first training programme for farmers living on the Gujarat-Maharastra border.

A Dip Deeper into my Bottle of Honey

first training programme for farmers living on the Gujarat-Maharastra border.

We just came back from our first training programme for farmers living on the Gujarat-Maharastra border. The field trip was an eye-opener: Organic honey doesn’t just come with a bottle. It also comes with a story, a wrap of lives in our natural environment, the knowledge of which makes me appreciate my Certified organic bottle even more.

To share: visiting the homes of the farmers who supply Under the Mango Tree was key to my perspective. We drove for miles through clusters of villages spread out between large areas of hilly, arid landscapes that looked all the same to me, a city person.

The dry heat, of course, didn’t faze the farmers who squatted under the chaya (shade) of the trees around sucking on caju, the fruit of the cashew tree. The red softness of the skin was like an entree for the yellow juicy flesh inside – a treat for the palette when dipped in salt!

I found the juice energized me enough to climb a hill in search of a natural beehive (although I was not quite at the pace of the farmers who strode through effortlessly.) At the top of the hill, inside a rock, we found our treasure: a beautiful home of the cerana indica, a local bee of Indian origin who prefers to hide in the dark. How were we going to harvest the honey and transfer the bees to a new home (the bee box) in an ahimsa-ic (non-violent) manner? Attar-ji, our scientist-trainer, demonstrated ways that did so with minimal confusion to the bees.

bee colony

Domesticating a bee colony, I learnt, involves first capturing the rani (queen bee) whose hormonal powers are enough to suade the rest of the colony into following her helplessly into her new home. While identifying the rani was easy – the biggest and fattest of all the bees – catching her was hard. Only the bravest of the farmers, Manik Aiyer, felt ambitious enough to extend his hand all the way inside the rock while others retired to watch him. Manik’s nonchalance for the bees that swarmed all around him and his well-oiled hair (a guaranteed bee irritant), won him the prize and, a crowd of fellow-farmer admirers who ran in exclaiming, “rani pakad gaya! Manik ne rani pakad gaya!”(the queen has been caught! Manik has caught the queen!)

Queen Bee

Though the pride of our conquest was high, we were humbled by the beautifully intricate beehive the bees had created with pockets of exquisite tasting honey and pollen all mixed together. After Attarji transferred it into the bee box in the gentlest manner possible, I excitedly reached out for a taste of the remainders; only to find the flavour and texture quite delightful and very familiar – much like fruity bubblegum from my childhood days!

The farmers too were very familiar with this taste but because of a long relationship with these gifts of the land. I admire the closeness they share with the earth: such that they can tell, even with eyes closed, the type of flower the bee has fed on just by tasting the pollen. Or even, the way they can tell a beehive lies inside a tree trunk just by listening closely to the sounds around them. The farmers know every inch of their land as we know our homes and it is this long-developed connection that makes them the region’s best custodians. Going green in our developmental policies, I realized, is inextricably linked to going local; protecting our environment over the long term requires everyone to be a part of the process. The farmers, Under The Mango Tree, and me, as a consumer of that bottle of single origin, organic, gourmet honey…

Nikhil Sathe beekeping uniform

Beekeeping: From a Hobby to a Profession

UTMT master trainer nikhil satheOprah 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.

 

Renuka Diwan with UTMT Team

In Conversation with Renuka Diwan: a first generation entrepreneur

Meet Renuka Diwan, a woman who developed the incredibly innovative idea of helping farmers increase their yields through pathbreaking technologies. Renuka began by identifying key issues hurting farmers across the country.

In developing countries, agriculture continues to be the main source of employment, livelihood and income. Of this, small farmers make the up the majority, up to 70 – 95% of the farming population.

Agriculture productivity from high yielding Green Revolution technologies have been decelerating, and in some cases stagnating and even contracting. The highest yields can now only be obtained by using ever larger inputs of fertilizer and irrigation water, which in many places have passed the point of diminishing returns. Many of those affected by this are smallholder farmers. Most of them barely get by—struggling with unproductive soil, plant diseases, pests, drought and ever decreasing yields. The cascading effects of population growth, dwindling natural resources, and climate change have once again strained agricultural productivity.

pathbreaking technologies pest control work

But she didn’t stop there. Renuka continued by developing affordable and sustainable products for farmers that would increase their yields and have minimal impacts on the environment.

