Making money from honey

A lot of income-generation activities can now be spotted across the country. Beekeeping using the box-method can be considered one of the major new entrants to this vast and largely untapped field.

In many parts of the country, especially in greater Tangail, Munshiganj and Gazipur areas, honey collection or apiculture has emerged as a profitable business. Currently, around 25,000 persons are engaged in apiculture. Of them 1,000 are commercially active cultivators. Honey is collected by using special boxes for bees. The bees collect the nectar from mustard, litchi and black seed flowers in blossom in the surrounding fields and orchards. They process the nectar into honey in the honeycomb-laden boxes.

The total domestic demand for it stands at 2,500 tonnes annually. In spite of the fast growth in the volume of scientific honey production, 70 per cent of the item still comes from abroad. Honey is mainly imported from India, Australia, China and some European countries.

In the bygone days, people in Bangladesh used to depend on natural honey collected mainly from the Sundarbans and other large forests. Due to the abundance of honey in the dense Sundarbans, an informal honey industry came up in the neighbourhood region. Beekeeping was generally confined to amateur honey collectors.

In the rural areas, honey, a marvellous gift of nature, has a lot of uses. Those cover a wide area including herbal medication, a substitute for goorh (molasses) in making ceremonial delicacies and a welcome sweetener for newborns. As in the past, the most widely practised use of honey in the cities is seen on the breakfast table. However, in the urban areas honey is also used in health keeping, and medicinal preparations. Honey is used for protecting babies and adolescents from some ailments.

The fast-growing popularity of bee-raising has logically stirred some of our economists and experts engaged in poverty alleviation. They suggest full-scale government focus on the business, calling for financial support to the new-method apiculture. However, there has been no dearth of formal support coming from the government’s autonomous bodies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) started a beekeeping programme in Jatrapur in Khulna in the 1960s. It was the first entity in Bangladesh to show farmers how to use wooden boxes in collecting honey scientifically. BSCIC involved itself in the project in earnest in 1977. Bangladesh Institute of Apiculture, a non-government research organisation, has been extending cooperation to the honey growers since 1981. Apart from imparting training to beekeepers, it helps them find access to marketing outlets.

The prevailing scenario of the country’s apiculture running on individual initiatives is nothing extraordinary. A handful of people initially invest small amounts of money. Over time, most of them find the business taking off. A unique phenomenon accompanies the venture. An enterprising youth opens a bee-raising field in his village. Despite his early jitters, he discovers that he has not incurred any loss. He comes out successful in his venture in a couple of years. Watching the entrepreneurial youth’s success, others come up in the neighbourhood. They also manage to make profits in artificial honey collection in no time.

Lately, a disappointing turn of things is also not uncommon. Many a honey cultivator in the country also goes through losses.

The failures stem from lack of sufficient capital and adequate training in scientific apiculture, and the absence of a marketing set-up. Alongside successful honey collection entrepreneurs, there are numbers of them who have to sell the product at throw-away prices. At this stage, it is the government and banks that can extend their help to bee-raisers.

The government can put in place an effective marketing network for the locally produced honey, apart from arranging training for cultivators. Honey growers of the country sell their product to local honey companies. A large local NGO was once involved in encouraging beekeeping in the country. Other NGOs may come forward in this area with their innovative ideas. Banks may come up with easy-term loans for the honey producers. The government may also consider recognising honey as a non-traditional export item. By including the product in this category, the government can give a great boost to honey cultivators.

Shihab Sarkar

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