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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Apiculture Mission – A Vital Component for Improving Horticulture Production in Meghalaya

                                                                                                         -By C.S.Shabong
Fig1:  A Schematic of a Honey Value Chain (Source MBDA Website)
Mawpran a sleepy village near the Indo-Bangadesh border has been transformed as the strawberry village of East Khasi Hills, next to Sohliya village in Ri-Bhoi district which has become a tourist destination. With the formation of the Mawpran Strawberry Association in the year 2008-09 and through the intervention by the State Horticulture Mission under the National Mission for Horticulture Development for North East India and the Himalayas (Now a component under the MIDH), farmers have been nudged towards taking up commercial scale horticulture to improve their livelihoods. As part of the intervention, the farmers were also encouraged to take up apiculture and bee rearing to improve the production of strawberry. Bees are known to improve the amount of fruit harvested by about 10% in field trials conducted in UK. Pollination by bees is also found to improve the shape and size of the strawberry fruits thus translating to better marketability.

Food security is also intrinsically linked and supported by pollinators, of which the humble bee is one of the most important.  Many fruits, vegetables, plantation crops, nuts and seeds depend on animal pollination of which the honey bee and the bumble bee are well known for their roles. Many wild species of bees are also captured and reared by farmers and bee keepers in Meghalaya mainly for honey extraction. But the indirect beneficiaries are the vast stretches of horticulture and fruit plantation especially in the villages of Nongtrai, Tynger, etc. situated in the Indo-Bangladesh hill tract in which a single bee keeper is able to produce as much as 20 kg to 125 kg of honey per year. (D.Marngar and R.D Lyngdoh, 2014)
Bees are diligent pollinators of fruits and seed crops. All plant reproduction requires the transfer of pollen from the anthers, or male part of the flower to the stigma, or female part of the flower either on the same plant or on separate plant. During a single day, one bee may visit several thousand flowers, of one plant species, collecting nectar and pollen and at the same time continuously transferring pollen grains from one flower to the next. Many variety of fruit trees need cross pollination and specially hybrid crops for commercial production creates a special need for cross pollination by insects/bees. Some crops are self pollinated but nonetheless give better yields through pollination by insects or bees. Adequate pollination by insects/bees also ensures that early flowers set seeds, resulting in uniform and early harvest .

In India, the National Bee Board is the nodal agency for registration of bee keepers and farmers for traceability, formulating standards for honey and bee-hive products, capacity building, training and advisories. It also provides free registration of bee-keepers and well as provides assistance and support through various agencies like Khadi Village and Industries Board (KVIB), Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), State Agricultural Universities (SAU), State Horticulture Mission (SHM) etc.

Bees sustain horticulture by allowing crops and wild plants to reproduce. A world without these pollinators would lead to the breakdown of the vital function of reproduction or fruit plants and crops, thus leading to extinction of many plant species. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has recognized pollination as a key driver in the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem function. The system of hiring and renting honeybee colonies for apple pollination is being practiced in Himachal Pradesh to improve production.

As bees fly from one flower to the next, not only do they collect nectars from flowers but also  through their pollinary activities ensures future sustainability of generation to come for food and crops. Pollination is the one significant economic value derived from bees. Plants and bees are interdependent and need each other for survival and procreation.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India has started a restructured centrally sponsored scheme, Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture(MIDH) during the 12th Plan for the holistic development of horticulture sector covering fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers, aromatic plants etc. One of the mission support component of MIDH is “Pollination Support through Bee Keeping” as one of the mission intervention. Honey bee will be used in the mission as an important input to maximise agriculture/horticulture production. The responsibility for co-ordinating the bee keeping development program in the State will be vested with the State Designated Agency, in this case which is Meghalaya SFAC. National Bee Board(NBB) will be responsible for providing technical support, implementation of promotional programs relating to bee-keeping and co-ordinating bee-keeping activity in the State. Assistance will also be available to the state on development of nucleus stock of bees, bee breeding, distribution of bee colony hives and bee keeping equipments.

Table 1.  Cost Norm and Pattern of Assistance under MIDH during XII Plan

Sl. No.
Pollination Support through Bee Keeping
Cost Norms
Pattern of Assistance
Production of nucleus stock(Pubic Sector)
Rs.20.00 lakhs
100% of the cost
Production of bee colonies by bee breeders
Rs.10.00 lakhs
40% of cost for producing min. 2000 colonies per year
Honey Bee Colony
Rs.2000 per colony of 8 frames
40% of the cost limited to 50 colonies per beneficiary
Bee Hives
Rs. 2000 per hive
40% of the cost limited to 50 colonies per beneficiary
Equipment including honey extractor(4 frame), food grade container(30kg) nett including complete set of bee keeping equipment
Rs.20,000/- per set
40% of the cost limited to 1 set per beneficiary

 In a case study No. 10 by Uma Partap, ICIMOD, Nepal titled “Cash Crop Farming in the Himalayas: The importance of pollinator management and managed pollination”, it reported on the impact of honey bee pollination on fruits and vegetables.

The findings above that bee pollination increased yield and fruit quality in Apple (Dulta and Verma, 1987; Gupta et al., 1996), Peach, Plum, Citrus, Kiwi (Gupta et al., 2000) and strawberry (Partap, 2000; Partap et al., 2000). Bee pollination did not only increase the fruit set but also reduced fruit drop in Apple, Peach, Plum and Citrus (Dulta and Verma, 1987; Partap, 2000; Partap et al., 2000). Reports have also indicated an increase in fruit juice and sugar content in citrus fruits (Partap, 2000). In strawberry, bee pollination reportedly reduces the percentage of misshapen fruits (Partap, 2000).
Studies have shown that honeybee pollination enhanced seed production and quality of seed in various vegetable crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, radish, broad leaf mustard and lettuce (Partap and Verma, 1992; 1994; Verma and Partap, 1993; 1994). These results confirm the usefulness of bee pollination and its role in increasing crop productivity and improving the quality of fruits and seeds.

Besides producing honey, bees can increase crop production to the tune of 10-25%. Crops in the State like peach, plum strawberry, limes, oranges and vegetables like cucumber, cauliflower, pumkin, pepper benefit from this insect. Under MIDH and Apiculture Mission under the IBDLP, there is great scope to increase adoption of apiculture by farmers both as a livelihood option as well as improving the production of various horticultural crops in the State.  The bee has been rightly called the farmer’s friend and with the State moving towards organic practice, organic honey produced from Meghalaya may be the next sought after product in the near future.

 (The Writer is working as Senior Agriculture Development Officer (Information), Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya and can be reached at