“We are developing a comprehensive approach to helping smallholder farmers prosper by making pathbreaking technologies like Nanobiotechnology, Bioactives & biotsimulants accessible to the people at the bottom of pyramid at affordable prices. We have developed a range of patented products for plant health, defense and yield that are 100 % organic and required on nanomolecular scale, making them extremely affordable.”

pathbreaking technologies Prime Products

Renuka recalls the learning experiences that go hand-in-hand with new working relationships. “Initially when we started, the farmers did not trust us and were not forthcoming. After working with them for a season they now invite us to talk to their daughters to inspire them to take education seriously. When they know that we are visiting they keep a basket of fresh organic vegetables and fruits ready to give to us. In a very short span of 4-5 months we have gone from being suspicious outsiders to one amongst them . “

Renuka Diwan with UTMT Team

Faves:

> food: anything plucked right from the farms – farm fresh

> UTMT variant: wild forest

> quote: fall, stand, adapt

www.bio-prime.com and www.facebook/bioprimeagri.com

Devi Murthy of Kamal Kisan

In conversation with Devi Murthy of Kamal Kisan

Devi Murthy of Kamal Kisan

Favorite quote 

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference

Kamal Kisan designs, develops and manufactures relevant agricultural equipment that can save money and time for the farmer. Learn more about Kamal Kisan https://kamalkisan.com/

Devi Enterprise agriculture work

 

What inspired you to start a social enterprise in agriculture?

The desire to use my skill in mechanical engineering to create social impact was the inflection point for me. My interest in agriculture was co-incidental, it started as a casual chat with my general inquisitiveness over an unknown area, the story of farmers struggling with labor issues and not having access to technology was echoing from every corner I had visited and this compelled me to start Kamal Kisan.

Devi Murthy with Devi Enterprise team

What is your fondest memory since starting Kamal Kisan? 

During one of our first installation of our mulch layer, our customer was very happy with the performance of the machine. After the demo, I was able to help the farmer prepare a flat bed with plastic sheets over it as our dining area. We shared a sumptuous meal with all the laborers under the shade of a tree. I was welcomed with open arms without any prejudice and the meal was the most satisfying experiences in spite of it being very basic.

Favorite Food

Rasam

Favorite quote 

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference

Devi Murthy driving tractor

 

 

Sujana Krishnamoorthy -UTMT Executive Director

Sujana shares with us why she loves working with UTMT Society

Sujana Krishnamoorthy -UTMT Executive Director

One of the key issues that troubles most of us in the development sector is the state of India’s farming and agriculture and the stark poverty that stares you in the face when you are in the field.

Statistics tell us that 84% of our farming community comprise small and marginal farmers with less than 2 hectares of land holding. Farming is rain fed, by and large subsistence – with a hand to mouth existence being the norm. So when the opportunity came along to directly work with small farmers and  impact their yields, it seemed just right to do your bit.

March 2009:  Our initial field trips were to tribal pockets of Dharampur block in  Valsad district and Surgana block (Nasik) – all just a couple of hours from Mumbai. We spent the day talking to farmers from the Kokana tribe in little hamlets where the women and children still fetched water from the nearby rivulets – about their farming, why after sowing seeds, watering and weeding them, once the flowers bloomed, it was all ‘Bhagavan Bharose’ (dependent on God) – and this is where bees came in. If there were 100 flowers in the fields, how many turned  into fruit? 20 -30  was generally the answer. So we explained how bees went from flower and flower collecting pollen performing the crucial service of pollination- hence they were the farmers best friends and should not be killed just for a little honey or wax. Alternately lets start learning to keep bees in boxes – not just would we no longer need to roam the jungles and get stung for honey but our crops would also benefit.

trip to ribal pockets of Dharampur

These interactions were usually greeted with disbelief – ‘how will a bee which lives freely in the forest live in a box?” “Surely you must be joking’ was the most common response…..to the loudly whispered “yeh log jaante nahin hai’ (these people have no idea ). In the course of these conversations, many in the community – honey hunters for generations would tell us how slowly the population of bees was declining as they were not finding as many colonies any more. As we came away, this would only make us more steadfast in our determination that the intervention would need to begin in these very villages soon. And so we began our work.

Today these same villages have 50-60 beeboxes each, crops like sunhemp that would fetch a couple of hundred rupees today earn for the community in the thousands due to better pollination cover for entire villages. Honey hunting has been banished as a result of  the realisation of the crucial role bees play for a farmer. Households proudly proclaim on their walls “Hu madhmakhi palak chu” (I am a beekeeper). Some farmers who took up beekeeping in 2009 today are so technically skilled that they travel across districts and states passing on their knowledge to others who like them are just beginning their beekeeping journey.

These moments are what makes the UTMT journey worthwhile. In 2013-14, we got an opportunity to work with women – training them to keep beeboxes. Some graduated to  Master Trainers breaking many gender stereotypes along the way– for themselves, for us and the community. They did Natural Colony Transfers (NCT : the process of relocating a feral bee colony into a beebox)- considered one of the most technical and difficult tasks and traditionally the preserve of men- with ease.

the process of relocating a feral bee colony into a beebox

Vimaltai from Village Mauchipada, Sakri Block, Dhule district (Maharashtra), belongs to a family of traditional honey hunters and remembers accompanying her parents as a child to look for honey. She is now a skilled NCT expert and much sought after in her community, thanks to her beekeeping skills. A proud moment for us and one that fills you with a sense of fulfilment and makes your job truly worth having.

