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Beekeeping helps in improving livelihoods and food security of mountain people through income generation from the sale of bee products, most prominently honey, and pollination service honeybees provide to crops and plants. In fact, the economic contribution of honeybees through their pollination service far outweigh other benefits of beekeeping. In HKH region, where temperate fruit crops, namely apples, almonds, apricots, pears, etc, form the backbone of farm economy of many provinces in different countries, managing crop pollination through honeybees is becoming significantly important to sustain farm economies. This calls for a more intensive focus on the issue from the perspective of policy, research, and extension. Policy reorientation, institutional strengthening and human resources development are the key areas needing attention. ICIMOD is using various strategies to promote honeybees for their pollination service for mountain crops.
There is a lack of awareness about the significance of pollinators and pollination at all levels – be it farmers, extension workers, and professionals at policy and planning level. This is one of the main problems in promoting beekeeping for managed pollination as well as protection of naturally occurring pollinators. With a few exceptions of farmers in those areas where there is a pollination problem, people – farmers, general public as well as the R&D institutions are not aware of the value of honeybees (including other pollinators) for crop production. There are even examples where farmers believe that honeybees damage their crops by extracting (life) – nectar and pollen from the flowers. This is because beekeeping has always been promoted exclusively as an enterprise for honey production. Moreover, cash crops’ farming is a new activity in many developing countries, and there is no indigenous knowledge on the importance and need for managed crop pollination for enhancing crop yield and quality. Thus, there is need for raising awareness about the importance of honeybees’ (beekeeping) pollination service for managing crop pollination. ICIMOD, in collaboration with its national partners in its regional member countries is raising awareness by developing and disseminating a range of awareness materials, organizing awareness workshops for different levels of stakeholders, and engaging national electronic and print media.
The inputs of pollinators in agriculture husbandry and biodiversity conservation have not been recognised by policy makers, planners, development workers and farmers. Pollination has been overlooked in agricultural development strategies and is not included as a technological input in agricultural development packages of practices. Thus farmers have no way of knowing how essential pollination management can be to achieve higher yields and quality. Addressing this weakness in the agricultural extension system would need changes in research and development investment policies. It is necessary to evolve strategies to promote investment in agricultural research and development that will enhance the use of honeybees and other pollinators for pollination. ICIMOD in collaboration with its national partner organizations is conducting action research to generate policy relevant knowledge on the significance of natural and managed pollinators (honeybees) to facilitate the formulation of strategies to ensure the wider use of beekeeping for pollination.
There is need to change the general ‘mindset’ about honeybees and beekeeping. Traditionally, people think is that beekeeping is for honey production; its role in crop pollination is rarely considered. Today, most government agencies are promoting beekeeping for honey production. The move towards introduction of Apis mellifera to increase honey production is an example of this. ICIMOD is working towards influencing this thinking by awareness raising, action research and demonstration, generating and disseminating knowledge on the role of natural and managed pollinators (honeybees) in improving crop production. We are promoting the thinking “honeybees as crop pollinators first, and honey producers second”.
Using or providing the pollination service of honeybees for managing crop pollination is a relatively new area in the countries of the HKH region. There are only a few institutions in the region with explicit mandates or expertise with ongoing research and extension in this area at the provincial and national levels. Most institutions are working only with beekeeping and promoting it as a cottage industry to increase household income through the sale of honey. Promoting honeybees as reliable pollinators and conservation of other pollinators require special efforts to strengthen research and extension systems. ICIMOD is developing frameworks, guidelines, curricula, manuals, and organizing trainings and exposure visits for different levels of stakeholders including R&D institutions, farmer-led organisations, professionals at policy and planning level, development workers, and individual farmers and beekeepers who are the agents of change to strengthen their capacities.
Economic and ecological significance of pollinators has not been brought into the mainstream of R&D efforts in the countries of the HKH region. There is dearth of non-technical literature that can be used to bring awareness among planners and policy makers such as policy briefs, policy issue papers, policy discussion papers etc. Therefore, many people do not know about the significance of pollinators and pollination service they provide to agriculture and natural ecosystems. Integrating pollinator concerns into the agricultural R&D policies is necessary for protecting natural pollinators from harmful agrochemicals and pesticides and promoting wider use of honeybees for managing crop pollination. ICIMOD has been organising focused workshops by bringing in specialists to share knowledge and experiences, and lessons learnt, development of educational/ resources material, and replication of success stories of best management practices within the region to develop policy relevant knowledge and evidence to facilitate mainstreaming of pollinator concerns in relevant policies and programmes.