BY WASEEM AHMAD
Rural development aims to help people to manage their livelihoods, better through sustainable use of available resources. It provides greater social and economic power by offering opportunities to work in line with their capacity, without hampering the eco-services provided by their environment. The agriculture and allied sectors continue to be crucial in the economy of J&K and accordingly there has been a renewed thrust on activities which can enhance earnings of the rural populace. Socially and economically, Jammu & Kashmir state is an agrarian society with most of its population associated with agricultural and horticultural activities. The region, in particular, bags the top position in horticulture produce. The annual production being 18 lac metric tonnes of fruit estimated to be 70% of the annual national production in the sector.
Beekeeping or (apiculture) is one of the subsectors of this horticulture economy. It, along with, honey hunting have been practised by different societies since ancient times and have always been linked to development. Beekeeping has thus contributed to rural development through the centuries by supporting agricultural production, providing honey, wax, and other products for home use, and by providing income for both farmers and the landless.
Beekeeping has holistic benefits that relate to health, being used as a medicinal product and as food. The economy directly through sales of honey and other bee products and, indirectly , through increased productivity of pollinated crops, as well as bee enterprise activities, employment in honey production and pollination services, can contribute to securing sustainable livelihoods by transforming vulnerabilities into security. It can be carried out by small farmers, and is particularly suitable for underprivileged, landless, and low-income groups as well as women, as it requires minimal start up investment and generally yields profits within the first year of operation.
Beekeeping is a good way for people to earn an income without damaging the environment, at the same time honeybees and other pollinators play an important role in the conservation of plant resources by providing pollination services. Much of the time, conservation of wild flora is an ’unnoticed’ activity that happens under the cover of bush, canopy, and the darkness of the forest; pollinators participate by supporting the gene flow, which is a vital process of life.
Beekeeping can help economically vulnerable communities achieve economic stability. Honey production, pollination services, agriculture, and forestry are but a few of the economic benefits of beekeeping. Bee products such as propolis, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee venom are also high-value low-volume green products. In addition to the direct income from bee products, beekeeping generates off-farm employment opportunities in many fields including hive carpentry, honey trading, renting and hiring of bee colonies for pollination, and bee-based micro-enterprises.
In order to improve the economic condition, government agencies and many international organisations are supporting rural farmers to make use of locally available resources to produce commodities for income generation. The value chain map reveals that, in beekeeping most of the supporting agencies focus more on the promotion of beekeeping itself than on products for processing and marketing. It is equally important to link rural producers with markets and sustain and grow these links so that they form a perpetual growth cycle of production and consumption. Connecting rural producers with markets on a sustainable basis is a very challenging task that can be helped by value chain promotion.
Empowering communities and societies is one of the major prerequisites for achieving secure and sustainable livelihoods. Beekeeping can play an important role in empowering the poor. It also introduces the concept of fair and equitable sharing of benefits in societies. Beekeeper communities understand the structure of a beehive where life organises itself in a more meaningful and disciplined way. In a community, it inspires people to organise and work collectively for their common benefit and to trade their product in a systematic way. Empowered communities are able to demonstrate their economic and social power. Most small beekeepers belong to the more disadvantaged groups in society and it is important for development workers and projects to help them achieve better economic returns for their hard work, which in turn will contribute to their empowerment.
In most cases the rural poor rely on livestock, a piece of land, or their beehives or bee colonies in the nearby forest to provide them with a sense of social and economic security, as cash flow is not reliable and often inaccessible. In these situations, beekeeping development is also integrated into rural development efforts. It contributes in a balanced way to rural development efforts, leading to secure and sustainable livelihoods.
The author is a Researcher at SKAUST, Shalimar.