Since independence, agriculture and allied activities have been the backbone of India’s economy. In recent years, the share of secondary and tertiary sectors has increased in the economy, yet agriculture still plays a prominent role. A large section of the Indian population still depends upon agriculture for sustenance. To satisfy the ever-increasing food demand of the growing population, India had to revolutionize its agriculture sector. The Green Revolution of 1966 laid the foundation for this revolutionizing process.
Before the Green Revolution, India introduced Grey Revolution and Round Revolution in the early 1960s, which focussed on fertilizers and potatoes, respectively. Thereafter, various modernization projects, such as White Revolution in milk production, the Blue Revolution in fish production, and so forth, were initiated. In the 1990s and 2000s, the modernization process was expanded to rejuvenate natural fibres – cotton and jute. To boost overall production in the agriculture sector, the government introduced the Protein Revolution and Evergreen Revolution.
Other agricultural branches such as pisciculture, horticulture, and apiculture also require equal and vital attention. Being one of the top 10 countries for honey production in the world, Indian honey has a high demand in the international market. In this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Sweet Revolution or Mithi Kranthi to revitalize and enhance honey production through beekeeping.
Sweet Revolution or Mithi Kranthi
So far, the scheme has created more than 10,000 new employment opportunities and 25,000 additional days for honey extraction and fabrication of bee boxes. The KVIC provides the farmers with practical training on examining bee colonies; identify and manage bee enemies, diseases, and bee colonies throughout the year; provide equipment for apiculture, honey extraction, and wax purification. Jharkhand is the target state under the project due to its favourable climate and 30% forest area, which is suitable for honey production. By 2022, the project aims to bring Jharkhand to the list of developed states in the country.
The Sweet Revolution or Honey Mission is a project to increase the production of quality honey and other beehive products through scientific methods. The Mission, announced in 2016, also focuses on doubling the income of the farmers by 2024. It was formally launched by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) in 2017. Under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, the initiative allotted ₹500 cores for beekeeping, wherein farmers growing crops such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, cereals, etc., that make good hosts for bees and help in pollination, can opt for beekeeping which can generate additional income apart from the main crops they produce. Along with increasing the income of farmers, crop production can be increased by 15%. As part of the National Beekeeping and Honey Mission, the National Bee Board, a body that works on research and development, production of honey bee colonies, etc., has created four modules for the training program under the Mission. Around 30 lakh farmers have undergone training in beekeeping. Besides farmers, the Mission targets creating employment for Adivasis, unemployed youth, and women while also increasing honey production in the country.
Impact and Challenges of Honey Production
Beekeeping is one of the world’s oldest occupations and is also expensive. Locally produced honey can be costlier, but it doesn’t spoil easily and has many health benefits such as soothing coughs, boosting memory, treating wounds, etc. The wax produced through beekeeping can be used for manufacturing cosmetics and candles. Other products produced by bees, such as pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and bee venom, can have great economic benefits. As the bees help in pollination, it makes plants healthy and benefits agriculture. New innovative technology and methods can help in boosting high-quality honey production.
Organic products attract more consumers and have little impact on the environment. It also generates direct and indirect employment through allied activities for people, especially in rural areas. Since beekeeping is a profitable practice, it can ensure a stable income for women, especially in rural areas. Adopting technology like Flow Hive, a technique developed in Australia to collect honey on tap directly from their beehives could ease the process of gathering honey from hives.
However, the sector faces many challenges which could be a threat to the bees and honey production. Current climate change conditions are affecting the temperature around the bees that determine their activity. Degradation of floral resources and the spread of diseases and parasites in bees can affect honey production. The application of insecticides to control insects and pests in large quantities can impact bees. While these insecticides are used for a short period to eliminate pesticides and other insects, in the long term, it affects hives, the long-term viability of bee colonies, and pollination. As more people are choosing organic products, the use of large-scale insecticides can affect the promotion of organic honey.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon that results in the disappearance of worker bees, is another risk factor in beekeeping. At times, dead bees are found in and around the hives. Poor nutrition, lack of genetic diversity, migratory bee-eaters which prey on the bees, and habitat loss can also affect bee colonies badly. The degradation of beehives could also result in the production of honey and the income of beekeepers. While adopting new technologies in beekeeping, many beekeepers find it difficult to afford new equipment because of their high prices. Lack of awareness on beekeeping and allied activities in other parts of the country is a challenge in implementing the Sweet Revolution.
India’s Honey Market
Beekeeping has been historically practiced in India. Since honey is the purest form of food, it is a key ingredient in many cuisines, especially in Asia-Pacific. With centuries-old beekeeping practices, Indian honey has an upper hand in the international market. High floral diversity and availability of different bee forges make the Indian honey market competitive along with its innovation and quality. As people are preferring more natural products over artificial sweeteners and there is a growing awareness about the benefits of honey, the demand for Indian honey in the world is rising. Its proven antibacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory properties are benefiting it to gain popularity. The food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics industries have also been using honey. Multiflora honey has the largest share in flavours of honey followed by eucalyptus, ajwain, sidr, and others. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjab, and Rajasthan are the largest producers of honey in the country.
