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Bees and Pollination

Frequently Asked Questions

Beekeeping has been identified as a non-land based food, employment and income generating
option in mountain areas across HKH region. One does not need to own land to keep bees; bee
hives can be placed in and around the house.

Beekeeping is an environment friendly activity as it helps in maintenance of biodiversity
by providing pollination services. In fact, bees, as providers of pollination services make
the crucial link between beekeepers who maintain bee colonies and the benefits of receiving
fees for providing pollination services and the orchard owners who buy pollination services
by renting bees and benefits in terms of crop yield and quality. So it leads to development
and a win-win relationship between the rich and the poor. Bees are easy to handle — they can
be handled by women and children.

Honey is a nutritious and healthy food, and can be used for medicinal purposes to cure
various ailments such as cold and coughs, infections and wounds, and can be sold to earn
cash income. Beeswax is another bee product that can be sold as such or developed into
various value added products to earn cash income. Beekeeping also creates employment
opportunities by establishing apiary and other bee based enterprises. These points are
summarised below:

  • Easy to start; employment and income generating
    opportunity for youth, poor and the landless
  • Non-land based activity; does not require one to
    own land
  • Requires little capital investment
  • Source of employment at home; bee colonies can
    be placed in and around the house
  • Flexible activity: can be taken up as part time
    or full time activity; particularly suitable for women; women can tend bees in
    their free time
  • Bees produce honey, beeswax and other products;
    these products are source of nutrition, health and income for the local people;
    demand for these products in the market exists
  • Honey is a healthy and nutritious food. It is
    the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life,
    including sugars, lipids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it’s the
    only food that contains “pinocembrin”, an antioxidant associated with improved
    brain functioning. Honey is also used as medicine to cure coughs, colds, ear and
    eye infections, wounds and boils, cuts, burns, stomach aches, and to ease child
    birth
  • Beeswax can be sold as pure beeswax and demand
    for pure beeswax is high; in addition a number of value added products like
    candles, cosmetic products such as skin creams, lip balm, soap, and medicinal
    salves can be prepared from beeswax.
  • Bees pollinate crops – enhance yield and fruit/
    seed quality of agricultural and horticultural crops; over three-quarters of
    food crops are pollinated by bees. These include fruit, nut, vegetable,
    oilseed, pulses, spices crops etc.
  • Bees pollinate natural flora and wild plants –
    help in maintenance of biodiversity necessary for improving environmental
    health.
  • Overall, beekeeping improves livelihoods of
    resource poor mountain farmers.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region is one of the world’s richest in terms of honeybee
species diversity. Six out of the eleven known species of honeybee are found in the region;
and of them, five species including Apis dorsata, Apis florea, Apis
laboriosa
, Apis cerana, and Apis andreniformis are indigenous to the
HKH region whereas Apis mellifera has been introduced. Among the indigenous species
only Apis cerana can be managed in hives whereas the rest occur wild in nature.

Honeybees help in improving livelihoods and food security of mountain people, particularly
the socio-economically marginalised and geo-physically isolated groups through their
products and services. Indigenous honeybees benefit a large number of mountain households,
crops, and other flora in HKH region. By providing pollination services, bees play a vital
role in enhancing productivity of many mountain crops which sustain farm economies of
several sub regions of HKH region. Indirectly, they contribute to environmental protection
and biodiversity, and in maintaining soil fertility.

The wild bees – Apis andreniformis, Apis dorsata, Apis florea, Apis
laboriosa
and the hive bee Apis cerana produce large quantities of high
quality, residue-free, organic, natural, and ecologically sound products (honey and beeswax)
that are important sources of cash income, have strong market demand, and are of cultural
value to human societies. Thus, conserving these bees and promoting their sustainable
management can help in improving the livelihoods of communities associated with these
bees.

Beekeeping with indigenous honeybee, Apis cerana has been proved to be an important
livelihood option for poor mountain people who depend on integrated farming activities for
their livelihoods by providing honey, beeswax, pollination services, selling bees, and
creation of self-employment opportunities. Mountain communities throughout the HKH region
keep Apis cerana in different types of hives such as log hives, wall hives, mud hives, box
hives, pot hives, and benefit from their products (honey and beeswax) pollination services.

However, the introduction and promotion of Apis mellifera by GOs, NGOs and private sector
organizations has led to a decline in Apis cerana beekeeping, particularly in plain areas
and valleys that have road connectivity. Nepal, which had been the strongest gene pool of
Apis cerana until 1990, has already imported and promoted Apis mellifera. Currently Apis
mellifera beekeeping is flourishing in 17 terai districts replacing Apis cerana. Studies
carried out by ICIMOD have shown that at present, Apis cerana is kept (managed) only in
remote mountain areas. Some of these areas include southern parts of Bhutan, hills and
mountain districts in Nepal, Northern provinces of India, Yunnan and Sichuan in China, and
in hills and mountain areas of Pakistan.