 

Vimaltai from Village Mauchipada

Reema Enterprise | UTMT

Under The Mango Tree celebrates Women!

In celebration of Women’s Day on March 8th, UTMT is talking to women who have social enterprises in agriculture.

Reema Enterprise | UTMT

Reema Sathe, Founder of happyroots.in

Favorite Quote: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has”

~ Margaret mead

Today, meet an amazing woman working in the agricultural space – based out of Mumbai, Reema Sathe works with farmers in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Reema, the founder of Happy Roots, says she wanted to use her skills and expertise to help create a better world when she started Happy Roots three years ago.

reema sathe with team members

“I had always wished to work with the rural communities but did not really know where I can contribute. In 2014, I decided to quit my corporate career and joined an agricultural based social enterprise in Mumbai. My profile involved working with small farmers across Gujarat & Maharashtra. Slowly I realized that with my expertise in marketing and experience in food processing, I could help farmers own bigger share in the food value chain through allied agriculture activities.

reemat sathe trains the farmers

Faced with many different types of issues, farmers across India are facing tough times with issues of climate change and modern agriculture. Happy Roots tackles these issues head on, and have developed yummy and healthy snack products that are all handmade and fair trade. One of the best parts of Reema’s job, according to her, is interacting with farming communities themselves: “we were speaking to some of our farmers and rural women from Ahmednagar, on how their journey has been with us. I was overwhelmed to hear their stories of growth and hope. Farmers have seen an improvement in their marketing and quality management skills and they have already doubled their production with our intervention. The head of our women co-operative said that now they not only see a bright future for themselves but for their children too. That moment made me realizes that we are in the right direction and made all my struggles worth fighting for.

 

working lady farmer

lady farmer

Faves:

Food: Rajma chawal with ghee

UTMT variant: Wild Forest and Litchi

rajma chawal - utmt variant food

 

 

 

various beekeeping equipments

Orient Paper Mill joins the buzz.

With the decline in bees world over, more individuals and organizations are stepping up to take up beekeeping as an activity. There is a trending buzz about the importance of bees beyond honey – they are responsible for almost 70% of the food we eat! Under The Mango Tree promotes indigenous beekeeping for small farmers with the aim of increasing agricultural productivity and incomes.

Keen to join the buzz, an Orient Paper Mills’ team from Amlai, Shahdol district (M.P.) visited our old project area in Jamai for an exposure visit in January.
The day started with an interactive session with our beekeepers who explained different aspects of beekeeping. Next up was a visit to the bee boxes where the process of dividing a bee colony to form a new one was in progress. The group watched in fascination as a honeycomb with queen cells was placed in an empty box with a few worker bees. In a few days, the new queen bee will hatch and form a new colony!

Everyone can contribute in one way or the other to our efforts! Get involved – https://utmt.in/gift-a-bee-box/

Thrilled to have spotted the queen bee!

spotted a queen bee

Our team explaining the uses of various equipments we use for beekeeping.

various beekeeping equipments

The team explaining different seasons involved in beekeeping.

beekeeping season explaination

Utmt team with preschoolers at Casa Montessori

A time well spent with the preschoolers!

Under The Mango Tree staff Christina and Rhea spent time with these cute preschoolers at Casa Montessori, learning about bees and why they are important! They learned that not only do bees give us honey but they also provide us many of the foods we enjoy everyday – strawberries, mangoes, apples, tomatoes and more.

The kids had a great morning, ending with a “bee dance”. The best part of their day was snack time – relishing bananas with Under The Mango Tree honey, YUM!

Utmt team with preschoolers at Casa Montessori

Christina and Rhea with Casa Montessori kids

utmt team giving snack to Casa Montessori kids

Casa Montessori kids having food

beebox stall

Exhibition at Reliance Foundation in Beej Bhandar

Utmt spreads sweetness by being a part of Reliance Foundation Exhibition in Beej Bhandar.

At an exhibition held by Reliance Foundation in Beej Bhandar, Gonavadi, Chhindwara district, Madhya Pradesh, we are happy that UTMT’s stall garnered much interest. Seeing the displayed beebox, honey and colourful posters, many farmers enquired about beekeeping and its benefits for crops. It was an excellent platform to showcase our achievements with the communities we work with.

UTMT’s Master Trainers at the stall with a beebox and exhibits

beebox stall

Curious visiting farmers fascinated with beekeeping posters

beekeping posters

A huge turnout at one of the stage shows

utmt stage show

Raw honey freshly extracted from a beebox on display

raw honey

An annual calendar explains season-specific activities needed to be undertaken by beekeepers

utmt annual calendar