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Revival of beekeeping in Karnataka

by M S Reddy

Beekeeping in Karnataka, India is being practised in traditional hives like clay pots, log hives (particularly the coconut trunk), mud and basket hives. The concept of modern beekeeping with box hives has been in practice since 1935. Although several species of honeybees are available viz., Apis cerana, Apis dorsata, Apis florea and stingless bees, the beekeepers and honey hunters exploit bee products only from the first two bees. About 52,000 beekeepers are keeping bees under 13 Beekeeping Cooperative Societies. state level Karnataka State Beekeepers’ Federation assists the beekeepers by providing marketing facilities, financial support and awareness generation.

The majority of beekeepers keep 2-5 bee boxes only. Very few are commercial beekeepers. Beekeeping with Apis cerana bees was greatly affected by the Thai Sac Brood Virus disease (TSBV) during 1990-91 and virtually destroyed 75-90% of bee colonies. To revive the beekeeping activities, the following schemes are being implemented through the Department of Industries and Commerce and Zilla Panchayats of various districts:

- Apiculture Annual Plan

- Western Ghat Development Programme

- Special Component Plan

- Tribal Subplan Central Sector Beekeeping Development Programme

- FAO-assisted Apiculture Development Project

Beekeeping Development Programmes

These have focused on (i) establishing model functioning demonstration apiaries, (ii) creating the required infrastructure with the locally available material, (iii) training of extension staff and beekeepers on queen rearing, (iv) extension methods, (v) simple and low cost methods of beekeeping and management practices to check further spread of the TSBV disease and (vi) importance of the honey collected from wild species (Apis dorsata). Methods for control of TSBV disease, particularly the short and long term, have been adopted to produce disease tolerant bee colonies. in addition, awareness is being created on the importance of bees and beekeeping through workshops, seminars and honey festival

Honey production

With the efforts initiated by the Department of Industries and Commerce of Government of Karnataka through various beekeeping schemes, in general and FAO assisted Apiculture Development Project, in particular, the honey production has increased.

Product development

Honey: Interestingly, greater awareness has been created about the value and diversity of bee products, particularly on the classification of the different varieties of honey. Some of them are uni-floral golden soapnut, mango, sunflower, eucalyptus and multi-floral forest honey. Diverse honey is being produced by Ankola and Honnavar Beekeepers’ Cooperative Societies. 

Beeswax candles: For the first time in Karnataka, an awareness on the importance and usefulness of beeswax has been created and three NGOs have been trained in the preparation of candles. This manufacturing unit also provides employment and generates subsidiary income not only for the entrepreneurs but also for the beekeepers.

Efforts of the beekeepers

The progressive beekeepers who were earlier, fully dependent on beekeeping, and had lost most of their Apis cerana bee colonies due to TSBV have now been able to maintain good number of bee colonies. Mr Radhakrishna Das who had 650 colonies in 1990 and lost 90% of them, today has 280 Apis cerana colonies. Similarly, Mr. Puttanna Gowda who was maintaining 450 bee colonies during 1990 and lost most of them during the last five years, has 160 bee colonies at present. His son is also picking up beekeeping skills.

FAO Assistance 

With the efforts put in under the technical cooperation programme of FAO, there is renewed interest in Apis cerana beekeeping and beekeepers are re-establishing colonies in almost all the areas of Karnataka.

Year(s) and Honey production (in tons)

1989-90  -  785

1990-91   -  750

1991-92  -  285

1992-93  -  210

1993-94   - 235

1994-95  -  285

1995-96  -  325

1996-97  -  385

1997-98  -  410

1998-99  -  448