Suresh lives in a small village called Nani Kosbadi in Pindwal Taluk of Gujarat with his wife and three children. He grows rice, nagli (finger millet) and vegetables like tomatoes, chillies, and brinjals on his six acre land plot. He has been a master trainer with UTMT for more than two years now. He attempts to motivate farmers to keep bees by showing them the benefits he is getting from beekeeping. He sometimes conducts public demonstrations of honey extraction to show people the process since beekeeping is a new idea for his community.
A subsistence farmer with a family of five, Suresh had to travel to Dharampur every day to find manual jobs in order to support his family.This has changed since he started beekeeping with the help of UTMT and BAIF, UTMT’s partner organization. He no longer feels the need to migrate every day since he sells honey from the 12 boxes that he owns. There is a high demand for his pure and locally harvested honey. He informed us that he recently sold honey worth of 1500 rupees in his village.
Suresh informs with regret that he had to leave school after seventh grade due to poverty even though he wanted to study further. Now he is determined to educate his children and plans to use the money from beekeeping for his children’s education. “UTMT is a god-given gift to a farmer like me” he says with a sense of deep appreciation.
For Suresh, beekeeping goes a little deeper than the economic and agricultural benefits. Before being a master trainer, he was uncomfortable while approaching people. “Now I feel like I can speak to anyone,” he says, smiling. Suresh has quit drinking since he took up beekeeping in pursuit of other interests. He sees beekeeping as a constant learning experience, which he enjoys sharing with others – part of his motivation is his role as a master trainer for UTMT.
He has learnt a lot from this role and one aspect of it has been to keep farmers motivated to stick with beekeeping, an activity that does not show its benefits immediately. While it improves agricultural production and provides honey, beekeeping requires patience and persistence to see these results. When a bee hive absconds, or leaves its hive, beekeepers can easily lose motivation. “People lose confidence and stop,” Suresh says. “But this happens to all beekeepers at least once.” Managing his twelve boxes as well as overseeing about fifty others in the village, Suresh is an example of persistence. Like all good teachers, he is also an innovator, experimenting with beekeeping by making a tin box for the bees, which he still uses.
Gipra is the only woman beekeeper in the village of Dandwal, Gujarat. She is unsure of her age, but is somewhere between 20 to 22 years old with two children and has only formally been educated through third standard. In December 2011, Gipra extracted honey for the first time with the box she had owned for eight months.She is a consistent beekeeper and makes sure to spend five to ten minutes every day with her beehive which is next to her house.
As the only woman beekeeper in Dandwal, Gipra has inspired other women to start the activity. It is possible that Gipra will be the first woman master trainer for UTMT, beekeepers who assist others with their hives and oversee all of the bee boxes in the area. She is interested in helping other women to beekeep as she has found it inspiring, interesting, and profitable. At first, her family and friends were skeptical about beekeeping, but they also see the benefits from this activity now and her husband has joined her in the initiative.
In Dandwal, people do not get tap water in their houses. The village community shares a common tap as their source of water which depends on the sporadic availability of electricity. As a result, the village mainly depends on rainwater for farming, which is an unreliable system of irrigation and water access. Dandwal lacks proper medical access as well, with most women, including Gipra, giving birth at home. Dandwal also lacks proper transportation system.
Beekeeping has helped Gipra gain confidence in her community. She hopes that in future, UTMT will run a women’s workshop to help train women in her remote and poorly resourced area. She also finds the activity to be extremely enjoyable and has had no problems. Her master trainer, Soma bhai, boasts that Gipra is one of the best beekeepers he oversees, expressing similar approval for women to try the activity.
Madhu bhai’s love for farming and animals is apparent from his well kept nursery, animal shed and his enthusiasm to show everyone the ten bee boxes he has around his three acre farmland. As you talk more with him, he will go on about how we need to conserve trees and practice sustainable farming. Due to this zeal, he has voluntarily taken up the task of retention and replantation of scarce trees in the jungle around his village. He lives in Tutarkhed village of Valsad district in Gujarat with his wife and three children. Having gotten a diploma in agriculture, Madhu bhai uses his education to experiment with farming techniques and other villagers are aware of his innovative experiments.
