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Apiculture in India

2020 DEC 3

Mains   > Agriculture   >   Allied areas   >   Livestock rearing


  • The Honey FPO Programme of National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) was inaugurated by Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare.


  • Apiculture is the practice of rearing of honey bees or beekeeping.
  • Beekeeping or Apiculture is not a new concept in India, it has been referenced in ancient Vedas and Buddhist sacred writings.
  • In 2019, India ranked eighth in the world in terms of honey production. The honey market in India was of Rs 17.3 Billion. Punjab is the major state in beekeeping.
  • Methods of beekeeping:
    • Traditional beekeeping: It is a natural consequence of forest beekeeping. It is of subsistence level and uses traditional hives like clay pots, empty wooden boxes and woven bamboo baskets. Bees are collected from natural sources and the boxes are kept in fields or on sides of houses.
    • Modern beekeeping: Here, bees are kept in man-made hives and reared for commercial honey production. Modern hive made of wooden rectangular boxes are used. The bees are bred in controlled conditions and colonies are periodically replaced to ensure continuous production.


  • Honey: It is a viscous fluid produced from the flower nectar by the bees. It is a whole food containing sugars, antibiotics, enzymes, acids and minerals and is used as a high energy source. It is a useful carrier for many ayurvedic and unani medicinal preparations. Honey is also recommended for regular consumption in cases of malnutrition.
  • Royal Jelly: It is a secretion from the bees and contains proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, minerals like iron, Sulphur, copper and silicon. It is used as a general tonic and stimulant improving resistance to fatigue, learning capacity and memory, appetite, and general health improvement.
  • Beeswax: Beeswax is secreted as a liquid but solidifies when exposed to air. It is chiefly used in the candle industry. Other major places where the bees wax is important are for making creams, ointments, capsules, deodorants, varnish, shoe polish, etc.
  • Propolis: Propolis is a mixture of the beeswax and the resins collected by honeybee from plants. It has an adhesive quality and is also used for preparing ointments that treats cuts, wounds, dermatological and cosmetic treatment etc.
  • Bee Venom: It contains active chemicals like histamine, hydrochloric acid, formic acid, apamine, etc. It is injected into patients suffering from rheumatism. It also helps in curing neuralgia, endoarthritis, necrosis, etc.
  • Pollen: It is a mixture of flower pollen, nectar, enzymes, honey, wax and bee secretions. It is loaded with nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, lipids and several active substances. Hence it is increasingly being recognised as a medicine.


  • Geographical diversity: Besides the agricultural fields, several nectariferous plant species in the evergreen tropical and sub-tropical forests provide forage to honey bees. This offers a potential of about 200 million bee colonies as against 3.4 million bee colonies today.
  • Genetic diversity: There are only around 7 commercial importance honeybee species in the world, but five of them are present in India. Eg: Rock bee, Indian hive bee. Hence, apiculture is resilient towards climate change and environmental degradation.
  • Agrarian economy: Bee pollination as a new agricultural production strategy has immense possibilities in an agrarian country like India. If bees are incorporated into agriculture, the pollination is well-managed and crop yields increases significantly.
  • Thrust on food processing: Government is actively promoting food processing industries in the country to enhance rural income. Eg: policy measures such as PM SAMPADA. Honey is a high value product and hence aligns easily with the government strategies.   
  • Rising industrial demand: Honey forms a key ingredient in the ayurveda and pharmaceutical sectors in India. It is also thought to support the treatment of several more specific ailments. Hence, the growth of AYUSH and pharmaceutical sectors is expected to create a positive impact on honey as an industrial raw material in India.
  • Rising domestic market: As a result of changing food habits and an increasing inclination of the consumers towards wellness foods and healthy alternatives of artificial sweeteners, the demand for honey is expected to increase in the coming years. The threat of COVID-19 infection has made people consume more because of its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.


  • Enhance agricultural productivity: Bee hives neither demand additional land space nor do they compete with agriculture for any input. Also, they pollinate the crops to get higher yield and a better quality of produce. Eg: Comparing fields with bee boxes and those without, the studies have shown differences of 227% (capsicum), 160% (tomato), 133% (tur dal).
  • Secondary income: It is a source of sustainable income to the rural and tribal farmers. The ‘low input high output’ process is ideally suited for the small and marginal farmers and can also be adopted as a village industry. It can thus provide a way to attain the target of doubling farmers income.
  • Augments nutritional security: It provides valuable nutrition and traditional medicine in the form of honey, protein rich pollen and brood. This can help India address its severe malnutrition.
  • Employment generation: Bee keeping and honey processing are labour intensive, but not skill intensive. Hence, it provides employment opportunities for a large population, particularly rural women.   
  • Ecological stability: Bees contribute to complex, interconnected ecosystems that allow a diverse number of different species to co-exist. As pollinators, bees play a part in every aspect of the ecosystem. They support the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants, which serve as food and shelter for creatures large and small.
  • Biological control: Beehive fences—surrounding crops fields with beehives—may serve as a humane and eco-friendly way to protect crops from elephants. Also, the efficient pollination of flowers helps to protect the crops against pest attacks.



