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Nikhil Sathe beekeping uniform

Beekeeping: From a Hobby to a Profession

UTMT master trainer nikhil sathe
Oprah Winfrey said, “the biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.”

This is the story of UNDER THE MANGO TREE’s Master Trainer, Nikhil who gives life to this quote. He is vocal about his efforts, committed to teaching farmers beekeeping, and passionate about raising awareness about the many benefits of beekeeping.

Nikhil was introduced to beekeeping during his one month certificate course with Central Bee Research and Training Institute (CBRTI) where he learned the skill and developed a passion for beekeeping. Afraid that urban cities did not have the required flora for honey bees, he decided to focus on other work although he was passionate about beekeeping. He was still  curious on what would happen if he gave it another shot. Nikhil decided to try it out on his  balcony and realised that beekeeping is a hobby that anyone can try even for those dwelling in the most crowded cities. Thus began his bee-autiful journey with bees and beekeeping.

Nikhil continued to pursue his beekeeping journey for a while at his home in Pune. He painstakingly cleaned the bee box, checked for signs of disturbance, ill health in the hive and simply observed the colony and how they interacted with each other – the more he worked on his bee boxes the closer he felt  to nature. He continued beekeeping for a while and decided he wanted to dedicate more time to the hives. Nikhil learned about Under The Mango Tree’s work and applied. He  joined the team and starting working on improving the livelihoods of marginalized farmers through beekeeping. Under The Mango Tree trains farmers on beekeeping to bring them additional income through honey and increase their agricultural yield.

Nikhil Sathe beekeping uniform

Nikhil has a few goals he wants to meet with Under The Mango Tree such as figuring  out ways to establish more Apiaries (a collection of bee-boxes at a location earmarked for demos and experiments), Colony Rearing (multiplying bee colonies faster using special techniques) and control absconding (when bees abandon the bee-box due to various issues). That’s not all, there are two other wild native bee species – ‘Trigona Bee’ also know as ‘Stingless bee’ and ‘Apis Dorsata’ also known as the ‘Indian Rock-bee’ that he is wants to learn about.

beekeeping

Beekeeping comes with its own set of obstacles.  Finding new locations for beekeeping can be a huge challenge. There are many criterias that need to be met for an area to be suitable for beehives. Another challenge Nikhil faces is the reduced tree diversity in the forests around Under The Mango Tree’s sites in Dhule, Maharashtra, where he is based.

The mainly timber-trees means less variety not only for bees but also for long term overall ecosystem health and functioning. One way Under The Mango Tree  has thought of overcoming this issue, is by encouraging farmers to plant select native crops and fruit trees which would be valuable sources of bee food as well as contribute to the farmers incomes. Nikhil is a key team member in this new endeavour.

As someone who constantly loves to learn, and experiment with new techniques, Nikhil loves that his job allows him the flexibility to do just that. “Comb honey” is an exciting new concept he is in charge of piloting, where beekeepers would earn a premium price and consumers would access pure, natural honey. Communicating the idea to farmers, devising a plan for implementation, identifying key issues, are some of the key activities he will be working on.

Reflecting on his journey so far, he says it was bees that got him into beekeeping. Apart from that, his mentor and good friend Jitin Anand also had a big hand in encouraging him to doggedly pursue his passion and explore ways to develop his skill as a beekeeper.

When you find your calling, it is hard to resist it. Nikhil learned that once you fall in love with something, there is no going back. He is amazed  that a hobby he took on out of fun has brought him full circle in a career working with bees.  Reminiscing about his journey he is happy he didn’t give up on beekeeping blindly without giving it a real chance. When you are really passionate about something you will figure out a way to make it happen and make it look easy to others.

 

What are the benefits of extracting honey from a bee box as compared to hunting bees in forests? Extracting honey from a bee box saves the time and energy bees require to re-fill honey in the empty combs without wasting their time on making the comb first. It also saves the time and energy of the beekeeper while removing and putting back the combs in the bee-boxes without disturbing the honey-bees. It is a pro-environmental practice as honey is extracted without destroying the combs. Honey is extracted only from the super chamber (surplus honey) which doesn't take away their stored honey used during dearth periods (no food) and also doesn't expose the brood frame (egg, larva, pupae) outside to die or attract infection. In addition, extracting honey from the bee box also provides assurance of the honey’s purity and thus, honey extracted through this process can be consumed without any processing, given that everything used in the extraction process is hygienic.

