Beekeeping a promising option for farmers in Himalica pilot sites in Ruma Upazila

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Pollination is a vital ecosystem service that is essential for ensuring human food security as well as maintaining natural ecosystems. Over three quarters of all plants, including world food crops, rely on animal pollinators for better yield and quality. Among these, insects such as bees, flies, and butterflies are most important. They play a fundamental role in maintaining food security for humans.  

Honeybees are one of the most efficient providers of crucial and high value pollination services essential for enhancing agricultural yield and ensuring human food security. They also provide by-products rich in nutrition and health benefits such as honey, beeswax and pollen, which, if marketed well, can further increase household income. As the diversity and abundance of naturally occurring pollinators decline, the role of domesticated bees – one of the greatest providers of pollination services – is becoming increasingly important.

Horticultural crops such as litchi, mango, cashew nuts and coffee are coming up in a big way in Himalica pilot sites in Ruma Upazila in Bandarban district, Bangladesh. Beekeeping plays a vital role in pollination, improving crop yield and quality. Research has shown that using honeybees for pollination doubles cashew nut yield and enhances coffee yield by 75% and improves the quality of cashew nuts and coffee beans.  

Against this backdrop, a small team consisting of Aung Marma, Agriculture Officer and Kyathui Marma, Business Development Officer, both working for the Himalica Initiative at the Bandarban Hill Development Council (BHDC), Suman Priya Chakma, a beekeeping expert from Khagrachari, and Uma Partap, Beekeeping Specialist at ICIMOD, undertook a field visit to Himalica pilot areas. The purpose of the visit was to assess potential for beekeeping development in the region for the production of high quality honey and the pollination services bees provide to cash crops and natural flora in the region for improving rural livelihoods.  

The team visited farmers and their coffee, cashew nut, litchi and mango orchards in Bethel para on 18 March 2017. The team was looking to see if there are possibilities for promoting beekeeping – primarily for the pollination of coffee and cashew nuts, and as a livelihood option for pilot households. They were also looking to identify interested participants who can be given beekeeping training and supported in beekeeping development.

The team members were amazed to see large numbers of bees foraging on cashew nut flowers. There were also a number of bees on a fruit tree that is known locally as painnyagula (many spiked flacourtia), and on ornamental Albizia bushes. These sightings indicated the existence of wild colonies of bees in nearby forested areas which are rich in floral resource. The important ones, in addition to those mentioned above, are tamarind, jujube, banana, coconut, litchi, mango and betel nut.  

Mustafizur Rehman, Agriculture Officer, Ruma, who was in Bandarban to participate in a gender empowerment training conducted by BHDC and ICIMOD said, “There is no beekeeping in Ruma. But there are plenty of Apis cerana bees living in hollow tree trunks in the forest. People extract honey from these wild colonies in the nearby forested areas. When extracting the honey, they kill off a lot of the bee brood and adult bees, sometimes even the queen, which results in the loss of the bee colony. Therefore, introducing managed beekeeping is a very good idea.”  

The team also met many farmers in the village and explained the purpose of the visit to them. We wanted to find out if they were interested in learning modern methods of beekeeping management. Once again we were astonished to discover that all the people we asked showed keen interest in beekeeping. 

The field study showed a lot of potential and community interest in bee development. Thus, a plan for beekeeping development was developed with BHDC. Participants have been identified and the training is planned for early April. After the training, the participants will be given beehives with colonies and key equipment to get them started. They will also be supported and encouraged with regular technical follow-ups. The programme will help famers increase their income with high quality honey, and higher yield and better quality produce.