Development of Apiculture (bee-keeping) in Manipur
- Part 1 -

P Narendra *

Bee larvae - Rich man's food in Ukhrul
Bee larvae - Rich man's food in Ukhrul :: Pix - TSE

From the beginning, Manipur has been characterised by geographical isolation. It is situated in the middle of the mountain ranges and once was a tiny hideout country wedged between Myanmar and India, nestling among the uneven rolling green hills of the Himalayan range.

On the basis of physical factors, location and agro-climatic conditions, Manipur can be divided into two broad categories namely, the valley area and the hill situated at a height of 2500ft and 6800ft above MSL respectively.

The valley area has tropical climate and the hills have got sub-tropical to almost temperate climate. The annual rainfall is about 1500mm to 2000mm per annum. Generally this state has moderate climate, good evergreen and deciduous forest.

The climatic condition is suitable for several type of plantations and horticulture crops and other medicinal plants and as such great potential for developing (Api­culture) bee-keeping project.

The pressure of the forest land is many and varied. In the hills, jhuming is the most harmful and dangerous practice and every year about 900 of forest land are reduced to almost a barren land. Another harmful practice is wildfire. After the main paddy crop from the jhum is harvested, the villagers set the grasses, dry leaves and woods on fire thereby destroying millions of young seedlings coming up for natural regeneration.

Again the pressure on the hills facing the valley area or hills in and around valley area is tremendous. Valley area though is only 1/1Q of the total geographical area has got over 65% of the population. The demand of the huge valley population in respect of timber, firewood, fodder, charcoal and other minor forest produce is met from the hill in and around valley. This is far beyond the carrying capacity of the hills. The result is that at any given point of time these forests completely barren at its best and at worst they look eroded and exposed.

Judicious exploitation of flora and fauna of the nectarfarious plants and agricultural practices for food, fodder, fibre has been the hallmark of man's effort for a long time.

Wasteful practices like the jhum cultivation in the hill districts, population pressure, increased urbanisation and indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, floods and droughts increased carbon dioxide in atmosphere have damaged our ecosystem, and thus, loss of genetic resource.

This has, of late, created increased awareness in conservation of biological diversity and genetic resources in the food security, sustainable agriculture and rural development, environment management. The eco-system is an evolutionary mechanism that provides a life support through natural cycle of renewal.

In Asia there is shortage of arable land and over 50% of the world's population and over 70% of the world's farming families exist but have only 25% of the world's arable land. The per capita availability of land would be less (0.1 hectare in China and 0.14 hectare in India) at the beginning of 21st century.

As against this, the average Asian population is expected to grow at 1.86% a year. Hence, the need for increasing productivity. In this, the tools of biotechnology could help in raising the productivity of major crops through an increase in total dry matter production which can then be partitioned in a way favourable to economic value.

Biotechnology could make a useful contribution for integrating brain and brawn in rural professions. In substance, biotechnology is genetic engineering. Floriculture, Tissue culture and Apiculture(Bee-Keeping), micro-biological transformations and biomass utilisation and such other farm yard manure as bio-fertiliser applications are equally important from the point of view of enhancing productivity and profitability of major farming systems.

Biotechnology has certainly given new economic status for our biological wealth. Bio-technology diversity is the variety and variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes in which they are found. It is our common human heritage. Nature is our common home. So we must know it-well in order to love it better, to protect it and to augment its riches. The only right relationship between Man and Nature has always been and always will be our main source of food. If exhausted, the human race will cease to exist.

An estimate made by western scientists put it that 10 million species exist, although only 1.5 million species have been described so far. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre at Cambridge, U.K., has estimated that 724 species of insects, plants, amphibious, reptiles, birds, mammals are already extinct, and another 22,530 species respectively are threatened. Many animal and plant species, which are not in immediate danger of extinction, are suffering from declining populations.

Perhaps the only pathway for the state of Manipur for feeding our growing human population of 28.50 lakhs in continuous, important is crop yield through the tools of biotechnology and conventional research. The state has moderate climate, good evergreen and deciduous forest. Manipur was given as "Switzerland of India" by Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India.

"A little paradise on Earth" by a Britisher and "The Jewel of India" by Nehru. The climate condition is suitable for several types of plantation and horticulture and Agri crops and great potential for organic honey production with the help of Development Apiculture (Bee Keeping) project. In the struggle against hunger there is no doubt that broad development of rational apiculture/Bee-Keeping could make a huge contribution.

