Honey business not so sweet for apiarists of Hanumangarh

Honey business not so sweet for apiarists of Hanumangarh

Honey business not so sweet for apiarists of Hanumangarh

Rising input costs, adulteration, and lack of support from administration and banks put farmers in a tight spot

Hanumangarh, Rajasthan: The apiarists of Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan are as busy as a bee itself. Sadly, they are not getting a fair price for the hard work they put in. Over the years, production cost has soared, but honey prices have not increased proportionately, putting around 1,500 beekeepers in the district in a tight spot.

Considering the charges incurred on bee boxes, labour, food and accommodation of labourers and transport, the production cost of one kg of honey comes to Rs 125. In contrast, companies buy the produce for Rs 60-70 per kg, which is at least Rs 10 less than the procurement price provided almost two decades ago!

The struggle does not end with this wide disparity in input and procurement costs. The drop in honey production also stings beekeepers. “Twenty-five years ago, one colony produced 50 to 60 kg of honey in the mustard growing season (October to March). With the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, this has come down to 15 kg,” said Punjab-based Jaspreet Singh, who supplies bee colonies to apiarists in Hanumangarh.

“Bees do not visit flowers of crops sprayed with pesticides, else they will die. This has affected pollination. There is also a new concern that genetically modified plants might have an adverse effect on pollinators,” he added.

Honey trap

Among the many issues, the addition of artificial colours and sugars to honey is a major cause of concern for beekeepers. “The authorities are hand in glove with procuring companies. It keeps changing norms, which encourages companies to sell adulterated honey instead of buying pure produce from us. Some parameters were unnecessarily diluted, without any explanation,” Prakash Singh Badal, a resident of Nohar in Hanumangarh and president of the northern Rajasthan unit of the Rashtriya Beekeepers Sangharsh Samiti, told 101Reporters.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has defined honey as a natural sweet substance produced by bees from the pollination of plants or by separating living parts of plants or by insects sucking on living plants. The bee collects, transforms, dehydrates and stores it, ripens and matures it in the hive.

For the greed of money, several companies play with the health of unsuspecting consumers by selling honey mixed with maize and rice syrup. An investigation carried out by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in 2020 found that 10 out of the 13 major brands sold honey containing sugar syrup.

“In 1994, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India had set the standard for pollen count and plant element in honey at 50,000 per gram, but it was changed to 25,000 per gram in 2018. A year later, it was diluted to 5,000 per gram. The government also did away with the quality control test for honey,” Badal explained.

At the same time, pollen count is not considered a measure of the quality of honey globally. Consequently, determining adulteration by checking the pollen count has been a matter of controversy. This is exacerbated by the fact that pollen count varies in different types of honey. For example, it can be different in mustard, litchi, or honey obtained from a single flower or different flowers.

Due to the increasing use of chemicals in farming, bee colonies are barely producing 25% of the honey they used to two decades ago (Photo - Amarpal Singh Verma, 101Reporters)  

Banks sting them

Rajasthan Khadi and Village Industries Board does not run any special scheme for beekeepers, but gets grants from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission through the state government. While banks give loans to apiarists, the board pitches in by offering subsidies to the loanee using the Central Commission’s grant. The subsidy component differs for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Other Backward Classes and the general category. However, the subsidy upper limit is 35% of the loan amount.     

Harjeet Singh of Araiyanwali Dhani explained how banks let him down. “My brother Gurmeet Singh and I made a loan application with the Khadi board in 2019. The board sanctioned Rs 8 lakh each in our names and sent the proposal to ICICI Bank, which turned it down after a long-winding process. If the bank had passed our loan, we could have expanded our beekeeping business and taken advantage of the subsidy.”   

Kuldeep Saharan of Ranjitpura had a similar experience. “The board sanctioned Rs 4 lakh in my name, but the State Bank of India did not disburse the money. No bank gives money to beekeepers,” he lamented.

Confirming the charge, Madan Lal Swami, Divisional Officer, Rajasthan Khadi and Village Industries Board, Bikaner, told 101Reporters that banks were not cooperative. He said they have raised the issue in several meetings and seminars, but the attitude of the banks have remained the same. 

“From 2018 to date, 58 apiarists have applied for loans. We rejected 21 applications at the departmental level due to various deficiencies, but approved 35 and asked various banks to give loans. Yet, only four beekeepers got the money. The remaining two applications are pending with us.”

When contacted, Raj Kumar, Lead District Manager, Hanumangarh, told 101Reporters that banks do not adopt a negative approach in any matter. “It is quite possible that banks have rejected several applications because they are not confident that the loanee can pay back the amount. They just want to ensure the return of the money. At the same time, there may be cases where the banks have given loans to all applicants. It is purely based on the merit of each case,” he said.

Rajasthan Horticulture Department also has a provision to arrange a 40% subsidy from the National Horticulture Mission for the supply of bee colonies and bee boxes. In the 2022-23 financial year, the department planned to distribute 2,850 colonies and boxes in Hanumangarh district. Similarly, neighbouring Sri Ganganagar district was to get 7,550 colonies and boxes each.

Horticulture Officer Rajendra Nain told 101Reporters that a tender invite was issued last year, but the contract was not inked with any of the bidders. Two months ago, a new tender invitation was made.  

Bogged down by several issues, the apiarists of Hanumangarh district held a protest outside the Collectorate in February and submitted a memorandum of demands, which included announcing a Minimum Support Price of Rs 150 per kg for honey.

Apiarists of Hanumangarh district held a protest outside the Collectorate in February and submitted a memorandum of demands (Photo sourced by Amarpal Singh Verma, 101Reporters)

They sought recognition of honey bees as inputs to agriculture and landless beekeepers as farmers, as recommended by Bibek Debroy-led Beekeeping Development Committee under the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. “The Debroy committee had recommended plantation of bee-friendly flora at appropriate places and employment of women self-help groups for its upkeep,” said Badal.

The committee report released on June 26, 2019, had discussed the state government’s role in training beekeepers, besides promoting infrastructure at the national and regional levels for the collection, processing, marketing and promotion of honey and related products. There were suggestions to simplify the procedures and specify clear standards to ease exports.

“We would have benefitted if the committee’s recommendations were implemented, but it has been shelved for almost four years,” he added.

The beekeepers also sought the setting up of a laboratory that met international standards to check the purity of honey and curb adulteration. They want the administration to ban genetically modified crops and the indiscriminate use of pesticides in agriculture. They believe that farmers will benefit if honey is included in the mid-day meal scheme, and made available at government stores.  

Cover photo - (Photo - Amarpal Singh Verma, 101Reporters)

Edited by Tanya Shrivastava


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