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Bihar’s Queen bee and her swarm

Patiasa village in Muzaffarpur district is a hive of activity where Anita Kumari keeps as busy as a bee as she spearheads a revolution of sorts.

Patiasa village in Muzaffarpur district is a hive of activity where Anita Kumari keeps as busy as a bee as she spearheads a revolution of sorts. Tending honeybees in as many as 250 boxes with the women of the village by her side — they fondly call her ‘queen bee’— to harvest honey for supply to a number of firms outside the village.

The buzz of Patiasa honey of the district,which is famous for its luscious shahi litchis,travelled beyond the village.

And as Anita’s successful business generated a swarm of interest,she also became an example of women empowerment in backward Bihar,entering an NCERT textbook of environmental studies in a Class IV chapter titled “Anita and the honeybees”. She also received the Best Bee Farming award from Rajendra Agriculture University,Pusa,in Samastipur.

The 22-year-old had begun beekeeping some eight years ago to augment her father’s income. She had just two boxes then.

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In the very first year,the teenager earned a profit of Rs 10,000. The success egged her on; her last year’s honey production touched over 100 quintal fetching her Rs 1.5 lakh as profit.

Anita’s journey this far hasn’t been easy,being checkered with not-so-sweet difficulties,the first being a battle for right to education.

“I was in a way cursed to be born in a village where girls are not allowed to study beyond primary schools. And then I was poor too. My father,Janardhan Prasad,had a hand-to-mouth existence,” says Anita.

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While Anita rebelled against parents to go to school,she was also under pressure to help her mother in domestic chores. With her two younger brothers who would mostly loiter around,she also had to think of ways to increase the family income.

“As some village women were already producing honey using desi methods,I decided to take it up in a more systematic manner. My father got me two boxes with his hard-earned money,” says Anita,who is now pursuing a Master’s degree in sociology from Muzaffarpur.

She also underwent training at Pusa Agricultural Institute to learn ways to produce quality honey. “The best way to judge good honey is to put a spoonful in a glass of water. If the entire chunk settles down in glass bottom,without getting even a little diluted with water,then it is the best quality of honey,” she explains.

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Not only her father but her brothers too are part of the business. Her family focuses on tending honeybees drawn to juices of litchi,mustard and sunflowers. So does the entire village with the availability of all three types of plants in the village surroundings.

The raw materials needed for beekeeping are pollen and nectar acquired from flowering plants. Natural and cultivated vegetation,as in the case of Patiasa village,have tremendous potential of producing honey. Honey is harvested in October-November,March and June-July coinciding with cultivation of mustard,litchi and sunflower respectively.

Anita says,“We keep the boxes in the vicinity of such flowers that have nectar. A box has 30,000-35,000 bees.”

Till 2006,Anita’s fame was confined to her village. Her life and the profile of the village changed after her success story was picked by Unicef. She later encouraged more villagers,especially jobless illiterate women,to join her. Now almost the entire 500-house village is engaged in honey production. Their yield last year was almost 10.000 quintals.

She now wants to market honey under a brand — Anita Brand. Her father insists: “Let us have a processing unit and good storage facility of lead containers,the world will then get to know Anita Honey”.

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Like Anita,many other women like Basanti Devi,Nirmala Devi and Sita Devi have their individual success stories. Nirmala Devi has introduced wooden boxes to tend bees.

Honey production was always known to the village,but it was Anita who gave it a right direction and brought the non-descript village to the forefront,says Nirmala Devi.

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The honey growers want the state government to help set up processing units,storage facilities and a ready market. Anita says: “At present,we are dependent on companies who buy honey at their own terms. We want to be in a position where we can dictate the terms. It can be possible only with the government patronising or supporting Patiasa honey.”

Hasnain Ariz,a Muzaffarpur-based journalist,says beekeeping had been an easy profession for poor farmers as it requires no great skill and little investment. “One wonders why Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has not yet put in place a devoted plan to make Patiasa honey popular.”

First published on: 26-03-2010 at 12:45:38 am
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