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Information from ICIMOD - Women and beekeeping in Nepal

by Farooq Ahmad, Uma Partap, Min Bahadur Gurung and Surendra Raj Joshi

This is the fifth article in the series bringing news about the work of the Austrian Government-funded beekeeping project “Indigenous honeybees of the Himalayas: a community-based approach for conserving biodiversity and increasing farm productivity” at ICIMOD in Kathmandu, Nepal. ICIMOD and Austroprojekt GmbH in Vienna, Austria jointly manage the project. In B&D 61 we told you about the problems resulting from the introduction of Apis mellifera in isolated gene-pool areas of Apis cerana. Here we focus on the benefits ‘backyard’ beekeeping can offer to mountain women.

Women are the single most neglected and underprivileged group in the rural areas of the Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, but they are responsible for many of the activities in subsistence farming production, particularly animal husbandry. The extent to which women are involved in apicultural activities in the HKH region varies from place to place. It is influenced by many factors including ethnicity, religion, local belief system, socio-economic status, and access to information.

In Nepal, women have not been involved traditionally in beekeeping. The reasons are varied. Some are the result of their already large workload, which leaves little time for extra activities. Women are responsible for family and child care, which include such diverse and time-consuming tasks as collecting water, cooking, cleaning, and looking after babies, as well as for a range of time-consuming agricultural operations, including sowing, harvesting, a wide variety of processing activities, and caring for animals. In some areas there are more specific restrictions resulting from the fact that women are not allowed to touch bee colonies when they are pregnant, and shortly thereafter, or during menstruation. One important constraint, common to many activities, is that women often have limited access to beekeeping knowledge, and are less likely to be in a position to benefit from outside extension and training. However, although in Nepal women are rarely responsible for the actual beekeeping, they are generally involved in the processing and marketing of honey and other bee products.

The situation of women in mountain agriculture is changing rapidly. Across the HKH they are increasingly becoming responsible for all the day-to-day operations on farms. This is the result of various factors including increased out-migration, increased emphasis on daily wage labour, and changes in cultural attitudes. Women are often those most involved in income-generating activities as well, both traditional and new. Where women have come into contact with modern benefits, they are concerned to get cash income so they can send their children to school. Taken together, these changes mean that women’s workload overall is increasing rather than decreasing, and that the time saved through the introduction of services like water points and electricity is often used to perform new tasks.

It is important to reduce the burden of overwork for village women, and also to improve their nutrition so that work is less of a strain. Beekeeping can contribute to both of these.

In mountain areas, backyard beekeeping with Apis cerana can provide sufficient honey for both family consumption and sale. With little extra work, family nutrition is improved and some cash income generated. This additional income can buy equipment that reduces drudgery, or means that other more time-consuming income generating activities can be avoided. The wax output of Apis cerana colonies can be used to support development of small-scale organic cosmetic industries in the villages. Such industries provide cheap beauty products for village women, an otherwise unattainable luxury for most, and also generate some cash income for them. Backyard beekeeping with Apis cerana has the added important benefit of supporting pollination in the household kitchen gardens, the major source of vegetables in mountain areas, thus increasing productivity.

Clearly there is much to be gained from helping women to introduce and carry out backyard beekeeping with Apis cerana. The ICIMOD project has charted a strategy to mainstream gender in beekeeping development activities. The main steps are:

- the conceptualisation of gender roles in beekeeping development;

- training and capacity building of project staff and partners in gender mainstreaming;

- incorporation of gender issues and roles in beekeeping training curricula;

- training of women in beekeeping management, and processing and marketing of bee products;

- encouragement of equal participation of women at all levels of beekeeping development interventions.

So far, 212 women farmers have been trained in the fields of bee management, queen rearing, and pollination, and processing and marketing of bee products. The project encourages women beekeepers to participate at all stages of beekeeping activities: from planning, through implementation, to monitoring and evaluation.

This strategy has been found to be very fruitful, with a clear impact observed on the attitudes and behaviour of programme staff, partners, and beekeepers. Women’s participation in beekeeping activities has increased at all the project's sites, indicating a weakening of the impacts of taboos and beliefs. Participation of women beekeepers in the action research-based selection programme is increasing. Trained women beekeepers are confident and proactive in addressing and resolving their local problems and difficulties. In this way beekeeping is becoming a focal point for wider developmental interventions, particularly to remote mountain communities.

We hope that a continued focus on women, and on education on gender issues, in our programme will further deepen and extend these positive developments.