Participatory Action Research on Apis cerena Selection and Multiplication in Nepal

Introduction

Apis cerana, the indigenous hive bee of Asia, is the most valuable natural resource of beekeeping in the HKH region and has been considered a vital component of the natural ecosystem. This species is very similar to the European honeybee, Apis mellifera as far as comb building, dancing, and nesting behaviours are concerned. As Apis cerana is a native bee, it is adapted to the local environment and its flowering plants, and can survive without supplementary feeding and medication. It has been reported to be an excellent pollinator of mountain crops that bloom in early spring, such as almonds, apples, pears, plums, and different vegetable seed crops (Verma and Partap, 1993; Partap and Partap, 1997). However, it produces less honey than Apis mellifera and has some undesirable behavioural characteristics like frequent swarming, absconding, and robbing. For higher honey production, Apis mellifera has been imported to many parts of HKH countries and is becoming popular among commercial beekeepers. Surveys conducted by ICIMOD during recent years have shown that the population of Apis cerana in the HKH region is declining (Verma, 1992; Partap, 1999).

Bee researchers, development workers and pollination scientists warn that the decline in Apis cerana populations may result in the loss of plant biodiversity in an area and create socio-economic problems (Pechhacker et al, 2001). As Apis mellifera beekeeping requires more resources (time, treatment against epidemic diseases and predators) and needs high level of inputs in terms of capital and management, it is unsuitable for subsistent rural farmers/beekeepers (Ahmad et al, 2001). Keeping this in mind, ICIMOD’s beekeeping project has adopted a participatory approach to conduct action research on Apis cerana selection and multiplication in different areas of HKH region. This paper refers to the participatory action research, which is being carried out in Alital VDC of Dadeldhura district in far-western Nepal. Alital VDC is located in Chiuri (Aesandra butyracea) threshold, where 53 beekeepers were identified as an action research partners. As Chiuri plant has long blooming period and provides abundant nectar for bees, the area offers good potential for beekeeping.

The main objective of participatory action research is to improve productivity and behavioural characteristic of Apis cerana. The participatory approach applied by ICIMOD’s beekeeping project calls for people’s involvement in every stage from data recording to colony management and data analysis. It focuses on a group of people, who participate in the action research process. The project uses dialogue based participatory approach to enhance local people's awareness and confidence, and to empower their action. In the action research, the professionals (ICIMOD staff and NGO staff) have roles as conveyors, catalysts and facilitators. This innovative programme embodies 4 basic steps, i.e. formation of beekeepers' group/association, skill enhancement, saving, credit and fund raising, and improvement in bee management techniques. These four basic steps and their modus operandi is detailed below:

  1. Formation of group/association: For the effective selection and propagation of better stock, beekeepers need to have larger apiaries from which to choose more productive colonies. But, most of Apis cerana beekeepers are subsistent farmers keeping one or a few colonies in traditional fixed comb hives. To generate data from a large number of colonies, it is essential to organize beekeepers. Hence, the project facilitated series of meetings with beekeepers/farmers to discuss the issue and build consensus about the approaches, methodologies and activities to be implemented in the area. Community members were sensitized to the benefits of working collectively and encouraged them to form a community organization. As a result there is now a very dynamic group known as Alital Beekeeper’s Association (ABA). This association comprises both male and female farmers.
  2. Skill enhancement: To bridge the knowledge gap and improve the existing skills and capability, the group of action research farmers/beekeepers was trained in different aspects of beekeeping including hive making, colony management, queen rearing, data collection and group mobilization. The main objective of training was to develop knowledge, skills and confidence in strengthening beekeeping activities at community level. A variety of participatory training methodologies were employed to make training as effective as possible. Major emphasis was given to practical aspects of the training rather than classroom orientation. The training were conducted at an active beekeeping site where trainees had an opportunity to hands on work. The training encouraged participate only those beekeepers who are keeping bees and are in need of such support and help. Women beekeepers along with the farmers having honeybees were encouraged to participate in the training.
  3. Saving, credit and fund raising: Capital is an essential input for any development intervention. Although currently, many of its activities related to action research programme are sponsored by the ICIMOD’s beekeeping project through local NGO (Rural Women’s Development and Unity Centre), the intention is that ABA will develop over the coming years as a farmer-led self-financing organization. With this intention, ICIMOD provided a revolving fund of Rupees 30,000. ABA has been using this fund as seed money. Members of ABA are also having saving and credit scheme. They regularly meet and deposit Rupees 15/month and mobilize capital among group members as loan for procuring beekeeping equipment. The project has also been facilitating them in mobilizing local skills and resources. Farmers who have got training on hive carpentry were encouraged to construct hives and sell in the local market. In the long term, we hope that action research farmers and ABA will be able to run Apis cerana selection programme on sustainable basis.
  4. Improvement of management techniques: Most beekeepers in the study area keep bees in traditional fixed comb log and wall hives. These hives do not allow for data recording and management practices. Movable comb hives are prerequisite for selection and multiplication programme. Without having bee colonies in movable comb hives it is not possible to inspect colonies thoroughly, control swarms and rear queens. Keeping this in mind, participating farmers were encouraged to raise their colonies in movable frame hives. Farmers are taught how to construct beehives locally and how to manage colonies in movable frame hives. As a result there are now 67+ movable frame hives and most of them (about 90%) are occupied with bees. To minimize the risks of colony losses farmers are encouraged to divide their colonies already kept in frame hives rather than to transfer their well-settled colonies from log or wall hives into Newton B hives.


