So far, tribals of Melghat who tap honey from wild rock bees had been destroying the honeycombs in the process. They would burn the comb, effectively depriving the forests of pollination agents. Now, they are learning to avoid the traditional methods and learning scientific skills that keep the ferocious wild rock bees tame while the villagers extract their honey.
The honey they extract is sold under the brand Hunting Honey and is sent on demand to Japan, from where part of it is sent to other countries. Nearly 10 quintals of Hunting Honey is processed and exported every year to Sitar, an Indian restaurant in Chiba, Japan. Naresh Mukut Singh, the Indian agent for Taizo Masuda’s Sitar firm, regularly visits Melghat and interacts with Central Bee Research and Training Institute officials in Pune. Says Singh, “Melghat honey has become so popular that Sitar is supplying to Korea and China and we will also display the product at an exhibition later this year.” For the farmer, who sells at Rs 50 a kg, export earns them an additional profit around Rs 40 a kg, institute officials say.
Over the years, several efforts have been undertaken to train traditional bee hunters and discourage them from destroying the honeycombs. Recently, the government launched the Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries, under which 100 traditional industry clusters are taken up for development over five years. “One was extraction of honey from wild bees,” said M T Wakode, director of the Pune institute. The Khadi Village Industries Commission and Coir Board are the nodal agencies for the scheme.
“We wanted to combat traditional honey collection methods that involve destroying bees and their combs by burning them,” Wakode said. “Scientific procedures have been introduced that preserve the wild bees and their combs for future tappings. The United Nations Development Fund programme along with KVIC took up a training project,” Wakode said.
Apis dorsata, the giant bee or rock bee, has been difficult for beekeepers to manage because it does not behave like enclosed hives. It migrates during the season to follow the nectar flows, and is quick to attack. “We need no longer put the colony at risk or kill so many bees,” says Benya Jambekar, a tribal in Melghat.
Armed with an easy-to-operate collection kit, including headgear with string protection, and clad in denim overalls, tribals venture out during the night to extract honey from rock bee