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Information from ICIMOD - the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal an island of Apis cerana beekeeping

by Faroog Ahmad, Uma Partap, Min Bahadur Gurung and Surendra Raj Joshi, ICIMOD, Kathmandu, Nepal

This is the fourth article bringing news about the work of the Austrian Government-funded beekeeping project at ICIMOD in Kathmandu, Nepal. ICIMOD and Austroprojekt GmbH of Vienna, Austria jointly manage the project. In B&D 60 we told you about the retreating populations of wild honeybees. Here is news of another disturbing development.

The Apis cerana beekeepers of Nepal are facing new competition from organised business interest groups and development interventionists who are advocating the introduction of Apis mellifera to the isolated gene-pool areas of Apis cerana.

Apis cerana beekeeping has evolved over the centuries in the mountains of Nepal and serves both the honey needs and spiritual purposes of large populations. The combination of misguided efforts by well-meaningdevelopment workers - who equate beekeeping with help but are poorly informed about the importance and advantages of indigenous bee species - and opportunistic exploitation by business entrepreneurs, is having a disastrous impact on the indigenous bees and the poor mountain farmers. Expansion of Apis mellifera by interest groups is not only threatening the indigenous honeybee populations but is also depriving poor people of their livelihood options. The major problems are:

- Transfer of Apis mellifera diseases and parasites to indigenous bee populations (and of indigenous parasites to introduced Apis mellifera colonies);

- Competition for food and nesting sites;

- Loss of pollination services with an adverse impact on both crops and indigenous mountain flora;

- Business entrepreneurs offering costly but poor management training and inferior equipment, and supplying weak and diseased Apis mellifera colonies;

- Dependence on external resources and skills; and

- Low emphasis on indigenous knowledge and skills.

Farmers who are persuaded to take up beekeeping with Apis mellifera lose money, bees, pollination services, and their confidence in beekeeping management. Farmers who do not agree lose their local colonies to diseases and parasites against which the indigenous Apis cerana populations have no defence.

Apis mellifera introduction is a buzzword among entrepreneurs having access to the world of ‘development’: they make money by selling sub-standard hives and other equipment, weak colonies, and poorly designed training courses that are often tied to equipment and colony purchase.

Poor beekeepers are the custodians of biodiversity, but they are the ones paying the costs of this intervention, directly and indirectly.

ICIMOD’s Austrian-supported indigenous honeybee project is addressing this issue strategically with the following initiatives:

- Setting up Apis cerana selection and multiplication processes at grass-roots level so that this indigenous honeybee can beat the challenges of productivity;

- Building the capacities of farmers, beekeepers, and beekeeping organisations in the field of Apis cerana management and promotion;

- Advocating the ideas of conservation-based apiculture among policy makers, development workers, and donors through networking;

- Sharing knowledge and experiences among farmers, development workers, policy makers, and academics on the value of Apis cerana in managed crop pollination;

- Raising awareness of the potentially damaging impact of introducing Apis mellifera to highland areas with established Apis cerana populations.


Organisation and capacity building for honey hunters through Appreciative Participatory Planning and Action. ICIMOD's beekeeping project is trying to understand and support the honey hunting communities that work with Apis dorsata and Apis laboriosa. We want to help these extremely poor and excluded people through training and help with networking, but first we need to work with them to discover their strengths and needs and develop common a vision for the future. For this, we have chosen an Appreciative Participatory Planning and Action (APPA) approach. The main aims are to identify and build on past achievements and existing strengths within the honey hunting communities, establish a consensus on a shared vision of the future, and develop strategies and partnerships to achieve that vision. As a first step, the project arranged a two-day training programme on APPA for the project team members and other ICIMOD staff facilitated by Mr Chandi Chapagai.

The first APPA exercise was carried out with the honey hunters of Taprang and Sikles villages in Kaski District of Nepal, with the help of the local NGO ‘Annapurna Beekeeping and Environment Promotion’. Nine honey hunters participated and designed their shared vision for the future and strategies to achieve it, using a ‘4-D’ cycle: Discovery, Dream, Design, and Delivery. We will bring you more news about this in a later edition of B&D.

A new video from ICIMOD describing work on pollination is reviewed in Bookshelf on page 15.