Bee happy

Chitral valley forms Pakistan’s north-western border with Afghanistan, and is home to the precipitous mountains of the Hindu Kush. It is the largest district in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It was in the mid 1990s that honey bee farming was formally introduced in Chitral in order to diversify the sources of earning. The main reason behind this was the adverse effects of climate change and extreme vagaries of weather that would greatly affect the population of the people residing in Chitral. The people of Chitral valley were supported, advised and encouraged to adopt honey bee keeping and honey production for livelihood. Later on, the locals, especially women, were trained by the Agha Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) – a project of Agha Khan Foundation and the International Centre of Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in 2005. The ICIMOD is an intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas. A few years later an impact study was made and it was found that five of the 21 members who were trained in honey bee keeping were able to produce 30 kilogram of honey each on an average in 2008 and were able to earn a profit of Rs.12,800 per head. These five households already had wild honey bees in their possession but after receiving the training under the project, they were able to properly manage the honey. They were able to pursue honey bee keeping as a business and earn an extra amount of money from it. In 2006, two local women from this area formed a bee keeping group. With support from the AKRSP, they started bee keeping in just one beehive that was given to them as a reward after the successful completion of their training. Now, they have more than six beehives producing about 40 kilogram of honey per year. They are now prosperous and are financially stable. They are in a position to provide loans to the poor, particularly to the local women, at only two per cent interest rate so that they can initiate micro-scale enterprises. Saira Gul, one of the many successful women who are producing the best qualities of honey which has nutritional as well as medicinal value says, “We are financially independent and do not need to ask our husbands for pocket money. In fact, we even contribute to the family income.” “Initially, we didn’t know anything. Our involvement in bee keeping was a turning point for us in the conservation of plants. We were unaware of the fact that the use of pesticides was killing our bees. As a result, we initiated an anti-pesticide campaign in the village. We realised that we need flowering plants like Rudilo for production of quality honey so we focussed on its plantation also,” explains Saira who is also a member of Balach Beekeeping Group in a Chitral-based Women Organisation (WO). Despite all these efforts, the marketing of honey is a challenge for the local women but they are lucky to have support in this regard as well. The AKRSP has developed linkages between honey producers and honey buyers and is working on further streamlining this connection. The bee-keepers and honey producers have to affiliate with the association of bee producers and many have already done that. Zaitoon Nigar is another bee farmer who is successfully managing her business in Booni, Chitral with her husband Abid Ali. She was living with her in-laws and at that time her husband was jobless. Abid started bee farming as a business with the technical support of the market development section of AKRSP. He was the only person in his house to deal with honey bees; therefore, it was difficult for him to concentrate on how to market the product. At that time there were only eleven boxes in their garden and the annual income of the household was about Rs.30, 000. This was hardly enough to meet their basic expenses. In 2008, Zaitoon attended the three-day training on honey bee keeping conducted by AKRSP and supported by ICIMOD. After this training, things started to move in the right direction. She participated in garden activities and used to tell her husband about different diseases of plants and bees which he was unaware of. Moreover, her husband started concentrating on the marketing of honey as Zaitoon could now take care of the garden. The couple now have about three dozen beehives in their garden. They sold boxes worth of Rs. 50,000 in 2009. Back in 2011, their annual income increased from Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 100,000 in just one year. Besides, there is a noticeable change in the quality of life they are living. Zaitoon’s elder son Shariq Ali is attending the most expensive school- Pamir Public School-in Booni and her younger son Salwan Ali goes to the Early Childhood Development Centre Booni.   “I can proudly say that I am an empowered woman now and can make decisions on my own. In the near future I plan in to start a business of dry fruits besides honey in coordination with the women business association Booni,” shares Zaitoon. Sajjad Hussain, Manager Market Development AKRSP, Chitral says, “The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region has a rich diversity of honey bee species; five species – Apis cerana, Apis dorsata, Apis florea, Apis laboriosa and Apis andreniformis – are indigenous to the region, whereas the European honey bee, Apis mellifera has been introduced to the region and promoted for beekeeping.” In the Himalayan region, keeping bees for pollination has been shown to increase the yield and quality of apple, peach, plum etc. Besides, honey bee pollination has been reported to increase the fruit juice and sugar content in citrus fruits. Also the percentage of misshapen strawberries has reduced and there has been increase in the oil contents of rapeseed and sunflower. Studies carried out by ICIMOD have also shown that honey bee pollination enhanced seed production and quality of seed in various vegetable crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, radish, broad leaf mustard, and lettuce. “AKRSP has been working in Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhaw (KP), for socio-economic development of the rural communities through its multi-sectoral activities, in partnership with the local village-based institutions (Village and Women Organizations), for the past 30 years. Since its inception, AKRSP has been contributing to social development through formation and capacity building of grassroots level community organisations, natural resource management, infrastructure development and gender and development in the project area,” he informs. According to Sajjad, they have been making every effort to find more market based opportunities for the marginalised communities of the project area to enable them to effectively participate in the process of development. “One such sector is honey bee keeping, which AKRSP not only identified during the late 90s, but over the time, in partnership with different organizations and development agencies has built the capacities of small producers to such an extent that now pure organic honey is available in the district throughout the year. However, identification and access to larger market is still an issue for the small producers of the district. To this end AKRSP has signed a partnership agreement with the ICIMOD, Nepal and has provided support to communities in linking them with down district whole sellers including Hashoo Foundation. Today over 1500 households are associated with this sector with an annual production of around 15 tons of honey,” he adds. Dr Uma Pratap, who has been working with ICIMOD on honey bees and pollination services for the last 20 years, explains, “They have been working on promoting beekeeping in Chitral since 2005 under its previous beekeeping project and the work continues even now. ICIMOD is working in partnership with AKRSP Chitral and in the process the focus has been on building resilience among the local community – both men and women in adapting to climate as well as other changes. We have trained a number of people both men and women in beekeeping; many of whom have opted beekeeping as an income generating option.  We have also conducted action research to show the role of beekeeping in enhancing horticulture production and fruit quality taking apple as an example.” Dr Uma terms the project a roaring success and adds that there are several success stories that had come up and that they had received a very good feedback – both from their partner and the farmers. “ICIMOD jointly with its country partners has also initiated efforts to address the issue of declining bee populations. In extremely low temperatures in winter, the honey bees are at a risk of dying so the honey bee farmers are taught how to keep temperatures normal indoors and save bees that go into hibernation at this time of the year. Big farmers who have huge yields move down country before the advent of winter along with their beehives and sell their product. For the smaller ones, AKRSP has engaged buyers like Hashoo Foundation who take it to other parts of the country. This foundation treats this honey and then sells it to buyers at elite hotels in the country,” concludes Sajjad.