Bees for Development Journal Edition 134 - March 2020

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Bees for Development Journal 134 March 2020

Pollination Management A BEE-Town for a Better Tomorrow Harish Kumar Sharma, Priyanka Thakur, Hema Prashad, Ruchi Sharma and Manju Devi demand and supply of the number of colonies required for pollination.

In India the cultivation of temperate fruit crops like apples is restricted to hilly regions of India including Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, and Uttaranchal. Himachal Pradesh is recognised for its sub-temperate agroclimate where farmers can grow the world’s finest and choicest varieties of fruit. Apple cultivation in the State was started by Captain R C Lee in the 19th Century in Kullu Tehsil. Apples are a crosspollinated temperate crop critically dependent on the honey bee colonies placed in the orchards for optimal pollination and fruit production. Beekeeping was introduced in 1934 to the Kullu Valley and in 1936 in the Kangra Valley. Indigenous Apis cerana, the Indian honey bee, was utilised in the State until 1961, when Apis mellifera was introduced from Italy to the Bee Research Station Nagrota in Kangra. The Horticulture Department now helps the States’ beekeepers through several schemes and subsidies to aid economic growth, improve livelihoods and generate employment opportunities in rural areas.

Beekeepers renting colonies to the orchard farmers are from Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The majority supply Apis mellifera colonies with a few renting out Apis cerana colonies.7 Apis mellifera beekeepers practise migratory beekeeping on a commercial scale with 100–1,500 colonies while Apis cerana beekeepers undertake stationary beekeeping as a part time activity with 10–50 colonies. Apis mellifera beekeepers with 100–500 colonies rent all their colonies for pollination whereas beekeepers with 500-1,500 colonies rent 50% for pollination and the remainder are kept for honey production. It is obvious that demand for colonies is increasing every year. The present status of Apis cerana beekeeping indicates that the number of colonies in movable frame hives is few against the great demand for colonies. Among the different pollinators in the temperate regions, bumble bees play an important role and are efficient pollinators, especially under protected cultivation. Commercial rearing of bumble bees is now being considered as an alternative to honey bees.


Images © Harish Kumar Sharma

The Indian State of Himachal Pradesh is crowned as the second highest producer of apples, contributing 25% of total annual production. Revenue generated from apples supports the livelihoods of the region’s orchard farmers. However, the apple growers in Himachal Pradesh always have ‘their fingers crossed’ because of the uncertainty that hangs over their crops amid climate change, pest and disease outbreaks and postharvest losses. The most crucial of all these ‘tensions’ is fruit set, which determines the cost-benefit ratio and ultimate income of the season. Apples require cross pollination - the flowers cannot set the fruits with their own pollen and need pollinators for fertilisation of the ovules in the flowers, initiation of seed development, and fruit set.1,2,3,4,5 A mature standard apple tree with a heavy bloom can have 100,000 flowers, most of which wither off if there is no effective pollination. However if just 5% of these flowers are successfully pollinated, this leads to a bumper yield. To attain effective and successful pollination farmers hire bee colonies for their orchards. Due to asynchronous flowering between productive and polliniser cultivars, low proportions of pollinisers or reduced flowering, the outcome is a low number of seeds and misshapen fruit that are eliminated with a series of early fruit drop.6 Managed pollination is an important part of temperate fruit production. Honey bees are indispensable because of their twin role of increasing crop productivity through pollination and honey production. About 100,000 hectares of land is under apple cultivation, and this needs about 300,000 colonies of bees for effective pollination. There is a gap between

Beekeepers receive training on pollination 5