It seems that Madhu bhai has joined UTMT’s Bees for Poverty Reduction (BPR) initiative because of his love for nature than any other reason. When asked what is the most important thing about beekeeping according to him, he says, “I like working with those little beings (bees).” Then again, beekeeping is not just about appreciating bees. Since he has started beekeeping, Madhu bhai has harnessed about 24 kilograms of honey and 7 kilograms of wax. This has been a helpful addition to his agricultural income.
Having been a master trainer with UTMT for 2.5 years, Madhu bhai makes sincere efforts to educate other farmers about the benefits of beekeeping and helps them get started with the activity. He has come to know about agricultural benefits of beekeeping through his participation with UTMT’s research project on the role of beekeeping with indigenous bee apis cerana in crop production. This study showed that along with numerous other crops, beekeeping increases crop productivity of flat bean by 128.57% and of mango by 68.42%, two of the main crops Madhu bhai harvests on his land. For Madhu bhai, beekeeping serves many purposes, he gets to work with the sensitive beings like bees, his crop production has increased considerably, he gets additional monetary income from selling honey, and he practices what he believes in: sustainable farming.
Kamlesh bhai lives in Tutarkhed, a village in the Dharampur Taluk of Gujarat with his wife, father, aunt, sisters, and son. In just one year of beekeeping, he has expanded to two bee boxes with the help of his family. Often times, his wife helps him with beekeeping by regularly cleaning the boxes and making sure they are safe from predators.
Kamlesh bhai wants to expand the number of hives and to sell honey in the future because he finds the activity to be easy and simple. With the extra money made from beekeeping, Kamlesh bhai plans to build a house and save money for his daughter’s education. He has studied until tenth standard and his wife has never been to school so he wants to educate his daughter. Their plan is to add ten bee boxes within the next year and train others in their community in beekeeping. Many of his friends are interested in taking up beekeeping.
Every Monday, Kamlesh bhai travels all the way to Dharampur to sell 20kgs of bitter gourd worth of 200 rupees. All other vegetables Kamlesh bhai and his family grow are used for subsistence, so they rely on the money from the bitter gourd for monetary income. To help with the expenses for the baby, Kamlesh bhai’s family receives food from UNICEF. Therefore, not only does he see beekeeping as a means for additional monetary income, but he also relies on the bees for increased agricultural production. Since bees pollinate most of the nearby crops, their proximity to farms boosts agricultural production.
According to Kamlesh bhai, initially finding the natural bee colonies for natural colony transfer was a challenge. Because UTMT uses the local bees, apis cerana, each box is filled with a natural hive that is often found under cliffs or on trees in the forest. Though natural colony transfer is a part of UTMT beekeeper training, hives are sometimes hard to find as they can be deep in the forest or 2-3 kilometers away from the beekeeper’s home. Alternatively, if a box cannot be filled by natural colony transfer from the forest to the box, it can be filled from box division, where a healthy bee box is split into two bee boxes.
“I am learning constantly and trying new techniques” says Kamlesh bhai. One improvisation he does that is not taught in training is to keep the gate of the box open during the bees’ working hours so they do not get crushed by falling pollen. Kamlesh bhai has also combined the processes of box division and natural colony transfer. For instance, he found part of a hive that honey hunters had left. Understanding the opportunity at hand, he retrieved the hive and brought it back. After inserting this hive into a new box, he added frames from his first box to ensure strength of the new hive. This kind of innovation is always encouraged by UTMT because only the beekeepers can ensure sustainability of their hives and creativity that beekeeping requires.
“If we damage nature, nature will damage us,” Soma bhai says. Even small rural communities like Dandwal are not immune to the effects of climate change. Noticing how monsoon seasons are changing and becoming unreliable, Soma bhai explains the new difficulties that older generations did not have to face. Irrigation has become a necessary part of farming for villagers now, since they can no longer rely on the natural rain patterns for their crops.
