Dimapur | December 4
In a state where grandiose government pronouncements get tossed into oblivion, one entity has stood out rather defying a prevailing notion of scepticism on any programme tagged government.
The Nagaland Beekeeping & Honey Mission (NBHM) has journeyed on and surviving to tell the tale a decade since its launch in October 2007.
Transforming the traditional beekeeping methods into a “scientific” and self sustaining industry was the NBHM’s primary objective. Deviating from the subsidy-oriented approach to growth promotion, the Mission focussed on hands on capacity building – injecting scientific knowhow into the existing beekeeping (also known as apiculture) industry for enhancing production while working on market linkage and building a brand.
From gatherers to ’keepers
According to the NBHM personnel, people, who were once part-time honey gatherers has today turned to beekeeping with a steady source of income.
“There are beekeepers, who are earning Rs.3-4 lakhs a year,” said NBHM team member Bokali A. Chikhe. She recounted a story of how a beekeeper in Lizutomi village, Zunheboto became the first to own a washing machine in the village with earnings from beekeeping. She said that the beekeeper (in his mid 30s) used to gather honey from the wild as a hobby before he took to beekeeping through the intervention of the NBHM.
Her NBHM colleague Nzanbemo K. Lotha shared an inspiring story from Chendang village in Tuensang. “Back in 2008, there was only one bee colony in the village run by one individual. It has now grown to 400 colonies producing over 2 metric tonnes a year,” said Lotha. He added that the beekeeping in the village has diversified into “allied-farming” engaging some 70 percent of the villagers.
In Old Jalukie village is Takangbe, in his 50s, who was once a honey gatherer. He today owns over 150 colonies of the stingless bee species. According to Lotha, “No other place in India is as good at producing stingless bee honey.”
What makes it special?
A combination of natural factors is believed to give distinctive flavours to the different kinds honey produced in Nagaland.
“Nagaland Honey is a natural ‘multi-floral’ honey,” responded Lotha when posed with the question. He claimed that the uniqueness of Nagaland Honey is acquired from the state’s varied flora, which acts as a rich source of nutrition for honeybees producing a one of its kind taste.
He continued that other varieties of honey produced beyond the north-east are harvested from colonies with a high concentration of agricultural mono-plantations.
Further, it is regarded as “organic by default.” Without much farmland, vegetation untainted by artificial fertilizers act as the primary source of nutrition for honeybees, added Lotha.
But officially getting the “organic” tag requires money as it involves frequent certification in the form of demarcating certain honey producing areas as artificial fertilizer free zones.
Challenges and scaling up production
The story has been so far so good yet there is room for more. According to the NBHM personnel, there is great potential for export but there is a wide demand-supply gap. The current production cannot even meet domestic requirement with the demand within the state tipped at over 500 metric tonnes per annum.
The NBHM has set an annual production target of 2000 metric tonnes by 2030. As pointed out by the NBHM personnel, there are many challenges and needs to meeting the target.
The challenges include dearth of resource personnel, poor road connectivity or inaccessibility, while the needs include greater funding and a well-equipped apiculture resource centre styled on the Nagaland Bamboo Development Agency, besides others.
“We require (more) funding for infrastructure development,” said Ntsimongo Ngullie, chairperson of the NBHM. He informed that the present funding from the government is only Rs. 1cr per year as opposed to a requirement of Rs. 3-4cr.
Affecting price uniformity has become a priority if Nagaland Honey has to compete with honey produced in other parts of the country. Team member Lotha said that the price varies from place to place. He added that the price of rockbee honey and common honey ranges from Rs. 300-700 per kg while the per kg price of stingless bee honey range from Rs. 800-2000.
“The high price tag has often been a barrier to corporate buyers, who get honey at much cheaper prices from other parts of India.” On the other hand, he said that there has been no dearth of interest from corporates.
Scaling up production would to a great extent solve this problem, while getting ‘organic’ branding would justify the high price tag, he asserted.
The physical and financial challenges are clear enough but there is another that needs overcoming. Lotha dubbed it as the “subsidy mindset” or a pervasive hope to acquire monetary dole-outs from the government for any given initiative.
As the NBHM observes the Nagaland Honey Bee Day on December 5, the team members hope that urgent measures are initiated to overcome the challenges and turning Nagaland into a competitive major honey producing state in India.