In conversation with Nikhil Sathe, Technical Assistant

According to you, what are the most significant ways in which the training session(s) organised by UTMT have impacted the lives of the farmers?

Generally, the maximum duration of most bee-keeping training sessions for farmers or less educated people is one month or sometimes even shorter than that. However, we not only provide Two-day or monthly training sessions but also walk along with the farmers throughout the year, practically teaching them seasonal management and also advanced bee-keeping techniques and new inventions related to bee-keeping. I personally find this very significant and unique as I have noticed that it has impacted the lives of the farmers impressively through the inclusion of bee-keeping in their routine.

 What are some of the most common questions/ doubts you were asked during the training session?

Farmers mostly ask how they would fill up the bee-boxes. Some other frequently asked questions are-

  • How can we manage a bee-box as bees sting a lot?
  • What do we do with the surplus honey? (Market access)
  • How will we get a bee-box and the expense incurred for the same?

Can you please describe the content you use during the training session?

We use pictures and videos of every single thing we talk about in our training. Pictures of Queen, Drones and Worker bee, where they live, how to identify cerana bees, stand and shade for bee-boxes are some of the pictures used. In addition, videos on how to transfer a Feral colony into bee-box, preparations before doing an NCT (natural colony transfer), how to extract honey, life cycle of honey-bees, how bees pollinate and many other videos related to bee-keeping are shown during the training.

Is such visual aid a more impactful tool during the training sessions?

I personally believe it to be very impactful aid because it helps them to relate/understand the sessions more easily which continues to happen throughout the training.

Nikhil Sathe inspiring beekepers

Technical Assistant Nikhil getting potential women beekeepers and children excited about the prospect of beekeeping by showing videos and pictures of active bee boxes.

What are the benefits of extracting honey from a bee box as compared to hunting bees in forests?

Extracting honey from a bee box saves the time and energy bees require to re-fill honey in the empty combs without wasting their time on making the comb first. It also saves the time and energy of the beekeeper while removing and putting back the combs in the bee-boxes without disturbing the honey-bees.

It is a pro-environmental practice as honey is extracted without destroying the combs. Honey is extracted only from the super chamber (surplus honey) which doesn’t take away their stored honey used during dearth periods (no food) and also doesn’t expose the brood frame (egg, larva, pupae) outside to die or attract infection.

In addition, extracting honey from the bee box also provides assurance of the honey’s purity and thus, honey extracted through this process can be consumed without any processing, given that everything used in the extraction process is hygienic.

Nikhil Sathe teaching honey extraction process

Technical Assistant Nikhil Sathe explaining to local honey hunters how easy it is to extract honey from a bee box as compared to hunting bees in forests.

Can you tell us about the response, particularly from potential female beekeepers, that the training session received?

In general, farmers become more inquisitive after the training and are excited about the new journey of beekeeping that they are about to embark on.

I distinctly remember one instance where this woman was so amazed to know what bees do, how they live and so on that she came and attended the training. She was glad that she attended the training because otherwise all her life she would continue to think that the only purpose of a bee’s life is to collect honey. However, as new and surprising information about honeybees was revealed during the training session, she became aware of the crucial role honeybees play in our ecosystem.

 

Kanti Bai as a beekeper

Kanti Bai (Left) was the first one to give her name for wanting to train as a beekeeper. We are proud to add her to our cadre of beekeepers!

What was the most memorable experience you have had during the training session(s)?

The astounded look on farmers’ faces when they learn about honey-bees is something remarkable and this happens in every training I have attended so far. This feeling is very beautiful because I personally have experienced it when I was learning about honey-bees. Farmers also express their gratitude towards the trainers at UTMT for teaching them about importance of bees in the lives of farmers, particularly the role bees play in pollination. In addition, they also become aware of other useful information such as how bees are domesticated, the various species of bees, the benefits of beekeeping, and the various modern beekeeping practices.