Though India’s domestic per capita honey consumption is 50 grams per year, globally it ranges between 250 to 300 grams. While Germany tops global honey consumption with 2 kgs per year, in Asia, Japan has the highest consumption with 700 grams per year. With increasing global demand for Indian honey, the experts expect a 207% rise in the coming years. Germany, the US, UK, Japan, France, Spain, and Italy are the main markets of India (Marar, 2019). The number of beekeeping companies and honey societies has also increased in past years. As of January 2019, there are 9,091 registered people in apiary business in India.
The COVID-19 has increased the demand for Indian honey in Japan, South Korea, and Australia, which import mostly from China, which is India’s biggest competitor. The declining rate of indigenous bees and the increasing presence of western bees are reducing local honey production in Japan and South Korea. As per the exporters, a weaker Indian currency also makes Indian honey more attractive. 60% of the total honey produced in India is exported to the US, Canada, Africa, and West Asia. Though honey from China is cheaper than India’s, the superior quality makes Indian honey more demanding. According to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority-APEDA, compared to 2018-2019, India’s honey export has increased to 61,333.88 tonnes, valued at ₹732.19 crores (Sally, 2020).
Companies are competing in the Indian market to bring high-quality honey at a cheap cost. Recently, leading brands were accused of adulterating which is a major problem for the domestic honey market. Though people are now choosing forest-produced or small-farmers-produced honey over branded ones, these products do not reach mainstream outlets in the country. Bringing the locally produced honey to major outlet chains can boost local consumption. Checking honey adulteration is also important in boosting local demand.
Best Practices: Tamil Nadu
The southern state of Tamil Nadu is producing honey mostly from indigenous bees. Since beekeeping does not need much space, people are investing in apiculture and practicing beekeeping in terraces in big cities such as Chennai, Coimbatore, and Madurai. Apiculturists are providing training for interested people. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) along with the government are conducting workshops for aspiring apiculturists where they get to improve their skills in handling the latest technologies in beekeeping.
Apart from pure honey, traditional medicines such as tulsi honey, garlic honey, and other products like honey mixed cashews and almonds, gooseberry honey has high demand in the market. Tamil Nadu has adopted Meliponiculture beekeeping. Kerala too practices the same method. Tribal people of Western Ghats successfully rear stingless bees. Tamil Nadu government provides grants for the supply of beehives to the Tribal on hill areas, Scheduled Castes /Scheduled Tribes under Western Ghats Development Programmes, Hill Area Development Programme, and Integrated Tribal Development Programme. 40% assistance is given for installing beehives and colonies. Under Rainfed Area Development, an Integrated farming system including honey bee rearing is provided at 50% subsidy.
Beekeeping in China
With long beekeeping traditions and a diverse bee population, China is the leading global honey producer. Japan, the UK, Belgium, and Spain are major honey importers from China. Since honey is an ingredient of traditional Chinese food, domestic consumption in China is high. Beekeeping in China is focused on generating a high yield. So, the beekeepers maintain a balance between the number of frames and the number of bees in a hive-the core Chinese beekeeping technique. Though there is a large production of honey, bee pollination is less in the country. Also, the industry is constantly reviewed by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Being a tech giant, China is now adopting the latest technologies in beekeeping. In 2019, beekeepers in Zhejiang Province introduced artificial beehives which come with a sensor that can monitor and regulate temperature and humidity. These smart hives collect data on the number of times bees enter and leave the hives. The QR code in the hive can help to trace the source and ensure the safety of honey (Yan, 2019). Similarly, in September 2019, Alibaba, the internet giant of China introduced the Ali AI beekeeping system to improve honey production by automatic regulation of temperature and humidity of the hives. It also comes with a GPS that alerts the beekeepers to avoid theft, which is common in China. AI technology is trying to reduce labour power and make it easy to manage the hives (Jingli, 2019).
While India is looking forward to enhancing scientific techniques in beekeeping, it has not yet experimented with AI in full-scale in the field. Last year, Eco Park in Kolkata did a trial with an AI system in beehives that helps to identify diseases and monitor the functioning of hives to improve production (Bandyopadhyay, 2020). By bringing AI startup companies and bee research institutes, this technology can be gradually developed to major honey-producing areas of the states.
Being one of the largest honey producers in the world, the Sweet Revolution is indeed a push for India’s honey industry. As a cottage industry, this initiative can make it a more full-sized industry in the country. However, in India, there is still a lack of application of scientific beekeeping methods. Many apiculturists still follow traditional beekeeping methods. Increased risks due to climate change, insecticides, and other factors make it difficult for beekeepers to maintain the traditional methods. Research and development as part of the Sweet Revolution can bring a change to this. While promoting beekeeping in rural and urban areas, the initiative can focus on tribal areas of the states. Lack of transportation and proper management of produced honey is a challenge for extending the initiative to tribal areas. Establishing a systematic marketing network in these areas could help the producers to take their yields directly to the market.
Self Help Groups (SHG) play a vital role in bringing honey to the market. Leading honey-producing states such as Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and the rest actively include SHGs in marketing honey in the domestic markets. It also generates reasonable income for the SHGs. The Directorate of Beekeeping and Khadi and Village Industries Commission is promoting honey on a domestic level through a store chain. Though there are various international agreements on goods trade, there is no global agreement on the criteria of honey. As for India, it can push for introducing an international criterion for honey to ensure the quality which can further increase the production and export of high-quality honey and other products in the coming years. This can also benefit in expanding honey export through mutual international cooperation and promotion.