A Meghalaya Lady’s Venture into Honey Beekeeping
Times are difficult for job seekers. Like other states, Meghalaya too is teeming with youngsters looking for employment. At times, many youth are forced to take up jobs at levels below what they could get with their qualifications. In this scenario, the one portal of hope is entrepreneurship, and private enterprise holds promise for people who dare. Here is the story of Kong Iba Blah, mother of two, who has dared to venture into beekeeping.
The Call to Entrepreneurship
Schooled at Loreto Convent, Shillong, Kong Iba completed her graduation and then a post-graduate diploma in business management in Delhi. Enamoured by the idea of starting her own venture - having worked with her brother on his rubber plantation - she declined a lucrative corporate job offer. She was wondering what to do with the family’s near-decrepit two-acre farm near Umsning in Ri-Bhoi District when someone told her about a free beekeeping course conducted by the Meghalaya Institute of Entrepreneurship (MIE), under Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA). After a one-week training all the trainees were given five bee-boxes each, plus a couple of more equipment, to help them start-off with beekeeping.
Demands of the beekeeping industry
She began her venture in December 2015, with 10 bee boxes, soon discovering that beekeeping isn’t exactly a cakewalk. One year on and she is yet to get her first harvest.
But tenacity, passion and unwavering desire for success are Kong Iba’s strong points. While other co-trainees have given up, she stuck on. Why does she choose beekeeping over other ventures? She’s fascinated with nature, the environment and its preservation she says. The bees, she emphasizes, are one of nature’s own preserving and enrichment agents. She loves the amber fluid that drips goodness, which can be harvested so peacefully!
Strategies to meet demands
She hasn’t harvested so much as a spoonful. So, how come we see bottles of her ‘Blossom Honey’ brand around? That’s her pointed strategy. She is working on establishing brand visibility first; so even though she hasn’t harvested her own, she ‘aggregates’, as she puts it, procuring from other producers, to position her brand. She does it professionally, conforming to fssai regulations.
Production dreams and constraints
Does she have a vision to produce her own? Of course! That’s the whole point. Does she face problems? Plenty she says, but not insurmountable, and enumerates three major ones:
- Finance –10 colonies is too small. 50 colonies would make her at least a ‘medium-sized’ producer, a more viable option. She wants to introduce Italian bees, Apis mellifora, which yield about 35 kgs per annum per colony. The Indian bees, Apis cerana indica that’ she presently rears, yield only about 6 kgs per year. But all this requires financial investment, and governmental assistance/subsidies are painfully slow.
- Swarming and Absconding – two main behaviour of the bees: (a) They swarm – move to form another colony, due to overcrowding; and (b) they abscond – they leave the colony due to factors like lack of food, enemies, disease etc. Both are headaches for the beekeeper.
- Labour – Meticulous care is most essential, as bees are very sensitive to their environment. Getting good labour for this is tough.
The Goodness of Honey
Kong Iba explains: Honey is called the Nectar of the Gods, and is everyone’s favourite. It is a natural food with invaluable medicinal value, the health benefits of which are science-backed.
It is used in traditional medicine for coughs, concussions and infections. An important component in many anti-cough, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory medicinal preparations, honey finds mention in Ayurveda, Unani and Homeopathy. It is used in beauty treatments and beauty products, and is great for weight loss.
Every chef’s favourite, honey can be paired, infused, cooked, and brushed with almost every creation in the kitchen. Honey tastes as good by itself as it does in salads, dips etc.
One cannot discount the magic of honey, Kong Iba stressed.
Is local Meghalaya honey popular, why so?
The highest producers of honey in India are Punjab and West Bengal. Best honey may be said to come from Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, but the northeast with its vast natural flora brings the best organic honey, Kong Iba believes.
Purity and taste are the main reason for the popularity of Meghalaya honey she says. Now we think that’s a subjective statement.
Meghalaya is home to many flora, both alpine and temperate, supplying pollen and nectar. Minimal use of pesticides in this region provides a good environment for the bees to flourish.
Meghalaya honey is obtained largely from small farmers whose bees forage from forest flora or orange orchards (hence the term ‘orange honey’ with its signature tangy taste). Nectar sources are largely grown free of pesticides and chemicals, making the honey as organic as could be. Honey is refined in the traditional method that doesn’t strain away the natural goodness, like pollen. The colour is golden amber, unlike the darker shades of commercial honey. Quality and taste is ensured. A person who has tasted local honey will never like any other.
Kong Iba tells us that all over the world the demand for honey is quite high though the supply is woefully inadequate. In India, there is the potential for 100% growth.
Demand for local honey
Demand outstrips supply, says Kong Iba. Aware of the organic nature of local honey, it is only fair that the price her brand ‘Blossom’ commands is a bit more than the commercial honey and people don’t mind. She is yet to explore the huge market demand for the by-products of honey – bee pollen, propolis, wax, venom and royal jelly which find uses in cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
The Zizira factor
Apiculture can play a vital role in the livelihood promotion of the farmers in Meghalaya. In order to intensify the production of honey in the state, the Government of Meghalaya, launched the State Apiculture Mission under the Integrated Basin Development and Livelihood Promotion Program (IBDLP) on 16th October 2014. Source
Looks like the future for entrepreneurs like Kong Iba and others looks optimistic. They have a good chance of growing their business in beekeeping, as the demand for honey is on the rise, the honey from this region is organic, and the local Govt is ready to support apiculturists.
Zizira will continue to work on creating awareness about honey from Northeast India by writing about beekeepers, about their success stories, etc while exploring for unique varieties of honey to showcase. In keeping with its vision to create a market for the unique produce of this region, Zizira food lab is experimenting with products using traditional honey of Meghalaya.
Want to know more about organic honey from Meghalaya? Or interested in buying authentic, pure and organic honey? Contact us.
You know something more about honey in Northeast India? As a medicine? Or a recipe using honey? It would delight us to hear from you – add them as comments.
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