been doing this business in a traditional way which yielded very less profit for the keepers. Till then there was no intervention from the government to improve bee-keeping and enhance production of honeybees in the village. Few months ago with the help of T. Thangkhiew District Development Manager of National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development, Jowai, some of the farmers were able to undergo training at RRTC, Umran and it was amply clear that the training has been able to transform the simple beekeepers to entrepreneurs. This was evident from the experience of one Sanki Shylla of Iongnoh village who only started keeping bees after the training. Once he reached home he immediately went on a buying spree and acquired every available beehive in the village to increase his stock. Sanki even went to villages nearby to enquire from non-serious beekeepers if they are willing to part with their bees to add to his accumulated stock.

This is because the trainer has not only imparted new method of beekeeping which can enhance production, but it has more importantly been able to inspire the farmers to take up beekeeping seriously because it is a profitable venture too. Using the traditional method of beekeeping, he could only produce three liters of honey a year, but now Ma Shahjop believes with the new knowledge that he gained, he can produce three times more honey from a single beehive. ‘And the added advantage is that unlike piggery or poultry farming, beekeeping does not take much of the farmers’ time, in fact it does not even need to be fed’ remarked Shahjop. In the traditional method of beekeeping each beehive produces three or three and half liters a year and the same is sold in a raw form along with the wax for rupees three hundred per liter, so a farmer earns rupees one thousand per beehive. But now if they use the new method and the new boxes to keep the bees they will be able to harvest three times a year which means three thousand per beehive per year said Ma Lobren Paksang. Using this statistics if a farmer has only ten beehives he will be able to earn thirty thousand rupees per annum with very less labour! This is a lot of money for the farmers he added.

Clare Gately also said that the Spanish called honey liquid gold because of the many benefits that human beings get from the insect. Over 60 percent of our crops in the world are pollinated by bees and it is also being use as preservatives. The Egyptians used honey to even preserve the human body. In the traditional knowledge of the Khasi Pnar, honey sprinkled with black pepper is grandma’s substitute for the Allopathic cough syrup. Some herbal practitioners even use honey to treat wounds and burn injuries. I have also seen a practitioner of traditional medicine who used honey to treat bone fractures and uses the same to massage the fractured part of the body. But the wax from honey comb can also be used for making candles which produces very little smoke.

Last winter the beekeepers of Moosakhia also noticed the fall in production of honey when compared to previous years. I encouraged them to look for the reason which could possible cause the decreases of honey production in the area. The villagers are no fools. Given the opportunity they came up with the answer that the fall in honey production in the area is because the forest cover in and around the village has dwindled. In major parts of the surrounding areas of Moosakhia village, forests are being replaced by broomstick cultivation. I also learnt that simple farmers know very well that broomstick is not good for the environment because it makes the soil dry, but currently there is no alternative. Broomstick is the major cash crop for the people in the area.

Of course insecticides and pesticides used could also have an impact on the bees in the long run but deforestation and in particular broomstick cultivation is a major and immediate threat to honey bees. We all know that bees not only help pollinates flower but are close friends of human beings too. Humans and bees have been living in close partnership since a long time and this partnership will have to continue because the fate of human beings and bees are intertwined. We now know that if the bees are extinct humans too have only a few more years left before we they follow the same path of extinction.

Therefore the state government’s apiculture mission will not only improve the livelihood of the farmers, but it will also help increase the forest cover in the villages and its surrounding areas. The apiculture mission and the clean green Meghalaya mission are like two sides of the same coin, the two have to go hand in hand. One hopes that government will take this mission seriously because it will not only help improve livelihoods of the farmers and increases forest cover in the state, but because the fate of the entire humans depend on how we are able to protect the simple insect. So keeping honey is not just about honey and money, there is a larger cause in the effort.

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