Encourages farmers to practice meliponiculture
Stingless bees are farmers’ best friend as it improves pollination and enhances biodiversity in the farm.
“It enters even in a very small flower that makes it an ideal agent for augmenting farm productivity thus increases farmers’ income. Calm and social by nature, stingless bees can be reared in small place as convenient to the farmers,” shares Dr. S.Leena, Chief Technical Officer ( Entomology), KVK, Kasargod, Kerala. Stingless are Indian origin bees named as ‘Apis Cerana Indica’ while sting bees ‘Apis Mellifera’ was introduced in India by European countries. Rearing of sting bees is apiculture while stingless bee is referred as meliponiculture.
When asked about the difference between apiculture and meliponiculture, she says, “Both are reared for honey, beeswax and pollination. However the quality of the two varies. Production of honey by stingless bees is less but the quality is superior as it is rich in medicinal properties. The reason being stingless bees are much smaller in size precisely 3-6mm thus can easily enter tiny flowers of medicinal plants, shrubs and herbs. Honey produced by stingless bees is priced 10 times higher.” It is sold as Rs. 2000-2500/kg.
Honey is harvested only once in a year in meliponiculture and the production quantity depends on the size of the colony and nectar availability. By and large the production quantity is 300gram – 1kg/colony/year. It would be difficult to distinguish honey obtained from apiculture and meliponiculture with eyes but taste can clearly highlight the difference. “Stingless bees honey is not very sweet when compared with apis bees honey. It is more acidic in nature so tastes sour but the flavor and aroma is pleasant due to presence of natural sweetness, vitamins, amino acids and minerals. Indian tribal population in many geographical belts use the stingless honey as medicine for treating burns, wounds, infections, diarrhea, common cold, eye infections etc. Hence tribal will have atleast one colony at home.”
The process of honey production is more or less same in apiculture and meliponiculture. Stingless bees honey is not processed as in the case of apis honey. As soon as the honey is harvested it is sold immediately. The average moisture content in this honey is less than 23-25%. Less moisture content inhibits the growth of bacteria and it is viable for long storage. The beeswax of stingless bees is used for industrial and cosmetic purpose. Also beeswax is used to construct colonies. The pollens from these bees are used for medicinal and cosmetic purpose. The bee pollens are packed with proteins.
These bees without the stings proffer higher rate of pollination and crop diversity because of the same reason that it can enter small flowers. Elaborating on unique features she states, “Stingless bees are safe and trouble free. It is colonial in nature thus stays in the same colony for longer durations. It has good properties like floral constancy, can be reared in small mud pouch/bamboo/wooden logs/even coconut shells. It can also be used in green house cultivation as these are short fliers (300-400 meter) for pollination. It can tolerate high temperatures upto 40degrees. It can be even transferred to another place as it has small hives.” These are quite adaptable to all sorts of weather conditions in the country.
Stingless bees are found across Indian subcontinent like Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats, North East Indian states. “However it is unfortunate that inspite of being Indian origin, stingless bees are less popular than its counterpart Apis Mellifera. The former lacks recognition and awareness because government too is promoting apiculture by providing subsidy,” Dr. Leena brings the fact to notice! On a brighter side, farmers are slowly refurbishing their knowledge and trust on stingless bees and coming forward to practice the same.
The main pre-requisites for meliponiculture are that the area should have rich biodiversity, warm climate, abundant flora and clean source of water. “It is so because the raw materials needed are nectar and pollen that are readily available if multiple kinds of plants and trees are in the surroundings. If it grows in natural environment honey produced is of premium quality. Rest the process is quite effortless and doesn’t require technical skills or additional land. Also it is a low-investment venture and has very minimum operational cost,” states Dr. Leena.
She concludes, “Meliponiculture enhances the pollination and increases the farm productivity. Consequently farmers’ earnings improve. Further rearing stingless bee ensures sustainable agriculture and helps to conserve biodiversity. Demand of its honey and by-products is increasing day by day thus prospects are bright. It neither involves any time intensive activities nor requires constant monitoring. Therefore every farmer must have atleast one colony of stingless bee in his farm. It is an additional income thus farmers must take it up for sure!”
ICAR CPCRI, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kudlu PO, Kasargod – 671124, Kerala