Different types of training are also provided to improve the quality of bee products. Earlier farmers used to mix-up sealed and unsealed honey together and cook it to reduce moisture content. But, now farmers are encouraged to separate sealed and unsealed honey combs so that they can consume unsealed honey immediately and sell sealed honey without cooking.

Selection Process:

In order to carry out farmers' participatory action research on Apis cerana selection, 53 beekeepers having a total of 258 bee colonies have been identified in three different villages of Alital VDC. Each hive is provided with a code number and data is being generated regularly. To select the best colonies of Apis cerana the following criteria are adopted:
  • Honey yield
  • Colony Age
  • Colony strength
  • Brood and egg laying pattern
  • Tendency of swarming and absconding
  • Resistance to diseases and parasites


It is encouraging to note that farmers of Alital VDC of Dadeldhura district are participating regularly in generating selection data. Some preliminary data are presented below (Table 1 and 2).

Table 1: Colony Age

Age Percentage of colonies (n = 257)
< 1 year67%
2-4 years27%
5-7 years5%
> 8 years1%

The preliminary data suggest that there are few colonies which are exceptionally good, i.e. have very low swarming tendency and good honey gathering quality. Table 1 showed that there are some colonies, which have not absconded or deserted the hive since last 8 years. Table 2 demonstrated that even with traditional beekeeping methods, some colonies of Apis cerana produce more than 5 kg of honey/harvest while others produce less than 1 kg/harvest, which is good reason to start selection and multiplication programme.

Table 2: Honey Production

Honey HarvestedPercentage of colonies
May/June, 2000
(n = 126)
Nov/Dec, 2000
(n = 197)
May/June, 2001
(n = 185)
< 1 kg8%9%2.7%
1-2 kg79%41%44.3%
3-5 kg11.5%44%52.4%
> 5 kg1.5%6%0.5%

Grafting methods of queen rearing was already tested and perfected in Apis cerana at village level. It is planned that after analysing the selection data queens will be reared from selected colonies and the queens of weak, diseased and less productive colonies will be replaced by newly reared, mated queens for better performance. Rearing of queens from more productive colonies, which are well adapted to the local environment and survived since 5-8 years will surely improve the honey yield and absconding behaviour of Apis cerana. By choosing the best individuals for several years and multiplying them, the gene pool of a population grows more and more uniformly. This continuous and collective work of selection and multiplication will improve not only the yield of colony but also the behaviour of Apis cerana bees.

It has already been reported that honey production of bee colonies can be increased many times by adopting modern methods and selective breeding programme. Wongsiri (1992) has reported that due to adoption of modern management methods and selective breeding programme in Chonghua County, Guandong of China the colony number and honey yield increased year by year. By 1963, honeybee populations expanded from 2,000 to 6, 000 colonies and honey yields increased from 5 kg/year to 50 kg/year (Wongsiri, 1992).

Conclusion

The area has productive physical infrastructure and offers great potential for beekeeping development. Farmers are convinced with the concept of participatory action research programme on Apis cerana selection and are generating data regularly. However, they are still awaited for real outputs and want to have immediate benefits from the programme, but it is practically not possible to show significant change in colony productivity within one or two years’ time. Selection is a continuous process for which there is a need of long-term participation. The process of Apis cerana selection has just been established. Further strengthening of beekeepers’ capability is essential for sustainability and continuity of selection and multiplication programme. To promote beekeeping as a sustainable option for rural development, there is a need to link beekeeping with other development activities and bio-diversity conservation programme with major emphasis on Chiuri conservation.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Austroprojekt for providing financial assistance in carrying out this work.

References

  • Ahmad, F., Joshi, S. R., Gurung, M. B. (2002) ‘Retreating Wild Honeybee Populations and Livelihoods of Himalayan Farmers.’ In Beekeeping and Development 60: 6.
  • Partap, U. (999) ‘Conservation of Endangered Himalayan Honeybee, Apis cerana for Crop Pollination’. In Asian Bee Journal 1(1): 44-49.
  • Partap, U.; Partap, T. (1997). Managed Crop Pollination: The Missing Dimension of Mountain Agricultural Productivity. Mountain Farming System’s Discussion Paper Series No. MFS 97/1. Kathmandu: ICIMOD.
  • Pechhacker, H.; Joshi, S. R.; Chatt, A. (2001). Traditional Beekeeping in Rural Areas: A Comparison Between Apis cerana Beekeeping in Nepal and Apis mellifera Beekeeping in Morocco. In Bee World 82 (2): 99-105.
  • Verma, L. R. (1992) Honeybees in Mountain Agriculture. Oxford and IBH Publishing Co., New Delhi, pp. 274
  • Verma, L. R.; Partap, U. (1993) The Asian Hive Bee, Apis cerana, as a Pollinator in Vegetable Seed Production. Kathmandu: ICIMOD.
  • Wongsiri, S. (1992) ‘Beekeeping Problems in Developing Countries of South-East Asia’. In Verma, L. R. (ed) Honeybees in Mountain Agriculture, pp 239-248. New Delhi: Oxford & IBH Publishing Co.

This article was written by Joshi, S.R., Ahmad, F. and Gurung, M.B. of ICIMOD in 2001.  It was published in "Mountain Agriculture in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region, Proceedings of an International Symposium held May 21 – 24, 2001 in Kathmandu, Nepal".