With a graduation degree in Computer Applications, Adil Riyaz from South Kashmir's Pulwama was keen on a government job. After several unsuccessful attempts, he decided to go for beekeeping to earn a living.
Along with some friends, Adil, 31, started rearing bees commercially in South Kashmir's Lethpora, the hamlet where he was born. He began with just four hives in 2016 and now has 780, producing around nine quintals (900 kg) of honey per year.
South Kashmir is regarded as the apple region of Kashmir and Adil maintains his beekeeping colonies in apple orchards as their flowers provide sufficient raw material (nectar and pollen) to the honey bees.
The buzzing business of beekeeping
Adil began beekeeping with four hives and learned a lot from books and the internet. “I was able to establish a thriving business in less than seven years,” he says.
It’s time to avoid thinking of government jobs and consider entrepreneurship, Adil says.
Adil uses social media to procure orders from throughout India. His friend Aqib Ahmed, a beekeeper from the Baramulla district, has also been rearing bees for the last three years after procuring bee colonies from the state government. “Aqib gave me helpful advice before starting beekeeping in my area,” says Adil.
Apiculture or beekeeping has developed into a lucrative business in Kashmir in the past 15 years with more and more young men and women starting their apiaries. It has good potential in the valley due to its climate and floral diversity. Floral and wild plants bloom from early spring till late fall, providing nectar to bees. And the climate helps keep the honeycomb cool which can collapse under intense heat.
According to officials, the union territory is home to 2 lakh honey bee colonies, of which 1.2 lakh are in Kashmir and the rest in Jammu. Pulwama, Anantnag, Baramulla, Srinagar and Kupwara districts account for the maximum honey production in the valley.
Kashmir valley produces four varieties of organic honey, including white honey, due to the varied floral species found here. The state government plans to get a geographical indication (GI) tag for Kashmiri honey to associate it with the location.
Nazir Ahmed from Ganderbal recently completed his schooling and is now helping his father in his beekeeping business, which has been in operation for the last 20 years.
He says beekeeping is a good option for youth. “Beekeeping business requires an initial investment of about Rs 2 lakh. You can buy bees from the government at subsidised rates. With only basic equipment like hives, frames, protective clothing and shoes, feeders, brushes, a hive tool and a smoker, you are good to go,” he says.
Nazir says apart from the government, bees can also be procured from other beekeepers who charge around Rs10,000 for a hive.
Some beekeepers with a large number of bee colonies earn up to Rs10 lakh annually.
One of Jammu and Kashmir's oldest customs, beekeeping or apiculture, dates back to the 12th century, finding a mention in Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. Sir Walter Lawrence, the Settlement Commissioner of Kashmir from 1889 to 1895 mentioned in his book ‘The valley of Kashmir’, that honey is cultivated in upper communities of the valley and used as an item of revenue.
Dr Manzoor Parray, head of the department at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) in Kashmir, says Jammu and Kashmir is home to four species of honeybees – the indigenous Apis Cerana, Florea and Dorsata species, besides the exotic Apis Mellifera.
Director of Agriculture, Kashmir, Iqbal Choudhary says the government provides equipment and training to assist young people who want to take up apiculture through its schemes like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVY).
The agriculture department has prepared a Detailed Project Report for promoting high-altitude honey in J&K under its ‘Honey Mission’. “We have already provided more than 90,000 bee colonies, and the department hopes to increase that number to seven lakh colonies in the next five,” he says, adding that it can provide employment to 1.15 lakh families.
Climate-proofing the business of bees
The majority of bee colonies in Kashmir is traditional and kept in wood logs, boxes, clay pots and other locally available materials or using wall spaces in the dwellings. Modern beekeeping, promoted by the government for employment generation, requires wooden bee boxes similar to beehives, which have different chambers for storing honey, storing pollen grains and larvae.
“Bees are known to be natural pollinators for a variety of fruits and crops. Therefore many beekeepers in the Kashmir Valley use both traditional and contemporary beekeeping colonies, which play a crucial role in increasing agricultural output through pollination,” Adil says.
In Kashmir, the harsh weather makes beekeeping difficult. In winter, the apiarists move to warmer regions with their bee colonies in quest of flowers to create an ecosystem conducive for bees.
Tanveer Ahmed, 29, another beekeeper from Srinagar says that he travels with his bee colonies to Jammu and Rajasthan where his father and staff raise bees during winter.
“I travel with my 300 bee colonies. The transport costs are around Rs 40,000. The government gives us only Rs20 per colony. It is not fair,” he grumbles. Tanveer says different grades of honey fetch different prices, ranging between Rs 200 and Rs 850 per kg.
Through his business in the last 16 years, Tanveer has been able to generate employment for others in Kashmir. “Around 50 people are working with me,” Tanveer says.
Honey from Kashmir has good demand, says Nazir. He says some of the beekeepers supply to stores in Kashmir while others see a good opportunity online and are selling to buyers in India and abroad.
(Irshad Hussain is an independent journalist based in Srinagar)
(Pics featured at the top of this page have been clicked by Sajad Hameed)