Farmer Ravikant Shinde has his eyes set on the skies for monsoon clouds. Only a good rain this season, he says, can save the crops on his two-acre farm in Latur and bee-keeping business. “I have nowhere to go, but to wait for the next monsoon,” Shinde, who grows a variety of fruits and vegetables on his farm, said.
The farmer says that his income had seen a spike over the last two years, a part of which, he said, could be attributed to bee-farming that he had taken up to supplement his earnings. Due to scant rainfall, agriculture was hit during the Kharif (in 2018) and Rabi seasons, experts say. With little or no pollination, breeding cycle of bees was also affected, which in turn hit bee-farming in Marathwada, central Maharashtra and Vidarbha.
Most farmers purchase bee boxes and place them on their farms for better pollination, which also help in the breeding cycle of bees. Like Shinde, the drought-like situation this year has affected several farmers of Nanded, Osmanabad and Beed districts in Marathwada, many of whom are now migrating to the areas along the Western Ghats with relatively greener pastures.
Known for honey production, Latur alone sees 2,500 boxes of mallifera bees and around 1,500 boxes of sarana varieties. This year, however, the number of boxes has dwindled considerably as farm lands stand dry. According to officials, since September last year only a handful of small and marginal farmers have purchased bee boxes. “The drought situation is grave this time. Unlike previous years, the purchase of bee boxes by small and medium farmers has been nearly nil, as many of them have not been able to undertake any significant cultivation since monsoon ended last year,” Lakshmi Rao, assistant director at city-based Central Bee Research and Training Institute (CBRTI) told The Indian Express.
Under the Union government’s Honey Mission programme, the institute — the nodal agency for the non-coastal districts in western Maharashtra —distributes bee boxes among farmers at subsidised rates. However, most of these farmers, according to researchers at CBRTI, are now migrating to hill slopes along the western ghats in search of greener pastures.
“The farmers, who had purchased boxes in the recent months, are migrating to Mahabaleshwar, Matheran and nearby areas in Western Ghats, where they are hoping to get some business with the bee boxes,” the senior researcher added.
Cultivators owning large farmlands are also facing difficulties, experts here say. “While big farmers could purchase the bee boxes and manage to get some improved yield, they too, of late, have moved to Akola and Wardha regions in Vidarbha,” the CBRTI team said.