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A missed beeline to sting apple output in India

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The lockdown has cut short movement of bees in most states and bees will be fed on sugar to avoid starvation.The missing buzz of honeybees in apple orchards of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir is set to sting fruit growers and rob them of several hundred crore rupees this season, as beekeepers are being forced to suspend their annual interstate migration from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana due to the ongoing lockdown. More than the nectar (honey), the arrival of the farm friendly insects is awaited by fruit growers for pollination of the blooming trees in April as apiaries are shifted in trucks to the hilly states.

Apple trees blossomed in pink will last a fortnight and a cross-pollution aided by honeybees will decide whether it would turn into a fruit or wither away as petals. “Bees were not available on time due to the lockdown and now production will drop drastically,” said Kishore Sharma, pradhan of village Thana in district Shimla. Sharma is dejected as the flowering period is in the last lap around his village, where the blossoming happens earlier than other apple growing areas.

Beehives are much in demand during this period and beekeepers get a handsome rent of Rs 700-800 per box for one month in Himachal Pradesh. Usually beekeepers pay a cost for stay in flowering fields in other states, including Jammu & Kashmir. The rent has soared to Rs 900-1,000 per box in higher altitude areas as only a few beekeepers have managed to travel due to restrictions on road travel.

Many beekeepers, travelling across Rajasthan and Bihar after their bimonthly stay in mustard and litchi fields, were stranded on highways as lockdown was imposed while they were on their way to greener pastures.

Waking up to the plight of beekeepers, the National Bee Board last week raised the issue and states including Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar have issued passes.

“Even though beekeepers have been given exemption, labour shortage and hurdles in interstate travel have dissuaded most beekeepers from undertaking their annual sojourn,” said Narpinder Singh, state president of the Punjab Progressive Beekeepers Association. He said due to the fear of viral disease many villages in even Punjab had debarred entry of outsiders including beekeepers. A lean honey business due to the pandemic was also discouraging beekeepers, he said.

“Honeybees are vital for some crops and their absence would reduce output substantially,” said Pardeep Chunneja, dean-entomology, Punjab Agriculture Department. He said that honeybees are most efficient pollinators and forage over an area of three kilometres.

Depending on cropping season, the apiaries are shifted to four-five states each year, largely in quest of mustard crop. Honey is also valued on nectar that bees feed on. “Honey was priced at three times when I took bees to Srinagar five years ago but now it is too risky,” said Kamal Singh, beekeeper based in village Ajaraka in district Alwar. “Now bees mostly feed on vegetables, kikar and mustard crops.”

The lockdown has cut short movement of bees in most states and bees will be fed on sugar to avoid starvation.

Suresh Chand, an official at Bee Keeping Training Centre at Allahabad, said that before the lockdown, beekeepers had come from Bihar where the litchi season had prolonged till March this year.

“Spices, cotton, eucalyptus, poplar and kikar plantations are also feeding grounds for honeybees,” said a beekeeper from Rajasthan.


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