Beekeeping has come to mean more than producing honey in Punjab, the country’s largest producer in any case. Some 33,000 beekeepers have diversified into allied products such as royal jelly, bee venom and beeswax, besides breeding queen bees and renting bee colonies for pollination of crops. And these have been fetching them returns several times what honey does, they say.
The average honey yield in Punjab is 35 kg per bee colony per year, with a maximum 80,000 bees. The average national yield is 15.32 kg per colony per year and the average international yield 28.
It is in producing other high-value products that Punjab has ground to cover. Apart from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), the agriculture department and Krishi Vigyan Kendras disseminate beekeeping techniques. The government formed in August 2013 the Punjab Beekeeping Development and Promotion Board, chaired by CM Parkash Singh Badal, and which has trained around 2,200 beekeepers.
Sarwan Singh Chandhi, winner of a state award for honey production, has been breeding and supplying queen bees to many states. “I imported a queen bee producing kit from UK and started producing queen bees. There is only one queen bee in a colony, which can have a maximum 80,000 bees,” says Chandhi, also president of Progressive Beekeepers Association.
A colony comprises the queen, worker bees and some drones, which mate with the queen and die. The queen has a lifespan of two to five years, a worker bee of 45 days and a drone of two to three months.
A “queen kit” can produce 200 to 300 queen bees in 20 days and each can fetch Rs 200 to Rs 500 depending on the season, spring being the best. This means the farmer can earn Rs 40,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh from the queen bees bred.
“If we can earn Rs 2,000 per year per box from honey, we can earn lakhs per box per year from queen bees and royal jelly,” says Chandhi. For honey producers, the government has asked its horticulture department to add a 25 per cent subsidy to the 50 per cent given under the National Horticulture Mission. But Chandhi says, “We need imported equipment which is costly. The government should subsidise imports too.”
“The Beekeeping Board estimates that the present four lakh bee colonies can be increased to 10 lakh. Punjab has a potential for other valuable hive products including 780 tonnes beeswax, 270 tonnes propolis, 40 tonnes royal jelly and 45 kg bee venom,” says horticulture director Dr Lajwinder Singh.
“Except a few, beekeepers produce only honey in Punjab but now we are training them on high-value products,” says Dr Chaman Lal Vashisht, beekeeping expert and coordinator of the board.
Royal jelly is used in medicine, cosmetics and as a dietary supplement. Its price from country to country varies from Rs 4,000 to 5,000 a kg, and Rs 1.5 lakh to 1.8 lakh if processed or frozen. Half a kilo royal jelly can be extracted from a box per year. China and Taiwan are major exporters.
Madan Sharma, general secretary of Progressive Beekeepers Association, who started producing bee venom for the first time in the state, says he bought the equipment for Rs 40,000 and can produce half to one gram venom a day but would need more equipment and government support to improve. Bee venom’s price varies from Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 a gm and it is used to treat 64 ailments, says Dr Vashisht.
Sharma says everyday around 25 gm pollen can be collected from one colony and they sell at $ 900/kg, said experts. Propolis is used in human and veterinary medicine and its price varies from Rs 500 to Rs Rs 2,000 a kg.
Pawan Kumar of Hajipur village in Hoshiarpur district, who produces beeswax along with honey, says the former is used in making candles, shoe polish, cosmetics, crayons, metal casting, vehicle and floor polish, varnish, gum, carbon paper, electrical appliances, fabric industry, and food processing and packaging. It sells at Rs 300 to 350 per kg. It can be eaten too, he says.
He also provides 175 boxes of bees to farmers in Rajasthan for pollination. Honey bees are good pollinating agents. In India, there is a great demand of bee colonies for pollination of apples, other fruits and hybrid vegetables and oilseeds.
“Bee pollination results in a yield appreciation for citrus, guava, litchi, sunflower, berseem and raya,” says Dr Naresh Gulati, deputy director, Agriculture Development and Technology Agency.