Beekeeping in the region has failed to enthuse farmers.
Though a few farmers have taken to it of late, old timers do not see much favourable conditions to encourage it.
Rupinder Singh Brar, a beekeeper from Bargari village, says, "Honeybee wants all kinds of flowers, be they from trees, plants, crops or even weeds. But the area under cotton has shrunk; there are no places for even weeds to grow. People have been cutting down plants and fruit trees; there is hardly any new plantation in the region, so migration to far-off places is the only way to extract more honey from the boxes."
Rupinder started in 2001 with five boxes and in 2004 claimed to have about 130 boxes. But now he is left with only 21. "Some of the factors have hit bees badly, such as the area under cotton in the district, lack of other flowers, not-so favourable weather, mobile towers radiation, rise in paddy area and increase in input costs. On the contrary, the prices of honey in the wholesale market are always uncertain, depending on traders," Rupinder claims.
According to him, the per-frame rates of bees had shot up to Rs. 400 in 2004 which is now only about Rs. 150 in the wholesale. The wholesale rates of honey hover around less than Rs. 100. "Some diseases also affected the occupation and pushed farmers away from it," says Rupinder.
"In 2004, I used to extract around 20kg to 30kg honey per box even without migration to other parts from six annual extractions while now the number of extractions has reduced to three," he claims.
On the other hand, Simarjeet Singh, a beekeeper from Aulakh village, claims to have 300 boxes of honeybees. "I had started work with just two boxes in 1992; now I have about 300 boxes. I migrate the boxes from place to place taking into account the availability of flowers. "In spring season, I migrate the boxes to Rajasthan on mustard flowers and then bring them back on to eucalyptus trees, then to Jalandhar area for sunflowers in April and then to moong crop and then in August again shift to Rajasthan on the cotton crop and guar where there are flowers for the bees to make honey," Simarjeet claims.
"I have also sold many boxes of bees which continue to grow. I have sold about 2,000 boxes in Abohar area where I had got registration on which buyers could claim subsidy being provided under some schemes to buy new boxes. Besides, I sell some of the honey for Rs. 300 per kg after getting it processed (cleaned) as I have also got Agmark registration and the rest of the honey is sold in the open wholesale market at about Rs. 100 a kg," he claims.
Sucha Singh from Phidde Khurd village is a new entrant to the field. "I bought four boxes of bees two months ago with an inspiration by ATMA (agriculture technology management agency). ATMA had taken us to some bee farms on tour for some time and seeing the encouraging results, I too started beekeeping," claims Sucha Singh, a 32-year-old youth from the village.
"I have been able to add up to the bees. I bought four boxes and now have seven," says Sucha Singh.
Jagroop Singh, a beekeeper from Bir Sikhan wala village, says, "I had started work with two boxes in 2003 and then the number of boxes went up to 36, but again came down to 20 at present. Beekeeping needs regular looking after, migration to other parts for extraction of more honey, which costs a lot and is out of the reach of the small beekeepers."
"I lost all possible chances of extraction in this season due to constant bad weather with fog, clouds and rain which did not allow the bees to fly and make honey," he claims.
"Many who had opted for the occupation to make money have given up the work of beekeeping. Only those who themselves are trained owners or big players are left in the field. The rates of honey in the wholesale market have come down to as low as Rs. 75 per kg a fortnight ago while the input costs have gone up. Migration requires transport vehicles, permanent workers, staying at far-off places of migration while non-migration has the problem of flowers the year round," Jagroop Singh claims.
"Beekeeping has a future but it depends on favourable weather, good rates of honey and the beekeepers' readiness to work technically and hard. We are providing the farmers guidance and coordinating training and arranging tours," said Amandeep Keshav, project director, ATMA, Faridkot.