Beekeeping in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh: A Success Story

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The Asiatic honeybee Apis cerana is indigenous to, among other regions, the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. It is found in the forests of all three of the Chittagong Hill Tracts districts: Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban, and presents a viable livelihood opportunity for the inhabitants of the region.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) first initiated an effort to promote beekeeping here through the ICIMOD-UNDP Livelihoods Project. It continued the work through a bee project financed by the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). ICIMOD’s efforts focused on building the capacities of partner institutions and potential beekeepers with bee management, honey production, and market linkages. 

Piloting beekeeping among members of the local communities in these three districts has proven successful. There are a number of beekeeping entrepreneurs here who produce approximately 5,000 to 7,000 kg of honey annually. In local markets, their honey sells at almost double the price of the honey produced in the plains of Bangladesh. The incomes of these beekeepers have increased by up to 30% in several ICIMOD project sites. 

In Khagrachari district, there are over 200 households which keep bee colonies. Although the number of bee colonies per household numbers somewhere between two to four on average, each hive can produce up to 10 kg of honey a year. This honey is sold for BDT 700-1,000 per kg depending on the season it is produced at the local market, earning each bee keeping household BDT 4,000-7,000 annually. Beehive entrepreneurs who focus just on building wooden hives and selling these to beekeepers have also come up. The price of one beehive can be anywhere between BDT 2,200-2,500, depending on the type of wood used. 

Sumon Chakma, of Dakhin Khubung Puria, a village in the outskirts of Khagrachari town, is one of the most successful beekeepers in the area. He manages an apiary, and is involved in other bee based enterprises as well. Chakma was introduced to the world of beekeeping in 2008 while working as a community facilitator for an ICIMOD-UNDP Livelihood project local partner PAJURECO. At the time, he was part of the team organizing beekeeping trainings for Chittagong Hill Tracts locals. Chakma says he would listen very carefully to the resource persons facilitating these trainings, and take notes throughout. He decided to give beekeeping a try then, and bought a wooden beehive and a colony in 2008.

Chakma says he produced 2 kg of honey that year, which he sold for BDT 500 per kg. He learnt how to multiply bee colonies, and these days he sells anywhere between 15-20 colonies a year. He keeps 20-25 colonies for his own business, and produces 150-200 kg of honey a year, selling it at the rate of BDT 700-1,000 per kg, based on the time of year the honey is harvested. Beekeeping brings him a cash income of over BDT 300,000 annually. He also manages other farmers’ colonies, taking 50% of their honey harvest as payment for his services. 

So far, Chakma has provided trainings in 15 upazilas (geographical regions) as part of various programmes facilitated by NGOs such as PAJURECO, ALO, Zabarang, and KMBS (Khagrachari Mohila Bikash Samiti). He also makes and sells beehives and other equipment (bee veils, swarm bags). He conducts beekeeping trainings for different organizations as a resource person, charging a fee of BDT 2,000 a day. He sells bee colonies at a rate of BDT  5,000 per colony, including the beehive. He sells up to 100 hives a year, earning over BDT 200,000. In 2016, Chakma earned BDT 200,000 from selling honey, and BDT 90,000 from selling bee colonies and beehives. In addition, he received payment for providing trainings. Beekeeping has become an important source of cash income him.

As a successful businessman and chairperson of the Khagrachari Beekeepers Association, which is supported by UNDP, Chakma is an example of how beekeeping can be an effective livelihood option for locals in the area. He currently has one person working for his business, but he hopes he’ll be able to expand it in the future and have more people from his village working with him.