As more Tsirang farmers take up beekeeping, Patshaling gewog is showing them the way
Like most places in Bhutan at this time of the year, Tsirang too wears an unpredictable look. You may see a bright sun in the morning, but in the afternoon dark clouds roll in brining incessant showers.
On one such rainswept afternoon, with a low mist worsening the visibility, a friend and I drive to Patshaling gewog. We are hoping to meet the King Bee of Tsirang.
We stop by the roadside after driving for some 20 kilometres towards Sarpang. The mist has now cleared a bit, and as we walk down a steep slope, a veritable farm opens up, like a bountiful garden gifted by God himself.
It is a 4.8-acre integrated farm tapering southward into a wet sub-tropical forest by a babbling brook. Seventy-four-year-old Galey Sherpa dug deep to purchase it from a neighbour. That was in 1998. But it is not the farm we are interested in. We have come to meet his 41-year-old son Tshering Wangdi.
Tshering Wangdi is not home yet, so we sit with the elderly couple discussing the opportunities and challenges of beekeeping. For example, honeybees also help in pollination to provide viable seeds that ensure food security and maintain diversity of crops species. Some time goes by before we are told Tshering Wangdi is home.
An unassuming man walks in, takes off his baseball cap, and sits on a wooden divan facing us. He is just done with the day’s work. As a certified hive-maker, he is in the process of making 30 improved moveable hives on order from farmers of Barshong.
“It’s an extremely delicate task,” he says, “and you don’t get all the materials here. I bought a lot of things from Kathmandu the last time I was there.”
Tshering Wangdi is an expert beekeeper. He is a pioneer in Tsirang. He has attended several hands-on training on beekeeping in Bhutan and Nepal. Among others, he has been trained in queen rearing and hive making. He is now an official trainer, recognised by the National Agriculture Programme.
Trailblazers aside, the entire gewog of Patshaling stands out in its beekeeping success. The gewog now has a beekeepers’ group with 18 active members with more than five hives of Apis Cerana, the variety ideal for warmer climates. Experienced beekeepers like Tshering Wangdi and Sarku Sherpa have more than 20 hives. In fact, Sarku Sherpa has 37 hives. Both men sold over 200 kilograms of honey last year.
In good seasons these farmers harvest twice a month. One hive generally gives four to five kilograms of honey. A 500-gram bottle fetches Nu 400. For one moveable frame hive, Tshering Wangdi charges Nu 3,000. It takes about a day- and-a-half to complete a box that lasts more than 20 years. More recently, he has received an order for another 57 boxes.
One major challenge the Patshaling beekeepers face is the unavailability of wax. The other big threat is ants crawling into the hive and attacking the bees. Other times hornets chase and eat the bees. Initially, people also had difficulty marketing their produce. However, they have now been linked to the Queen’s Project.
The beekeepers of Patshaling eventually want to create a unique ‘Patshaling Brand’. For this they need more capacity building, especially in matters related to management and marketing. The group’s tagline is ‘Pride of the Hive’. They also want to use squeezable plastic bottles and not the hard glass ones. They are optimistic that their produce will stand out in the market in the long run.
Indeed, there are plans to explore markets outside Bhutan, according to the agriculture ministry officials.
The officiating programme director of the National Highland Research and Development Centre in Jakar, Sonam Wangchuk (Phd), says the honey value chain is something the Centre has been focusing on with support from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The country has already met its 11th Five Year Plan target of producing 27 metric tonnes of honey. Up until now the production has already hit 33 metric tonnes, according to Sonam Wangchuk (Phd). He says the current production is not able to meet the demand. He attributes the low production to poor management and loss during extraction.
Tshering Wangdi and Sarku Sherpa say the continuous rain of late has affected the production this season. But they are not giving up.
Tshering Wangdi is working on an interesting experiment. He is crossbreeding two varieties of bees by using the Mellifera queen in a Cerana hive.
“I want to see if Mellifera can adapt to the climate here,” he says with a risk-taker’s grin. “No one has done this before.”
Contributed by Gopilal Acharya,
an independent consultant and freelance journalist.
He can be contacted at email@example.com