Dangs (Gujarat) and Dhule (Maharashtra) rank among India’s most backward districts in a number of development indices due to high percentage of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste populations, low wages, and low productivity. UTMT’s collaboration with NABARD aims to improve the livelihoods of 1,000 WSHG (Women’s Self Help Group) women in these districts by training them in low–cost homestead beekeeping with the indigenous bee Apis cerana indica.
The pilot project, started in December 2013, focuses on women from local WSHGs (Women Self Help Groups) and is the first initiative in the country to take Apis cerana beekeeping to WSHGs. A formal inauguration ceremony was held in November 2014 in Sakhri block, Dhule, with the District Collector Dhule, NABARD DDM Dhule, and other district officials in attendance, which attracted much local attention.
Beekeeping trainings are underway at the village level, to familiarize trainees with bee box maintenance and bee behaviour across all seasons. It comprises an initial basic 2-day theory-cum-practical session where trainees are taught about types of honeybees, benefits of beekeeping and the technique of transferring bee colonies from the wild into a beebox. Thereafter, the UTMT team handholds the trainees through fortnightly follow-up visits at the farm gate and quarterly seasonal trainings at the village level.
The women have progressed steadily, participating in training sessions enthusiastically. Many have even begun independently transferring bees into boxes with minimal assistance, an especially skilled technique. Thirty two women showing special initiative have been selected to become “Master Trainers”, tasked with looking after all beeboxes within their village and reporting progress to the field staff. Master Trainers are crucial to the programme’s expansion. They undergo advanced beekeeping training at Master Trainer workshops, conducted by UTMT’s technical team. Four such intensive workshops have been held to date in Dangs and Dhule, with nearly full attendance. Monthly interactive Master Trainer meetings enable a review of progress, sharing on beekeeping issues faced and target setting for the next month.
Towards building a local “beekeeping ecosystem”, UTMT conducts activities that not only support the beekeeper but also serve as an income generating stream for non-beekeepers. These include beebox-making trainings with 5 carpenters, bee colony spotting trainings with cowherds and goatherds, and swarm bag/ bee veil tailoring sessions with 36 women. These micro-enterprises supply beekeeping inputs required to sustain a beekeeper. Three local Beekeeping Resource Centres (BRCs) have been set up under the project. They serve as hubs for skill trainings, storage of starter kits and inputs, Master Trainer meetings, and provision of technical services.
This project has been crucial in proving that beekeeping can be practiced very successfully by women in tribal communities. Their attention to detail, perseverance and evolved confidence with the activity are exemplary. With a full-fledged self-sustaining set-up operational, beekeeping in Dangs and Dhule is geared for expansion even after the project ends in 2016.
Vimaltai’s story, Dhule
Vimal Dilip Vadvi hails from a small village in Dhule, one of Maharashtra’s most backward tribal districts. She is among UTMT’s first woman beekeepers to master the technique of transferring bee colonies from nature into beeboxes. Her love for bees is apparent as she speaks: “People in the village now know that other women and I are good at filling bees into boxes. When they spot a colony, they promptly inform us and we rush to transfer the bees into their beebox”.
Even Technical Assistant, Chhabildas Jadhav expressed amazement at her skill. “In all my years of teaching both men and women farmers, I haven’t come across anyone who could successfully begin beekeeping after only two demonstrations”. Vimaltai has 2 beeboxes of her own and is excitedly waiting to extract honey in the upcoming honey flow seasons. She envisages 50 farmers in her village keeping 2 beeboxes each; which will increase their incomes through higher agricultural yields and sale of honey.
Vimaltai highlights the immense potential that every farmer has, to lift themselves from poverty with the help of a simple beebox.