Thinley Namgay    

Sonam Rinchen, 50, in Jalikhar is one of the oldest beekeepers in Bumthang. He began beekeeping in 2001 which has become one of his primary sources of income.     

For Sonam, beekeeping isn’t an arduous job. He maintains bees in 30 wooden boxes and earns at least Nu 300,000 in a season.  

Sonam sells raw honey to Bee Keepers Cooperatives of Bhutan in Jalikhar at Nu 555 per kg.   Sonam is  one of the members of the cooperative. 

Besides beekeeping, Sonam has a farm and rears cattle for additional income. 

There are hundreds of beekeepers in Bumthang,  one of the leading honey-producing dzongkhags.   

Sonam said that the honey business has picked up after the lockdown.

One honey box can sometimes produce about 40kg of honey

Religious belief was a hurdle in the beginning. “People used to say that extracting and consuming honey is the biggest sin,” Sonam said.

This belief is not anymore today. There is high demand for honey as people become more health conscious.

People of Bumthang harvest honey in July and September.  Honey extracted in July is considered purer because in summer bees get to feed on varieties of flowers and tree buds.   

 Depending on the weather and vegetation, beekeepers shift the honey boxes to different places for better production.  

Timely observation is a must. A quality queen bee can lay about 1,500 eggs a day.     

One honey box can sometimes produce about 40kg of honey.

The bee breed in Bumthang is from Europe, which was brought in the 1990s with the support of Helvatus Bhutan.

Sonam said honey production can be good in hot places but can be challenging due to predators.  “Predators such as birds are more in hot places.” 

Chairperson of Bee Keepers Cooperatives of Bhutan, Sonam Tashi, said that the cooperative has 60 members who bring raw honey to the centre.  

The raw honey undergoes purification at the centre.  Honey sells at Nu 350 for 500g, Nu 195 for 275g, and Nu 120 for 100g.   

Sonam Tashi said that the cooperative sold 7 tonnes of honey last season. “We expect to sell 10 tonnes next season.” 

Guest house owners are the primary customers of Bumthang honey.

“We are not able to export honey to other countries as the in-country demand itself is very high. We need more beekeepers,” Sonam Tashi said.

After extraction, honey is kept for a week in the jar for further purification. Only then begins bottling and labelling the honey.