Organic farming uses all-natural techniques to grow food in a way that’s good for farmers, good for the environment, and good for consumers. In a world where climate change and the effects of years of industrial and chemical farming are making it increasingly hard for farmers to make a sustainable living, organic methods are becoming ever more important, and farmers are turning back to nature to find the best ways to produce healthy food from healthy land.
Lately, we’ve been hearing more about how bee-keeping is a powerful, all-natural tool in the organic farmer’s arsenal. I Say Organic tried to find out more about the benefits.
What do bees do?
Besides honey and beeswax, honeybees are also largely responsible for the oilseeds, pulses, vegetables and fruits you eat everyday. That’s because bees are some of nature’s best pollinators. While other insects like butterflies, bumblebees, beetles, flies or ants are also pollinators, honeybees are the most efficient. Under normal conditions, a hive of fifty thousand bees can pollinate half a million plants in one day, or 100 plants for every bee! Pollination is key to plant growth, and although people have tried, there’s simply no good way to pollinate crops without bees. Unfortunately, for reasons that have yet to be determined bee populations worldwide are declining at an alarming rate
How can farmers integrate the honeybee into their lives?
70% of farmers in India farm less than a hectare (2.5 acres) of land, according to the National Sample Survey Organization. Farming is difficult for these small holders, and getting tougher all the time as they have to adapt to climate change and other large-scale issues. The large-scale decrease in bee populations is one of these major issues, and a serious threat to farmers and agricultural productivity in general. Although the exact reasons are a mystery, what’s clear is that if bee populations continue their decline, the results will be catastrophic.
Rather than despair, a new generation of farmers and entrepreneurs are pondering a new question: what if farmers could start to maintain honey bees and hives on more farms to facilitate cross-pollination, grow healthier crops and earn more profit?
Modern bee keeping fits in the organic model of respecting nature and working with natural systems, not against them. Organic farming does not use pesticides which could kill off bees, and because organic farms are often more diverse than regular, monoculture farms, they can promote cross-pollination that ends up increasing the health of all sorts of different plants. Organic farmers also tend to look to local solutions for local problems, and in this sense there is a definite overlap with bee keeping. The Indian indigenous bee’s scientific name is apis cerana indica. These desi bees are abundant in nature, yet commercial beekeepers have ignored them in favour of a hybrid bee species, Apis mellifera. Not surprisingly, desi bees are well suited to the environment, and so are gaining more commercial attention. They are very hard workers, even in extreme weather conditions or temperature fluctuations. They do not need to migrate and are excellent pollinators. For these reasons many farmers who take up bee keeping are using the apis cerana indica instead of hybrid bees.
What are the results?
From understanding how bees are kept in a box, how to take care while tending to them and their role in the agricultural process, farmers undergo a process of learning before they embrace this step. The results so far are positive. Some organisations that have turned to bee keeping report increases in yield of as much as 80 per cent, earning farmers as much as 40% more in income. These sorts of returns are huge, especially compared to the relatively low cost of maintaining bees. Even better, having bee hives means that during monsoons, when fields lie fallow, honey can be a source of income for farmers.
This sort of small scale, organic bee keeping is good for you too! Honey from a diverse range of places and plants means a huge range of delicious flavours. India’s rich flora leads to flavours of honey like orange blossom, cardamom, litchi and more. Instead of a uniform, filtered honey, now, you can savour honey full of nutrients and flavour.