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Beyond Honey: How Bee Products Can Boost Rural Economies

"20 May is World Bee Day, observed worldwide to draw the attention of the public and decision-makers to the importance of protecting bees and remind us of our extraordinary reliance on bees and other pollinators." – Surendra Raj Joshi
Published: 20 May, 2024
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⏲ 5 minutes Read

World Bee Day is observed on 20 May each year to draw attention to the essential role bees and other pollinators play in keeping people and the planet healthy. It provides an opportunity for governments, civil society organisations, and concerned communities to promote actions that protect and enhance pollinators and their habitats and contribute to meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Honeybees and other pollinators contribute significantly to enabling global food production and halting the further loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems. Viewed in economic terms, the value of services such as crop pollination, carbon sequestration, and water purification is estimated at USD 125–140 trillion, even more than the global GDP (USD 105 trillion in 2023). Yet, pollination and other ecosystem services are generally undervalued.

Bee species in the HKH, their roles, and challenges

The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is one of the world’s richest regions in terms of honeybee species diversity. Six of the nine known species of honeybee worldwide are found in the region; five of these the Apis dorsata, Apis florea, Apis laboriosa, Apis cerana, and Apis andreniformis– are indigenous to the HKH. Bees – in particular the honeybee – benefit numerous mountain households and agriculture in the region. By providing pollination services, honeybees enhance crop productivity, which sustain farm economies and improve food security. More pollination leads to greater fruit/seed setting and regeneration, underscoring the vital role of honeybees in environmental protection and biodiversity.

Multiple studies estimate that 75 per cent of Nepal’s food crops and nearly 90 per cent of its wild flowering plants depend on animal pollination. However, pollinators’ population is on the decline worldwide. Among the key factors for their decline in the HKH are climate change and loss in habitats. The reduced pollination that ensues has already had alarming economic consequences. One study found that the annual loss from reduced pollination across all agricultural commodities for Nepal amounted to as much as USD 250 dollars (over NPR 33,000) per capita.

Honey’s remarkable benefits

Honeybees produce honey mainly from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants, which they collect and transform in honeycombs. Varied types of honey and a range of other bee products – honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, bee brood, propolis, and bee venom – are produced in the HKH, thanks to the richness of honeybee species and the region’s floral diversity.

The application of honey and other bee products as medicine, called apitherapy, is gaining scientific recognition. Honey is rich in carbohydrates and contains numerous trace elements, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes. Many scientific publications state that honey has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal qualities. It is effective in treating ulcers, sores, and surface infections from burns and wounds. It increases one’s appetite, helps control gastritis, and offers relief from allergies, sinusitis, arthritis, and asthma.

Nepal produces many kinds of honey, such as high-altitude Himalayan honey, indigenous hive bee honey, unifloral honey, and honeydew honey. These can be sold as specialised products, and have considerable income- and employment-generating potential; yet, honey production and beekeeping do not attract young entrepreneurs. Further, very little effort is being made to harness the potential of bee products other than honey. 

Harnessing the potential of honeybee products for economic resilience

Given the importance of honeybee products and the crucial role honeybees play in improving crop productivity and maintaining biodiversity, efforts are needed to promote honeybee species and add value to bee products. A few policy suggestions follow.

One, there is the need to establish and operationalise a business model that focuses on the diversification of bee products and a better positioning of value-added products in domestic and international markets via branding, labelling, advertisements, and quality control. Two, there is a need to build trust among value chain actors. At present, beekeepers find it difficult to sell their honey, end consumers lack trust in its quality, and honey suppliers/traders and distributors face challenges in fetching a good value for the produce.

To harness opportunities, we need to strengthen supply chain linkages with honey hunters and beekeepers by ensuring timely delivery of produce. Incentivising start-ups and small businesses to add value to bee products, reducing production costs, and generating more demand for Nepali honey and other value-added bee products in domestic and international markets is essential.

The increased demand for honey and other value-added bee products will motivate farmers/beekeepers to expand their beekeeping operations, while stronger supply chain linkages will lead to collaboration and trust among suppliers and buyers, contributing to gains all around. Young entrepreneurs will be encouraged to replicate this model in different provinces of Nepal. All this would benefit innumerable rural communities, in terms of both income and employment, across Nepal.


Surendra Raj Joshi (surendra.joshi@icimod.org) is Coordinator of ICIMOD’s HI–REAP programme, and specializes in honeybee and livelihood diversification.


Related publications

  1. Agroforestry Systems as Adaptation Measures for Sustainable Livelihoods and Socio-economic Development in the Sikkim Himalaya
  2. Pro-Poor Value Chain Development for Apis cerana Honey: Potential Benefits to Smallholder Apis cerana Beekeepers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya; ICIMOD Research Report 2017/3
  3. Impact of Apiculture on the Household Income of Rural Poor in Mountains of Chitral District in Pakistan
  4. Honeybee Pollination and Apple Yields in Chitral, Pakistan; ICIMOD Working Paper 2017/19
  5. The Indigenous Honeybee, Apis cerana – A Pollen Robber or Pollinator of Large Cardamom?; ICIMOD Working Paper 2017/8
  6. Strengthening Horizontal and Vertical Linkages for Honey Value Chain Development in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region
  7. Beekeeping Training for Farmers in the Himalayas: Resource Manual for Trainers
  8. آموزش زنبورداری برای دهاقين در افغانستان کتاب رهنمای آموزگاران [Beekeeping Training for Farmers in Afghanistan: Resource Manual for Trainers]
  9. Beekeeping Training for Farmers in the Himalayas: Resource Manual for Trainers
  10. Beekeeping Training for Farmers in the Himalaya: Resource Manual for Trainers
  11. आधारभूत मौरीपालन तालिम प्रशिक्षक स्रोत पुस्तिका [Beekeeping Training for Farmers in the Himalayas : Resource Manual for Trainers]
  12. The Human Pollinators of Fruit Crops in Maoxian County, Sichuan, China: A Case Study of the Failure of Pollination Services and Farmers' Adaptation Strategies
  13. Improving Livelihoods through Community-Based Beekeeping in Nepal
  14. Developing Resource Manual for Trainers on Beekeeping Training for Farmers through Participatory Approach
  15. Quality Assurance for the Honey Trade in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region
  16. Beekeeping livelihoods in the Himalayas
  17. Promoting Livelihoods through Income and Employment Generation in Chittagong Hill Tracts
  18. Mountain Development Resource Book for Afghanistan
  19. Beekeeping and Rural Development
  20. ICIMOD; Achievements, Challenges, and Lessons Learned
  21. Women, Energy and Water in the Himalayas: Project Learning
  22. Queen Rearing in Apis Cerana:Training Resource Book
  23. Warning Signals from the Apple Valleys of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas: Productivity Concerns and Pollination Problems
  24. Beekeeping Trainers' Resource Book
  25. Asian Bees and Beekeeping; Progress of Research and Development
  26. Pollination Management of Mountain Crops through Beekeeping - Trainers' Resource Book
  27. Pollination Management of Mountain Crops through Beekeeping: Trainers' Resource Book
  28. Pollination Management of Mountain Crops through Beekeeping - Trainers' Resource Book
  29. Appropriate Farm Technologies for Cold and Dry Zones of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas
  30. The Asian Hive Bee, Apis cerana, as a Pollinator in Vegetable Seed Production; An Awareness Handbook
  31. Dictionary of Beekeeping Terms: Volume 11 English-Hindi-Chinese
  32. Honeybees In Mountain Agriculture
  33. Beekeeping; In Integrated Mountain Development: Economic And Scientific Perspectives

Author

Coordinator, HI–REAP programme, ICIMOD

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