From time immemorial and until recently the hunt after wild honey bee was the only source of honey. Generally wild bees of Indian bee (Apis Indica Cerena) and the giant bee (apis dorsata) are plenty in the hill districts and low range valley areas as there is enough flora and fauna.

The most important factor is to give awareness to the mass people, the activities of Bee-Keeping, its important to agriculture and Horticulture in the pollination system rather that the value of Honey and other products. In order to increase the economic condition of the present state, the available natural resource of this state has to be transformed to a productive asset and will enable self-employment job opportunities to almost educated/non-educated and non-employed sections of the rural societies particularly hill districts instead of seeking jobs.

Hence it is compelled to take up Scientific Bee-Keeping knowledge in time to almost the rural areas where nectarferious plants are plenty. Farmers/artisans having some lands and earning from the agricultural occupation and income just enough to maintain themselves, and having some spare time which they can devote the bees, arte the best persons to take to it, provided of course the areas they live and work is suitable for bee-keeping. Bee-Keeping with about 5 colonies the farmer might expand his apiary to about 15 to 20 colonies within one and half years.

Bee-Keeping is a paying Industry in the hands of the right type of persons who select for it the right area. To keep bees with interest and profit requires an intimate study of the insects and a detailed knowledge of their needs. It further requires the knowledge of the plants from which they gather nectar so that the necessary steps may be taken to get the colonies in proper condition for the work required of them.

To be a good bee-keeper one must read bee-books, journal and contact experience bee-keeper (Apiarist) or Bee-Research and Training Institute. With a little more of experience, study and application, it might become possible for them to double their income at any rate.

Bee-Keeping can be started without any capital worth speaking of, for the most ignorant and poor persons, by catching swarm and putting it in a box/bee-hive may become a ,kind of bee-keeper. The beginner should make himself acquired as soon as possible with the habits of bees, so that he may know when to feed them when to enlarge their accommodation or when swarms may be expected and control.

The most important equipment is the Bee­hive. The hive should have some relation to the need of the bees particularly bee space in nature. It should also be a convenient tool for the bee-keepers; as such the purchasing power of the average people should be taken into consideration while devising it.

Cheapness and simplicity combined with strength and efficiency should be taken into account. Bees differ in some ways from region to region. Different dimensions might be required for the hives in different regions.

Honey bees are one of the friendly insect which have been exploited by Mankind for the product of honey and wax due to lack of scientific bee-keeping. For centuries the inquisitive mind of man has tried to unriddle what bees do on flower and in the darkness of the hive. It is only comparatively recently that the agronomist, horticulturist and naturist like Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1862) have shown that flowers and bees cannot exist without each other and that their existences are inter connected.

About 85% crop plants are cross pollinated as they need to receive pollen from other plants of the same species with the help of external agents. One of the most important such external agent is the honey bee. Scientific studies have estimated that increased in yields of various crops due to the pollination by honey bee ranges from 20% to 100%.

On the basis of published information by the Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India, several crops of economic importance such as almond, apple, grape, guava, mango, papaya, plum, peach, mustard, pea, soya bean, maize, cabbage, cauliflower, sunflower, tomato, broccoli, squash, pepper, carrot, banana, orange, lemon and other citrus plants and many other fibre plants are specially dependent upon or benefit from honey bee pollination.

Further it also mentioned that many of these crops require three to nine bee colonies per hectare for adequate pollination. In Manipur, out of the total area of 22,366 there is more than 75,000 hectares of forest, cropland, horticulture and agri-vegetable lands which require 4.50 lakhs bee colonies (at the rate of minimum 6 colonies per hectare) could be sustained which would be capable of producing 4500 metric tonnes of honey and ate the same time generate part time employment for 22,500 persons at the rate of 20 bee colonies per person of rural valley and hill families beside the phenomenal improvement of crops productivity and higher returns from unit area.

Honey Bees are now looked upon not only as producers of honey and other products but also as remarkable winged pollinator of the flower plants. It has been established that their pollinating work is eight to ten times more profitable than all the other products they collect and the other products yield.

Flowers are indeed visited by a great variety of insects of which Honey Bee occupy first place among the obligatory visitors with wide sphere of action. Domesticated honey bees posses the greatest ability and possibilities as pollinators.

Their flying season begins in the early spring and ends in autumn under favourable conditions they visit flowers all that time, while wild bees do so only for a few in the season.

To be continued....

* P Narendra wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on May 13 , 2018.

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