By Adam Zeidan
Global bee populations are under threat. Due to the human impacts of intensive farming practices, mono-cropping, excessive use of pesticides, and higher temperatures associated with climate change, extinction rates amongst pollinator species are 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal. Additionally, 25% fewer bee types were found globally between 2006 and 2015 compared to the 1990s.
Bees are an essential part of the earth’s ecosystem and play a key role in pollinating over 70% of the crop types used to feed the majority of humans and animals. A severe decline in their population could be detrimental to the availability of nutritious fruit, vegetable, and nut crops people rely on, ultimately resulting in an imbalanced diet and other food scarcity concerns.
In the Kashmir region of Pakistan, where diets heavily rely on the availability of local produce, and many livelihoods are sustained through farming practices, a community of farmers backed by UK NGO Human Appeal are working to foster the practice of beekeeping and protect a native bee species. Since 2009, Human Appeal has supported a honeybee farming project in the area, aiming to train and support low-income and vulnerable families with beekeeping skills and provide them with equipment so they have a sustainable source of income. Beekeeping in the region isn’t actually a new concept. Historically, bees were kept in makeshift hives created by hollowing out holes in the walls of houses or other basic cavernous structures. Instead, it is the concept of commercialising and creating species-specific hives that the programme has introduced. Due to their dwindling numbers, the project focuses efforts on the Apis Cerana, one of only eight bee species native to southern Asia. Deforestation, loss of nest sites, and increased pesticide use have contributed to a steady decline of their population across the continent. The honeybee project is helping conserve and drive native populations of Apis Cerana back up by implementing a shift from the conventional makeshift methods of beekeeping to the commercial more regulated practice of hive keeping.
Working in collaboration, the Honeybee Research Institute (HBRI), the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), and Human Appeal have since provided advanced training in beekeeping for individuals taking part in the programme. They have taught caretaking techniques, honey extraction, and given lessons on how to make honey bi-products such as Royal Jelly, cosmetics, wax candles, and natural remedies.
The Apis Cerana species of bee had never been farmed for honey before, so following the initial successful trials thirteen years ago, the group of experts developed bespoke training manuals to share knowledge and encourage future participants.
The three organisations have also formed a cooperative that supports local bee farmers, generates its own resources, liaises with key partners, and conducts workshops that provide insight into innovations and advances in Apiculture within the context of climate change. Most recently, cooperative members lobbied policymakers and dignitaries to explore the issues currently facing the beekeeping industry in the country and presented their solutions to expand the practice across Pakistan. In 2018, they partnered with AJK University, training over 100 Master and Ph.D. zoology students in beekeeping.
Following involvement in this programme, Shaukat, a farmer who lives with his children and father in the Pakistani village of Chaymati, experienced a transformative shift not only to the family’s personal circumstances but also within their wider communities as well. Since completing his initial training eight years ago, Shaukat has expanded his farm from four hives to fifteen, producing an average of 105 kilograms of honey each year. The income generated from sales of his honey and beeswax products has allowed Shaukat to open his secondary business, a local shop, something he can pass on to his children, creating generational change.
Shaukat also currently helps upwards of 35 other farmers in his local area to harvest their honey. Participants from the honeybee programme who have grown their farms have been able to take on employees, build homes, buy vehicles, and send their children to university. The financial stability provided by beekeeping has also given them the freedom to expand into other areas of trade or open independent businesses, much like Shaukat.
Since the start of the project, 797 individuals have taken the three-day practical training, 14% of which are women, and 90% have been provided with hives, tools, and live bee colonies. Collectively, an astounding £1.5 million worth of honey has been sold since 2009 by beekeepers within the programme and more is yet to come. Within the last year, Human Appeal has started expanding the project to other areas of Pakistan and Kashmir and ongoing donations are also helping to develop an innovative new hive design that maintains a consistent optimal temperature, reducing the number of hive losses usually experienced during the peak summer heat.
It’s clear that the efforts of Human Appeal’s programme have translated into sweet success for farmers in the Kashmir region. The focus on farming a native bee species has meant a greater amount of pollination for local flora which foreign bee species would not have been able to pollinate. In contrast to short-term projects that provide immediate symptomatic relief, this longstanding initiative has combined skills-based learning and technical support to empower families and entire communities against the causes of hardship, providing them with sustainable livelihoods for decades to come.
About the Author
Adam Zeidan is a corporate communications professional with global/EMEA corporate communications experience ranging international automotive, airline, FMCG, SAAS, and NGO sectors. He is a former journalist and currently the Global PR, Advocacy & Research Manager for the British international NGO Human Appeal.