The indigenous honeybee, Apis cerana, has distinct advantages over Apis mellifera,
particularly for the mountain communities, mountain crops and mountain flora in the HKH
region. There are several reasons as to why promote Apis cerana in mountain areas.
These include the following:

  • Apis cerana beekeeping is highly suitable
    for mountain poor – as it requires simple, less expensive technology which poor
    mountain farmers can easily afford, while Apis mellifera requires
    expensive technology which poor mountain people cannot afford.
  • Being an indigenous species Apis cerana
    is better adapted to the local mountain environment, and indigenous pests and
    predators. It is suitable for small scale stationary beekeeping practiced by
    mountain people in HKH region. Apis mellifera, to be profitable, needs to
    be migrated to warmer, low hill areas during winter. If not migrated, it needs
    special care to manage the colonies and feed them large amount of sugar which
    many mountain farmers cannot afford. In fact, Apis mellifera is more
    suitable for migratory, commercial beekeeping, and is profitable in areas having
    access and road connectivity. However, in remote mountain areas of the HKH
    region Apis mellifera is not a profitable option in such
    areas.
  • Apis cerana is resistant to common mites
    such as Varroa and Tropilaelaps and does not require medicines and drugs to
    treat the colonies for diseases and parasites. But Apis mellifera is
    highly susceptible to mites, and requires expensive chemicals to control them.
    The residues of these chemicals also contaminate honey.
  • Apis cerana is well adapted to the crops
    and flora of the mountain areas. This bee visits and pollinates flowers of a
    large diversity of mountain crops and wild plants for long duration every day –
    from early in the morning till late in the evening. Further, since this species
    is suitable for stationary beekeeping and is not migrated during winter;
    consequently, Apis cerana continues to provide pollination services to
    crops that bloom in winter as well as early spring – a distinct advantage over
    Apis mellifera.
  • Apis cerana is well adapted to mountain
    climatic conditions. These bees are better able to cope/ adapt to weather/
    climate variability compared to Apis mellifera, hence the chances of the
    poor/ landless/ marginal communities adapting to change is higher if Apis
    cerana
    is promoted instead of Apis mellifera.
  • Honey produced by Apis cerana is a high
    value niche product that is free of any residues of antibiotic and pesticides,
    and can be sold at higher price. However, as explained earlier Apis
    mellifera
    requires chemical treatment of its colonies against bee
    diseases and parasites, the residues of which are likely to contaminate honey.
    Therefore, honey produced by Apis mellifera is a global commodity that
    has to compete with low price honeys from different areas and nations.
  • Beeswax is another bee product, particularly of
    Apis cerana bees managed using traditional fixed comb hives. Beeswax can
    be sold at equal or even higher price than honey. It can be sold as pure beeswax
    or by producing different value added products such as candles, skin creams,
    medicinal salves etc. which can bring additional income for the poor mountain
    farmers.
  • Apis cerana beekeeping is, thus, a source
    of livelihoods for a large number of mountain households in the HKH region.
    There are hundreds of thousands of small scale beekeepers engaged with Apis
    cerana
    beekeeping. Conserving and promoting beekeeping with this bee
    would mean improving livelihoods of thousands of small farmer/ beekeeping
    families.

There are various simple methods that one can use to
find out whether a particular sample of honey is pure or adulterated with sugar. Some of
them are given below:

  • Take a glass of water and put a spoon of honey
    in it. Pure honey will settle in the bottom of the glass, but the sugar syrup
    will immediately start dissolving in water.
  • Take a clean white paper and place a drop of
    honey on it. Pure honey drop will remain there as an intact drop but sugar
    syrup will spread on the paper.
Yes. Granulated or solidified honey is as pure as
liquid honey. Honey contains glucose and fructose – are two main reducing sugars in
addition to several other ingredients, such as enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water
and antioxidants. Honey granulates if it contains a higher amount of glucose than
fructose (low fructose/glucose ratio). But this does not mean that honey is adulterated
or impure.

The solidified honey is equally good in quality as the
liquid honey. Solid honey can be used as table honey, on a toast like butter, or in
drinks such as milk or tea. However, if one does not prefer solid honey, it can be
brought back to the liquid form. For this, place the pot of honey containing the
granulated/ solidified honey in sun for some time. It will liquefy. Alternatively
heat water in a pot and place the jar of solidified honey in the pot containing hot
water. After some time the solid honey will turn to liquid honey. Remember not to heat
honey more than 40oC. Never heat honey directly on a flame. It will denature
the enzymes.

