Farmers in AdaptHimal pilot see promise in beekeeping

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Aungching Marma of Bash para with his bees. Marma has four colonies (one given by the project and four captured from the nearby forest) and plans to increase the number to 10 this year and increase it further in the coming years.
Photo Credit: Uma Pratap/ICIMOD

In March 2017, a team of agriculture and beekeeping specialists visited six neighbouring paras (villages) in Khagrachari district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh to meet farmers who are exploring beekeeping as a means of diversifying their livelihoods. The team included representatives from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Khagrachari Hill Development Council (KHDC).

A trainer and facilitator from Fame Enterprise in Dhaka, Abdul Alim Bhuiyan, and a local supplier of bee colonies, beehives and other beekeeping equipment, Suman Chakma, accompanied Uma Pratap, Agriculture and Beekeeping Specialist at ICIMOD, and Shahjahan Ali from KHDC. They spoke to beekeepers who had attended a training workshop organized by ICIMOD, KHDC and Zabarang Kalyan Samiti in January this year. The four-member team hoped to see progress and extend technical support where necessary to the farmers.

Twenty-five farmers from different paras in the district had participated in January’s workshop. The training, which aimed to promote beekeeping in the region, was a follow-up to a scoping mission led by ICIMOD, KHDC and Zabarang in August 2016. ICIMOD has been working with KHDC and Zabarang to promote beekeeping as an income diversification option to enhance the resilience of hill people in Khagrachari under its AdaptHimal programme.

The outcomes of the March visit were rather surprising and very encouraging. The team of visiting specialists found that bee colonies provided by the project were in mint condition. The new owners handled their hives with confidence, and showed keen interest in keeping more colonies. 

Post the training, Aungching Marma from Bash para has acquired three honeybee colonies from the nearby forest, and hopes to capture two more colonies soon. Marma also convinced a local carpenter to build two beehives for him, using the beehive provided at the training as a sample. He plans to increase his colony number to 10 within the year and to 20 or more by next year. He says, “Earlier, I used to buy honey for the local festival every year. Now that I have my own bees, I do not have to buy honey. When I acquire more hives, I will sell the surplus honey for cash. I also plan to sell some colonies because other people in my area are getting interested in beekeeping”. 

Shila Marma shows us a frame of bees. Her colony is well-settled and growing fast. She received this colony on 1 March 2017. 
Photo Credit: Uma Pratap/ICIMOD

Marma has also agreed to observe and report any changes in the yield and quality of fruit from his litchi orchard and is looking forward to sharing his observations with other farmers in the area. This will help increase awareness of the role bees play in pollinating local fruit in the region.

Mongsuiong Marma in Chowdhury para is another farmer who maintains a strong colony with five honeycombs. He plans to capture more swarms from the forest. Another elated farmer is Nipru Marma in Mohajan para who has already extracted about half a kilogram of litchi honey from his new hive. 

Eighteen out of the 19 training participants who received the bee colonies (six have yet to receive their bees) have taken to the programme really well and are taking care of their colonies. Only one has reported losing their colony. These bee colonies have thrived primarily because of an abundance of flora in the area – litchi, mango, three species of jamun (Indian blackberry) that flower at different times of the year, jujubes, wild olives, tamarind, touch-me-nots, and plenty of other wild plants. The training in January and the distribution of hives in mid-February coincided with the onset of the honey flow season. 

More farmers are showing an interest in beekeeping. However, getting these farmers to adopt beekeeping as way of life has not been easy. The scoping mission in August last year had trouble finding takers for January’s beekeeping training. Beekeeping is very new to the area and farmers were not very receptive to trainings and working with bees. Staff at Zabarang Kalyan Samiti conducted multiple consultations and counselling visits to farmers and shared with them the benefits of having bees on their farms. It took months of persuasion and encouragement to identify individuals with an interest in beekeeping. 

The introduction of beekeeping has also provided an opportunity for the development of other bee-based enterprises such as hive carpentry. Mongsanu Marma, a local carpenter in Bash para, made his first beehive based on Aungching Marma’s sample. He sold three beehives to for BDT 1,500 per hive, and is making four more to sell for a total of BDT 6,000. 

Mongsanu would benefit from proper training in beehive making. We hope to see this enterprise grow with more farmers adopting beekeeping and paving a way for the growth of hive making and other bee-based enterprises.