Delegates from Chitral, Pakistan, visit Nepal to learn about commercial Apis cerana beekeeping

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Valleys in Chitral district, Pakistan, such as Kalash, Arandu, Shishi Koh and Jinjiret Koh, have a rich tradition of beekeeping. Farmers in these valleys have kept Apis cerana bees in traditional bee hives, known locally as katore, for ages and continue to do so today. A katore is a hollowed-out log hive preferably made of deodar wood (Cedrus deodara) fixed to the wall of a house at the time of its construction. These valleys have an abundance of bee flora and a wealth of indigenous knowledge on Apis cerana management in traditional hives. Selling honey provides cash income to poor mountain communities living in these remote areas with poor access. However, the honey yield, at two to three kilograms per colony, is low and the quality is poor. 

Participants observing a beehive at Gurung’s Garden City Bee Farm

Beekeeping has a spiritual significance among the Kalash community of Pakistan and is considered oshniru or sacred. Beekeeping is practiced by male members of the community only; women are not allowed near beehives and cannot eat the honey produced by hives in their homes. So far, there have been no attempts to promote Apis cerana beekeeping using scientific bee management methods. People – farmers as well as development organizations – believe that these bees cannot be managed scientifically in modern movable-frame hives and produce less honey compared to Apis mellifera bees. Thus, no attempt has been made by government or non-government organizations to promote commercial beekeeping with Apis cerana and many farmers in these valleys, including the Kalash valley, continue using traditional methods of beekeeping management and honey production. 

In order to raise awareness about the potential of Apis cerana as the basis for commercial beekeeping, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) jointly organized a five-day exposure visit for key development professionals from Chitral. The group visited commercial Apis cerana beekeepers in their farms and other bee related enterprises in Nepal. The five-member delegation included three men and two women from Chitral. They interacted with entrepreneurs in Nepal to learn from their experiences, so as to use the lessons learnt to improve the quality of life of the mountain people of the Kalash valley and other remote areas of Chitral. The delegation consisted of two officers from AKRSP, one from the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP), one from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and one from Local Support Organizations (LSOs). The exposure visit was facilitated by Aniruddha N Shukla, Apicultural Consultant and Uma Partap, Agriculture and Beekeeping Specialist at ICIMOD. 

Participants at the Shree Manhi Mauri Bikas Cooperative with cooperative members in Madan Pokhara, Palpa 

The participants visited commercial Apis cerana apiaries in Kaski, Palpa and Chitwan districts, interacted with bee farmers, and learnt from their experiences. In Kaski, they visited Garden City Bee Farm, an apiary and hive making workshop owned by Tek Man Gurung of Argho village in Lekhnath municipality. They also visited an apiaries owned by Gobinda Chapagain and Himalayan Bee Farm owned by Shanta Giri in Bharat Pokhari village development committee. Gurung told the team that he sold 300 colonies in 2016 at the rate of NPR 8,200 per colony, including bee hives. In addition, he sold 800 beehives at the rate of NPR 4,000 per hive.  

Another farmer, Chapagain, has around 150 colonies in his apiary.  He too plans on selling his bees in the future. Similarly, Giri said she sold 90 colonies this year.  She plans to increase the number of her colonies, which she will sell next year. In Palpa, the delegation visited Manhi Mauri Bikas Sahkari Sanstha, where they were welcomed by the members of the executive committee of the cooperative. The group interacted with the executive committee members of the Manhi Mauri Bikas Sahkari Sanstha and learned about their activities whilst visiting their apiaries. Chairperson of the cooperative, Tej Bhandari, informed the group that they have over 1,500 colonies owned by 51 members of the cooperative. Individual beekeepers have anywhere from 15 to 80 colonies of Apis cerana.  Every year, the cooperative sells about 1,000 colonies. The colonies are sold at the rate of NPR 7,000 per colony, including the beehive. The cooperative mainly focuses on developing and selling bee colonies. Whatever amount of honey they produce is sold at NPR 750 per kilogram. 

Interaction with Gita Devkota at her house in Tandi, Chitwan

The group next travelled to Chitwan and visited and interacted with Gita Devkota of Tandi about her experience managing an Apis mellifera based bee enterprise. Devkota talked about how she started her apiary with two colonies (now she has more than two hundred) and elaborated on the challenges she faced along the way, including the manner in which male beekeepers first treated her as she moved her bees to different places. The participants also visited a Nepal government owned Apis mellifera apiary in Bhandara, where they were briefed by Senior Apiculturist, Shiva Prasad Rijal.

In each place, the delegation had the chance to interact with the bee entrepreneurs and learn from their experiences. The participants were impressed by the flourishing Apis cerana beekeeping business in Kaski and Palpa districts where it was not just men but also women managing Apis cerana using modern equipment and methods of beekeeping. 

Gobinda Chapagain’s Apis cerana apiary in Bharat Pokhari village, Kaski

The delegates were amazed to see commercial Apis cerana apiaries managed in a scientific manner. They were also surprised to learn about the honey yield – 20-25 kilograms per colony – in these apiaries. The delegates gained valuable knowledge and inspiration from the trip, and felt motivated to support Apis cerana beekeeping as an income generating option in Kalash and other valleys. “Beekeeping is not just one activity. There are many small enterprises associated with it.  One can do beekeeping for honey, or for pollination, or for selling bee colonies. Whole families can get engaged in beekeeping, depending on the scale, and one does not have to go abroad in search of jobs. It also provides an opportunity for setting up enterprises like beehive construction and other bee equipment”, said Ejaz Hussain, Research Associate, UNDP, Pakistan. His sentiment was echoed by other delegates. Nighat Yasmeen, Gender Expert at AKRSP Chitral, added, “Beekeeping is a very good income generating activity suitable to women. They do not need to go out.  They can stay at home and still engage in beekeeping and earn cash income.”