Depends on the plants sources and amount of nectar in the flower. Flowers of some plants,
for example Indian butter tree produce large quantities of nectar while others produce
little. Generally bees visit 2,500,000 to 3,500,000 flowers to make 1 kg honey.
Further a colony of honeybees fly about 90,000 miles, the equivalent of three orbits
around the earth to collect 1 kg of honey.

On an average a bee in its whole life time produces
about one-tenth of a spoonful of honey.

It depends on the species (type) of bees. A colony of
bees can have from few hundred individuals (in Apis florea) to upto 80,000 bees (Apis
dorsata
and Apis laboriosa). A colony of Apis cerana has around
20,000-25,000 bees and Apis mellifera about 50,000-60,000.

There are 11 species of honeybees found in the world.
These include Apis andreniformis, Apis florea, Apis cerana, Apis
koschevnikovi
, Apis mellifera, Apis nigrocincta, Apis
nuluensis
, Apis binghami, Apis breviligula, Apis dorsata,
and Apis laboriosa.

In addition to true honeybees there are several species of stingless bees found in
different parts of the world including northeastern part of India, Southern Bhutan, and
western Nepal of the HKH region.

Five species of true honeybees (Apis spp.) and a few
species of stingless honeybees are found in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. True
honeybees include the giant honeybees or rock bees (Apis dorsata) and Apis
laboriosa
, the little honeybee (Apis florea), the Asian honeybee (Apis
cerana
), and the European honeybee (Apis mellifera). Several types of
stingless honeybees, including species of Melipona and Trigona are also found in the
region.

No. Only two species – the Asian honeybee,
Apis cerana and the European Apis mellifera can be kept in the hives and
managed for honey production and crop pollination. Other species make the nests in
open and cannot be managed.

Honeybees make their nests with the beeswax. Beeswax is
secreted by eight (four pairs) of wax glands located in the abdominal segments 4 to 7 of
the 13-18 day old worker bees. Wax glands become active in 13-18 day old worker bees. To
secrete 1 Kg of beeswax bees eat 10 kg of honey.

Honeybees live in colonies. A honeybee colony can
contain up to few hundred to 80,000 bees depending on the species. A colony of honeybee
consists of one queen, a few drones and thousands of worker bees.

The queen is the only fertile female in the colony. She
is much longer and darker than drones and worker bees. However, it is difficult to find
her in the colony because she is usually covered by many workers bees.

The queen is the mother of all other bees in the colony. The most important function of the
queen is to lay eggs to produce offspring. Immature stages (eggs, larvae and pupae) are
collectively called the brood. The majority of fertilised eggs laid by the queen develop
into worker bees or daughters. She also lays a few unfertilised eggs during the swarming or
reproduction season that develop into drones (male bees).

Workers bee are sterile females and are produced in
thousands. They are the smallest members of the colony. They do all the work required
for its survival. They feed the queen and the brood, take care of the young, build the
nest, clean the hive, defend the colony from the pests and predators, and regulate
colony temperature. They store both nectar and pollen in the hive to provide food for
the colony. Workers also collect nectar and convert it into honey.

No. The worker bees are sterile females. Under normal
circumstances they do not lay eggs. However, in the absence of a queen for a long
time, they develop functional ovaries and lay unfertilised eggs that develop into
drones.

Drones are generally produced when a colony is
preparing for swarming. In this situation, the colony will also construct queen cells.
Thus both drones and queens are reared together. The drones fly from the colony to mate
with a queen. Drones are bigger than workers and smaller than the queen, and have large
eyes. A drone dies after mating the queen. Drones are starved to death after the queen
is successfully mated and starts laying eggs.

A bee visiting the flowers of a crop becomes
conditioned to that particular crop. During a single foraging trip, it visits a number
of flowers of the same crop. While collecting nectar and pollen, the bee brushes against
the anthers of a flower and some pollen grains are picked up by the hairs on its body
and head. When the bee visits another flower some of the pollen grains on the bees’ body
are captured by the sticky surface of a receptive stigma, thus effecting
cross-pollination.

Apitherapy is the use of products derived from bees
including honey, pollen, beeswax, propolis, royal jelly, and bee venom as medicine. Bee
products are known to cure more than 500 diseases such as common cold, cough, arthritis,
multiple sclerosis etc. Honey is used in a number of Ayurvedic preparations.

Beeswax is used ion more than 300 different products
such as candles, creams, lip balms, soaps, beauty products, medicinal salves, paints,
polishes etc. use beeswax.

No. It is not OK for anyone to take bee stings. Though
bee stings are very effective in treating joints pains, arthritis and muscle related
problems, but if a person is allergic to bee stings it can lead to serious condition –
even death. So it is important to take bee stings by an expert
apitherapist.