Soma bhai lives in Dandwal with his wife and three children. A master trainer for two years, he has trained twenty one farmers in his village and has also led training in newer villages in his block. Like most other villagers, Soma bhai grows rice, nagli, niger, pulses, and vegetables for his family. Despite his humble demeanor, it is obvious that he enjoys the leadership role that is required of master trainers. In the wadi program with BAIF, UTMT’s partner organization, he facilitates communication between BAIF and the farmers so that the farmers gain necessary information.
He has also contributed to the research for UTMT on the agricultural effects of apis cerana, the natural bee that UTMT promotes. UTMT, when conducting research or projects, incorporates the beekeepers and locals in the area for accurate results. Soma bhai’s involvement in the research solidified his understanding of how bees increase plant productivity. He explains how for every square meter of crops, on average there is a 3kg increase in quantity.
Despite his current confidence in handling bees, Soma bhai understands the initial fear of beekeeping, anticipation of a sting when taking care of the first box. For Soma bhai, it took a year to feel comfortable. “Now, it is easy” he says. While younger beekeepers need help from time to time, older beekeepers in the village rarely call him. As a master trainer, Soma bhai has developed friendly relationships with other beekeepers through his active support and advice.
Soma bhai wants to increase the number of boxes he owns as well as others’ so he can open a small shop to sell honey in his community. There is a good market for honey: sometimes he gets so many orders that he creates a waiting list. It is necessary then, to take advantage of the honey flow seasons and extract as much as possible, which can be up to twelve times for one box. He uses the extra money that he gets from selling honey to buy food, to pay hospital bills during emergency illnesses, and to pay for his daughters’ education.
Only seven farmers from this village took up beekeeping initially but many more have shown interest now. Even though he has successfully trained twenty one beekeepers, Soma bhai modestly emphasizes that “he is only a guide.” Farmers really do the beekeeping on their own. He notes how there is never enough training, that he is constantly learning from the dynamic activity of beekeeping – whether it be feeding, extraction, division, natural colony transfer, or just watching the bees do their work.
Bapu is a progressive farmer from village Sehnavad in Gaganbawada Taluk of Kolhapur District. He owns two acres of land in which he grows sugarcane, banana, corn, rice, sunflower and some vegetables for self consumption.
Some local people had taken beekeeping training from Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) 6 years ago. One such farmer had kept his bee box in Bapu Jadhav’s farm. He thus became aware of the pollination benefits from beekeeping, but due to the fear of bee stings and no training, he never took care of the honeybees or maintained the bee box.
As he had observed the pollination benefits from bees he wanted to learn beekeeping. He had also taken efforts to make a group of 10 farmers to take KVIC training. But since the training was to be held in Mahabaleshwar at a stretch of 8 days, he never could make time for the training due to his farming and other commitments.
When he heard that Under The Mango Tree would train farmers in beekeeping at their own village, he was excited. He was keen learner and soon picked up the essential beekeeping skills. Within 4 months he had transferred 7 colonies and learned division of boxes.
Bapu Jadhav has observed prominent increase in banana yield after keeping bee boxes in his farm. In the first year when he had no bee boxes in his farm, each plant had only 5-6 bunches of banana and even after the use of some pesticides, the crop was prone to ‘ Karpa’ disease(drying of leaves). But this year with just 5 bee boxes in his farm, he has around 9-10 bunches of banana on each plant and no incidence of disease even though he did not use any pesticide. He has experienced similar changes in Sunflower and corn yield as each flower and corn has more seeds, unlike his neighbour’s crops. He gives all the credit for this change to his bee boxes.
Apart from the benefits to his crop, Bapu Jadhav has extracted 9 kgs of honey form 3 bee boxes and sold it @ Rs.250/- Kg. People have come to his doorstep to buy the honey.
Bapu says that the UTMT training has provided him the technical skills of beekeeping whereas monthly follow up visits by the Technical Expert have helped him to keep up the interest and motivation to consistently maintain the boxes.