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Pollination Management

Pollination Management

A BEE-Town for a Better Tomorrow

Harish Kumar Sharma, Priyanka Thakur, Hema Prashad, Ruchi Sharma and Manju Devi

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.

Situation

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 demand and supply of the number of colonies required for pollination.

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.

Beekeepers receive training on pollination
© Images Harish Kumar Sharma  

Considering all these aspects “Managed Pollination” was proposed under various components of a World Bank funded project HP-HDP. This component aims to establish entrepreneurial development models for meeting the increasing demand for honey bees and bumble bees and to minimise crop failure due to pollination deficit. The objectives are:

• selection of highly productive strains of Apis mellifera and their mass multiplication by building the capacity of beekeepers as bee-breeders;

• to conserve and promote the indigenous honey bee Apis cerana as a small-scale entrepreneurial development; and

• to standardise commercial bumble bee rearing and enterprise.

Enhancing skills

In 2018, 30 beekeepers were selected from ten districts of Himachal Pradesh to take a course on selection and queen rearing. A follow up 5-day refresher course in 2019 by the Department of Entomology, Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture & Forestry, showed positive results in the form of small-scale bee breeding apiaries. Two of the beekeepers Mr Suraj Chauhan, enthusiastic beekeeper and emerging entrepreneur in managed pollination, and Mr Din Dayal, a progressive Apis cerana beekeeper and conservator, are breaking new ground in beekeeping in the State.

Revolutionary advances in pollination

Pollen dispensers are placed at the entrance of the hive and are constructed so that outgoing foragers walk through the pollen. The dispensers are efficient and important for increasing fruit set in apple orchards especially in polliniser deficient conditions. Pollen replenishment with 2 g of dehisced pollen mixed with powdered dried anther husk in a 1:1 ratio is carried out between 9 and 11 am on 5 sunny mornings.

The Pioneer

Mr Suraj Chauhan is a small-scale orchard farmer from the Rohru region of Shimla District. He initially started beekeeping as a marginal farmer owning 0.1 acres of land. His interest in honey bees, supported by the Horticulture Department and training from Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry motivated him to become a full-time beekeeper and an entrepreneur in pollination services. In the last six years he has had financial support through the Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Department and KVIC and is one of the 30 trainees. Mr Suraj took up the use of pollen dispensers as an entrepreneurial activity. He publicised his results and influenced others to use the technology. Every year he provides good quality colonies to apple orchardists. In 2019 he rented 1,800 honey bee colonies earning him up to INR800,000 (US$11,200; €10,340). Orchardists that rented Mr Suraj’s colonies and pollen dispenser in their orchards with low polliniser proportion reported good fruit set. Mr Jayant Attreta, resident of New Seri Village, Shimla recorded a 73% increase in fruit set compared to 2018.

Mr Suraj is now working as a full-time bee breeder. He is the first registered bee breeder in Himachal Pradesh. He was allocated funds of INR300,000 (US$4,200; €3,900) by the Horticulture Department. He aims to produce 500 queens per year to sell to other beekeepers. This kind of initiative by trailblazing beekeepers will change the beekeeping scenario in the State and Nation and encourage youngsters to take up beekeeping as an entrepreneurial activity.

Mr Deendayal’s home is surrounded by Apis cerana colonies
Mr Chauhan rears queens for his own beekeeping enterprise

Saving the indigenous bee culture

Apis cerana are kept in movable frame hives and are also present under natural conditions in log and wall hives throughout Himachal Pradesh. Hives are prepared from locally available materials and the bees settle in the hives during swarming. Colonies generally yield two to five kg of honey per year. The conservation and promotion of beekeeping with the indigenous honey bee will ensure pollination services and provide livelihood opportunities to rural, unemployed and landless people.

The Pioneer

Mr Din Dayal, a local resident of Village Karadsu chose beekeeping as a means to generate income for his family. Starting with a budget of INR40,000 (US$560; €520), in 2013, Mr Din Dayal purchased indigenous Apis cerana, owing to their robust and hardy nature in the environment. Despite several hardships Mr Din Dayal increased his venture to 60 colonies in 2018. He sells bees and does not extract honey from the bees on a commercial basis, which fetches him a profit of INR250,000-300,000 (US$3,500-4,200; €3,200- 3,900) annually. The scarcity of proper technical know-how and knowledge prevented him from harnessing the true profits. He underwent training in 2018, and today he owns 200 Apis cerana colonies with 32 in log hives, managed and well maintained on the roof area in the vicinity of his house. His profits rose to INR700,000 (US$9,800; €9,000) in 2018 from the sale of bees alone. He now motivates the local people helping them realise the true potential of Apis cerana and is establishing himself as a brand.

Harish Kumar Sharma is Principal Scientist and Priyanka Thakur, Hema Prashad, Ruchi Sharma and Manju Devi are Research Fellows working under the World Bank funded, Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Development Project (Managed Pollination), Department of Entomology, Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture & Forestry- Solan (HP), India

References

1. JANA,B.R. (2001) Effect of self and cross pollination on the fruit set behaviour of some promising apple genotypes. Journal of Applied Horticulture, 3(1): 51-52.

 2. KENDALL,D.A. (1973) The viability and compatibility of pollen on insects visiting apple blossom. Journal of Applied Ecology, 10(3): 847-853. 

3. KRON,P.; HUSBAND,B.C.; KEVAN,P.G.; BELAOUSSOFF,S. (2001) Factors affecting pollen dispersal in high-density apple orchards. HortScience, 36: 1039–1046.

4. SHARMA,H.K.; GUPTA,J.K. THAKUR,J.R. (2004) Effect of bee pollination and polliniser proportion on apple productivity. Acta Horticulturae, 662: 451-454. 

5. SHARMA,G.; ANAND,R.; SHARMA,O.C. (2006) Floral biology and effect of pollination in apple (Malus x domestica). Indian Journal of Agricultural Sciences, 75(10): 667-669.

6. SHEFFIELD,C.S. (2014) Pollination, seed set and fruit quality in apple: studies with Osmia lignaria (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae) in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada Journal of Pollination Ecology, 12(13): 120-128.

 7. SHEFFIELD,C.S; NGO,H.T; AZZU,N. (2016) A manual on apple pollination. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with implementation support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 44pp.

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