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19 Apr 2018 | Voices from the field

Buzzing with Potential: Ruma Farmers Adopt Beekeeping for Pollination and Honey

Between 29 October and 3 November 2017, ICIMOD and the Bandarban Hill District Council (BHDC) organized a beekeeping training in the Bandarban district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh as part of the Himalica initiative to promote beekeeping as an income diversification option to enhance the resilience of hill people. The workshop participants came from Bethel para and Mulani para.

In February 2018, Abdul Alim Bhuiyan, a beekeeping expert and trainer from Bangladesh, and I visited the beekeeping training participants in their respective paras to see how they were doing.

Rin Pui Bawm, a farmer from the Bethel para in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh has coffee, mango, papaya, pineapple, areca nuts, and cashew nuts growing in his orchards. After attending the November 2017 training, he decided to try beekeeping.

He now has five strong colonies, which he is maintaining well. Bawm captured these colonies from the nearby forest and hopes to capture more in the upcoming swarming season to increase the number of colonies in his hives to ten or more. Bawm is as interested in the pollination services bees provide, as he is in the honey they produce. That bees help pollinate flowers is what he took home from the training.

“I need bees to pollinate my coffee and cashew nuts. I also want to make honey and sell it,” he says.

Bawm initially received one beehive from the Himalica initiative. He bought additional hives from a local carpenter.

He says, “I am always on the lookout bee colonies. Whenever I see one, I capture it and put it in my hive.”

Uma Partap

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Rin Pui Bawm inspecting one of his bee colonies. This particular specimen has an excellent brood pattern

Par Siam Lusai from Bethel para, the only women participant of the 2017 training, has also found success with beekeeping. She has a very strong colony. Her first ever harvest of honey weighed 300 grams. Lusai is highly motivated and plans to capture more swarms in the upcoming swarming season.

Three more young people have taken up beekeeping in Bethel para. One of them learnt the trade from a friend who had attended the 2017 training. All five new beekeepers realize that large-scale beekeeping will be good for crop pollination — mainly the coffee and cashew nuts they have growing in their orchards.

Par Siam Lusai inspects a comb with an impressive brood pattern, sign of a well-managed colony

Mulani Para

When we met Zing Bawm of Munlai para, had one very strong colony of bees that he captured from the wild. The colony was producing honey and had queen cells and a drone brood — an indication that it was preparing to swarm.

With help from Abdul Alim Bhuiyan and me, Bawm divided his colony into two. He wants to increase the number of colonies to at least 10. He has coffee, cashew nut, and mango orchards and knows that the pollination services provided by bees can increase the yield and quality of his crops.

Zing Bawm with his bee colony

Lal Pek Lian Bawm has three colonies and plans to expand. He is quite motivated and keeps contacting Alim, the beekeeping expert and trainer, on his mobile to seek technical help. On our visit to Ruma on 20 February, Lal Pek spent a whole day with us, asking several technical questions related to better management of his bees.

Zing Bawm’s cousin was inspired by him and took up beekeeping himself. He captured two colonies but he could not manage them as he had little technical knowledge. He lost them both to ant infestations. The experience has made him determined and he wants to start again.

There are more farmers in Munlai para who have shown keen interest in taking up beekeeping. The Support to Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalaya (Himalica) initiative initially provided each farmer one beehive. Two workshop participants got a local carpenter to construct beehives using the sample beehive the project had provided as a sample.

Way Forward

If local carpenters in both paras can be trained to build proper beehives and other beekeeping equipment, they can earn more by simply making and selling them. Their businesses will grow as the number of beekeepers in the region grows.

The availability of bee flora in the area is also a primary reason for the successful adoption of beekeeping. Plants like coffee, cashew nuts, litchi, mango, jamun (three species flowering in different times of the year), jujube, olive, tamarind, sesame, touch-me-not, etc., and plenty of other wild plants constitute major bee flora in the area.

When we visited Bethel and Mulani in March 2017, not one farmer kept bees. We now have eight farmers managing 10–12 colonies between them. Interest in beekeeping is growing among other farmers in the area. The progress has been amazing.

There is still a long way to go before successful beekeeping and bee-based enterprises (pollination, beehives, bee equipment, etc.) are successfully established. A good majority of farmers acknowledge that beekeeping is an important option for resilient livelihood. A lot needs to be done and for this.

The Himalica initiative has initiated collaboration with SAPLING — a joint initiative of Helen Keller International, Bangladesh, Caritas, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — to continue beekeeping development efforts.

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