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Improving livelihoods through community-based beekeeping in Nepal

Challenges to involving <em>dalits</em> have been overcome (© Deependra Tandukar)
Challenges to involving dalits have been overcome
© Deependra Tandukar

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region contains a great diversity of honeybee species. Five species are indigenous to the region, with the European honeybee also introduced and promoted for beekeeping. While many communities have been using traditional apicultural practices to collect honey, recent years have seen the introduction of modern beekeeping techniques for rearing one indigenous honeybee species - Apis cerana. This has created new income and employment opportunities for men and women in this marginalised, mountainous region, as well as promoting a rich biodiversity by increasing the pollination services of these native bees.

Beekeeping is a common practice among the villagers of Alital, in western Nepal's Dadeldhura District. The abundance of bee flora in the area, particularly the Indian butter tree (chiuri) - a source of high quality honey - is an advantage for local beekeepers. However, traditional use of fixed-comb log or wall-hives and harvesting honey by squeezing combs, have resulted in low yield and poor quality. Traditional harvesting methods also kill some brood and adult bees, leading to a decline in colony strength. The small quantities of honey harvested in Alital by individual beekeepers using these traditional techniques have never been able to enter the mainstream market and have instead been sold at low prices or bartered locally within the villages.

Modern hives and methods

In 2000, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) began to work towards a community-based beekeeping enterprise in Alital, addressing key challenges related to honey production, quality, marketing, and income. ICIMOD organised beekeepers into two groups, before merging them into one group of 87 members, and provided training in bee and hive management, harvesting and processing, selection and multiplication of productive, disease resistant colonies, and queen rearing. ICIMOD also introduced movable-frame hives, from which cleaner, higher-quality honey can be harvested without damaging the combs or killing the bees.

Beekeepers with good carpentry skills were trained in hive-making (© Min B Gurung)
Beekeepers with good carpentry skills were trained in hive-making
© Min B Gurung

To develop market linkages, beekeepers were supported to participate in exhibitions and honey festivals. ICIMOD also helped to brand and label the honey as Alital Chiuri Honey and promote it in Kathmandu. The project also promoted the conservation and planting of chiuri trees and other bee flora and facilitated savings and credit provisions.

When training in modern apiculture techniques was initially provided to individual beekeepers, many did not transfer bees to the movable-frame hives and continued with traditional beekeeping practices. Reasons for this included a lack of confidence and insufficient follow-up support, as well as the high cost and unavailability of the modern beehives which had to be bought from Kathmandu, a process which could take three to four days.

This resistance was overcome by organising village-based training and building the capacity of local beekeepers as trainers to provide follow-up support. Beekeepers with good carpentry skills were trained in hive-making, and two participants have subsequently established workshops, selling their hives for around US$20 each. Challenges to involving dalits (traditionally low status castes), women, and economically disadvantaged groups were overcome by providing free village-based training, beehives, and other equipment.

Cooperative marketing

Originally organised as an informal community group, beekeepers formed the Alital Multipurpose Cooperative Limited in 2005. Since then the cooperative has grown to 117 shareholders from 12 villages, and has also been strengthened to provide services like training and marketing support to beekeepers.

The number of apiarists that have adopted movable-frame hives has increased significantly (© Deependra Tandukar)
The number of apiarists that have adopted movable-frame hives has increased significantly
© Deependra Tandukar

These efforts have had a positive impact on the lives of local honey farmers. The number of apiarists that have adopted movable-frame hives has increased from one in 2001 to 117 in 2012. With each household keeping between five and 40 bee colonies, the number of colonies in movable-frame hives has jumped from six to over 1,000. Annual honey production in the project area has increased from less than 100kg to over 2,500kg and multiplying and selling bee colonies has also emerged as an additional income option for some beekeepers.

With the increase in production, beekeeping has become an important source of income for each household, representing 35-50 per cent of annual earnings. Increased honey quality has contributed to better market access. This, combined with branding and promotion of their product as Alital Chiuri Honey, has enabled the beekeepers to earn up to US$4.5 per kilo of honey, more than double the 2001 average of US$2 per kilo. Even higher prices are thought to be achievable if the larger market in Kathmandu can be accessed.

At this time, Alital has the only beekeeping resource centre in Far-Western Nepal providing bees, beehives, and training services to local farmers. The initial success of the project, which attracted support from UNDP Microenterprise Development Programme and the Department of Agriculture, shows that rural livelihoods can be improved by mobilising the community and strengthening the capacity of local institutions to upgrade the value chains of high value products. Improving the quality of local honey and branding it as organic mountain honey to improve access to national and international markets could be further explored with increased private sector engagement.

Written by: Uma Partap and Min B Gurung, ICIMOD

Date published: September 2012


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