  • Subsistence level: In India as well as several other south-east Asian countries, beekeeping has been mainly forest-based or migration-based. Hence, the production and productivity remain low and unable to meet the rising demands.  
  • Death and diseases: Indian bees are facing threats from diseases and mites, like European Foulbrood and sacbrood. Other major problems in the enterprise are pesticide poisoning, population losses due to burning of crop residues and unexplained colony losses.
  • Institutional support: Livestock extension services are largely restricted to cattle and poultry. There is limited support for farmers when it comes to choosing the right area for bee keeping, selection of quality bees, early detection of diseases, efficient extraction techniques, value addition and marketing of products.   
  • Lack of awareness: Indian farmers are unawareness of the pollination requirement of crops, diversification of needs in beekeeping and modern technologies for honey extraction that are utilised world over.
  • Quality control: Due to the above factors, Indian honey is of low quality. Besides impurities, Indian honey has high contents of pesticides and insecticides.  


  • Adulteration: Honey is the most adulterated food in the world. A recent study by CSE has revealed rampant adulteration in honey sold by major brands in India, as 77 per cent of samples were found to be adulterated with sugar syrup.
  • low profit margins: India is facing heavy import of cheap fructose and glucose sugar syrups from China. These syrups are designed to bypass adulteration checks and are hence rampantly used for adulteration. This, coupled with a weak procurement system and , results in farmers getting very poor returns for their produce.
  • Phytosanitary barriers: Due to increasing adulteration, countries are increasing their phytosanitary norms in importing honey products. Eg: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) testing is mandatory for honey meant for export to USA. However, such quality assurance facilities are expensive and found only in large cities.
  • Branding: Honey is an item that sells depending on its looks, packaging, and the information provided on the label. But such facilities are limited to urban centres in India.


  • The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India formed the National Bee Board in 2000.
    • The main objective of the National Bee Board (NBB) is overall development of Beekeeping by promoting Scientific Beekeeping in India to increase the productivity of crops through pollination and increase the Honey production for increasing the income of the Beekeepers/ Farmers.
    • The board also promotes beekeeping, honey, and other bee products industry in the country and regulate domestic and export market of honey and other allied products. 
  • Central Bee Research and Training Institute
    • The Central Bee Research and Training Institute is run by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) and exists to help rural and tribal groups find ways to become economically sustainable in beekeeping.
  • ‘Honey Mission’ as part of ‘Sweet Revolution’:
    • PM Modi called for Sweet Revolution in 2016 with the vision to double farmers’ income by 2024.
    • National Beekeeping & Honey Mission (NBHM):
      • A central sector program over the years 2018-19 and 2019-20 for the overall promotion and development of scientific beekeeping.
      • It seeks to boost capacity building and training, special focus on women, input support for the promotion and production, setting Integrated Beekeeping development Centers (IBDCs) other infrastructure, Digitization or online registration, processing of honey, value addition, market support, etc. 
    • Under the Honey Mission, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) provides farmers with practical training on management of bees, acquaintance with apicultural equipments, Honey extraction and wax purification techniques.
    • The Government has allocated 500 crores towards Beekeeping under the Atma Nirbhar Abhiyan.
    • Honey FPO Programme:
      • It is a new Central Sector Scheme for the promotion of 10,000 new FPOs.
      • NAFED has initiated the formation and promotion of FPOs of beekeepers and honey collectors in 5 locations: East Champaran (Bihar), Morena (Madhya Pradesh), Bharatpur (Rajasthan), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) and Sunderbans (West Bengal).


  • Expand scope: Apiculture needs to be expanded beyond honey and wax. Products such as pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom should also be made marketable and can greatly help Indian farmers.
  • Increase area: India has to realize its potential of about 200 million bee colonies as against 3.4 million bee colonies today. Increasing the number of bee colonies will not only increase the production of bee-related products but will boost overall agricultural and horticultural productivity.
  • Institutional support: The government needs to extend support to beekeeping in the form of micro credit facilities, veterinary services, development of regional infrastructure for processing and storage etc.
  • In this regard, the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister had set up a Beekeeping Development Committee under the Chairmanship of Professor Bibek Debroy. Some of the recommendations in the report include:
    • Recognizing honeybees as inputs to agriculture and considering landless Beekeepers as farmers.
    • Plantation of bee friendly flora at appropriate places and engaging women self-help groups in managing such plantations.
    • Institutionalizing the National Bee Board and rechristening it as the Honey and Pollinators Board of India.
    • Recognition of apiculture as a subject for advanced research under the aegis of Indian Council for Agricultural Research.
    • Training and development of beekeepers by state governments.
    • Development of national and regional infrastructure for storage, processing and marketing of honey and other bee products.
    • Simplifying procedures and specifying clear standards for ease of exporting honey and other bee products.

CASE STUDY: Honey collectors of Sunderbans switch to apiculture to fend off tiger attacks

  • From time immemorial, Maulis (honey collectors) from the villages of Sunderbans have been venturing into the dense mangrove forest inhabited by the Royal Bengal Tiger to collect the several forest products, mostly honey. With limited opportunities for livelihood and increased instances of flooding and loss of land to the river, more people are turning into the forests to find sustainance.
  • Going by the official estimates, at least five to six honey collectors are killed by tigers every year. In an attempt to solve the issue, Directorate of Forest 24 Parganas (South), along with WWF India, has come up with a community apiculture mechanism for collecting the forest produce.
    • The villagers of the fringe areas of Sunderbans (Jharkhali, Kultali and Nalgora) have set up three cooperatives societies.
    • The members are provided with training and equipment, such as honey collection boxes and financial support in the form of loans.
    • These boxes are placed inside forest camps and adjoining nylon netted forest areas of the Sunderbans. Though located deep inside the mangrove forest, the camps and the adjoning areas have little risk of tiger attacks and the maulis can go about their activity without any fear.
    • The Forest Department has created a separate brand for selling this honey named Bonphool.


Q. Discuss the prospects and challenges of apiculture in India? What measures have been taken by the government to promote the industry?