Ecological and Economic Prospects for Beekeeping in South and Southeast Asia: Challenges and Ground Realities

Cheap unorganized and unskilled labor is the backbone of agribusiness worldwide, with particular emphasis on developing and underdeveloped countries across the globe. Both commercial and non-commercial beekeeping as well as legal and illegal hunter-gatherer type operations as seen in the Sunderbans mangrove forests of India (West Bengal) and Bangladesh is a perfect example of this ecological erosion. and economic in particular.

Wild mangrove honey bees are Apies dorsata Hill type species. They collect nectar and pollen from the flowers of different species of mangroves and their comb sizes are very large. Although some of the commercial beekeepers keep their bee boxes near the mangrove forest to facilitate the collection of nectaries by the commercial bees from the local mangrove plants. However, this effort has not been very commercially viable and successful compared to placing bee boxes in conventional crop fields with standing crops in full bloom.

However, harvesting honey directly from the mangrove forest remains the preferred choice of many in the suburban region. Most of this hill type variety is exploited by extremely poor and marginal communities for their basic subsistence, as mangrove honey has a high market price and demand in local, regional and international markets. But the damage to bee populations due to the crude, unscientific method of collecting honey and the vulnerability and high risk to human life deep within the mangrove forest is a double-edged sword. The collected honey is also contaminated with various impurities, dead insects, excretory matter, eggs, larvae due to the raw collection process and the lack of proper honey processing facilities available to these marginal communities.

Overall, the ecological cost and the human cost outweigh the small economic benefits realized. Good commercial beekeeping practices are not yet quite common for people in this region. Their attitude still resembles that of chasing short abs that gathers g’s, both legally and illegally. The accidents that happen here due to tiger and crocodile attacks, snake bites, piracy, harassment from rangers, moneylenders and rural politicians have had a negative impact on their lives and livelihoods and quickly destroyed their local ecosystems. There is very little or no support from local government and related agencies.

Commercial beekeeping is practiced successfully in many places in mainland China, South and Southeast Asia. The practice of growing honey bees in bee boxes, collecting honey without damaging the honeycombs by a simple manual machine by centrifugal force, filtering through muslin cloths is known to many growers and you can find it in many villages. It has been an important livelihood for many rural and marginal indigenous communities, residents of the forest edge. Indian Khadi Gramodyog provided training and sold bee boxes to interested farmers. But the difficulty of the Sunderban region is a well-established fact due in particular to various natural and anthropogenic factors. This is a very sensitive subject that requires immediate attention for scientific literacy by generating awareness and providing appropriate training and support.

But the realities on the ground are extremely pathetic. Government banks do not provide loans to these poorest of the poor as they have a history of defaulting on their loans due to several factors. Unfortunately, they depend exclusively on local lenders for investment. The same banks, however, have no problem paying several million rupees in cash to our honorable industrialists, who are exceptionally good at stealing the money and not paying back, which makes the banking sector sick. Then, there is no problem for the government, the administration as well as justice; the problems are failure to pay a few thousand rupees if marginal farmers.

Honey producers live at the mercy of these eminent socialites. The abdominals are exploited at every step. Legally or illegally collected honey is sold at a fixed price set by influential intermediaries backed by both government and bureaucrats with close ties to corrupt businessmen who keep their profit high and reduce the profit margin of the farmers/producers at a minimum level so that they can just survive to continue the vicious cycle next year. The honey is then sold to big name companies who professionally adulterate it with cheap sugar, synthetic color and flavor and bottle it to land on your breakfast table at a reasonably high price. The finest quality honey is imported into international markets to provide our beneficiaries with massive profit and tax advantages. Often pesticide containing amipas or other inferior quality imported honeys are dumped overseas and dumped in our local market to be sold at a cheaper price to local consumers. The poorest of the poor farmers continue to suffer and be affected by abject poverty. The beekeeping industry is a migratory industry and beekeepers have to move their bee boxes in trucks to various agro-climatic regions depending on the floral seasons and the standing crops available in the field.

These migratory beekeepers are subjected to physical, mental and economic abuse by the farmers in whose plots the boxes are placed, by police and civic volunteers, members of the panchayat as well as local thugs. They have to bribe every step of the way just to do their job. There is absolutely no support for these powerless communities from state and central governments due to internal political and business understanding as well as secret dealings under the table. Poor beekeepers continue to suffer while those around them become flatulent due to excess cash in the domestic and foreign economy. Few beekeepers’ cooperatives and other related fictitious organizations are functional, but only on a very limited scale. Ignorance and neglect towards the development and establishment of a modern beekeeping industry in both India and West Bengal has failed miserably. However, despite the obstacles, farmers and beekeepers are struggling to survive. Our ecology and our economy unfortunately do not hold hands.

Farmers are very little aware of the benefits of pollinators. Beekeepers are physically abused in many places by agricultural producers because of this. Private companies are now the main producers of commercial honey, Khadi is an organization from a bygone era. Whatever pure quality honey is still sold, it comes from organizations such as Khadi and local forest services. Beekeeping is India’s most neglected agricultural sector. India and China are two major producers, consumers and giant distributors of adulterated honey.

Quite recently, the New Delhi Science Center demonstrated that all major samples of honey from sealed bottles from reputable commercial manufacturers across India are openly selling adulterated honey by indiscriminately using cheap sugar syrup. There is very little or no oversight done knowingly or unknowingly by our regulators. China has taken honey adulteration to an almost artistic level of international excellence and reputation.