PARDEEP KUMAR was only 14 in 2000, when his mother Usha Rani gave him Rs 30,000 to take up beekeeping. He started by purchasing eight honeybee nest boxes and, over the next five years, increased the number to over 100. Today, this resident of Badal — a village in Lambi tehsil of Muktsar district from where Punjab’s former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal also hails — has 3,800 hive boxes. And these are placed to attract bee swarms in different parts of not just Punjab, but even Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and as far as Jharkhand.
“I keep shuttling from state to state, depending upon a particular crop’s flowering season (that is when the tiny-winged insects collect nectar, while also transporting pollen from one flower to another). I have 30 employees who come with me to various places and stay on there to collect the honey made by the bees. I am myself travelling for about 12-15 days of the month,” says Kumar.
Kumar supplies about 95 per cent of the honey harvested from his colonies to units in processing-cum-export centres such Doraha (Ludhiana district) and Lalru (Mohali). The remaining 5 per cent he sells under his own ‘Deep Honey’ brand through two outlets — one in Badal village and the other at the Bathinda district administrative complex.
Pardeep Kumar’s story is interesting because he is a progressive farmer coming from a landless family. Also, he was just five when his father, a single-truck owner, died. “I was forced to sell the truck in order to marry off my daughter. My son, too, had to give up studies after completing class X. All I could do was to help him by giving Rs 30,000 from my accumulated savings,” recalls Kumar’s mother Usha Rani, who drew a modest salary as a worker at the local Anganwadi (child care) centre.
Kumar learnt about beekeeping initially from Buta Singh, a farmer from Badal. In 2002, he underwent formal training in apiculture from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Bathinda. In 2011, he took advanced training from the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana for rearing of queen bees. These are the females that turn out to be the mothers of most, if not all, bees in individual hives or colonies.
“In a normal colony, it takes roughly 21 days for a queen bee to develop from egg stage and be capable of mating. But by raising them in special dummy boxes, I could now supply these adult, ready-to-be-mated females to farmers,” notes Kumar, who, by 2012, was also making nest boxes. “I started supplying these boxes along with the queen bees to other farmers. Currently, I sell 400-500 beehive boxes every year, costing around Rs 2,000 each if empty and Rs 4,000 with bees. If a farmer also wants a ready-for-mating queen bee, I charge extra Rs 350,” he adds.
Kumar, in the process, has emerged as a complete bee-entrepreneur; he is even sought after as a trainer to farmers attending beekeeping courses, including those organised by state agriculture and horticulture departments. Besides, his outlets have also begun stocking non-honey food products such as pickles, chutneys, murabbas (sweet fruit preserves), papads and sauces, made by 20-odd village women organised into a self-help group. Kumar’s wife takes care of this operation. “We pay the women as and when they supply to our outlets. Marketing their products is entirely our job,” he states. Pardeep Kumar takes pride in two things. The first is from showing that one can be a progressive farmer even without owning any land.
“I often hear people say that the farm sector is in distress and agriculture is a losing proposition. My answer to that is this needn’t be so if a farmer is prepared to do new things and upgrade his knowledge on a continuous basis. I started beekeeping in 2000 as a teenager. Only in 2011, did I come to know that the Punjab government extends a 40 per cent subsidy for apiculture. While I did avail of the scheme’s benefits – by supplying nest boxes to the horticulture department, which further gives them on subsidy to other beekeepers – the fact is that my success owes itself not to subsidy or ownership of land, but hard work and willingness to learn,” he claims.
The second source of his pride is from becoming not merely an earner, but also an employer. “I feel happy as someone providing employment to 30 men and also supporting 20 rural women through their self-help group. If I have set an example for others to also take up beekeeping, that’s an added bonus,” he points out. Kumar’s latest passion is organic farming. Only recently, he purchased 2.5 acres of land at Kheowali, a village not too far from Badal. “I am experimenting with organic vegetables and cotton cultivation without use of any pesticides. The initial results are promising, but replicating honey’s success will take time,” he signs off.