For the people of Dophuchen (Dorokha) in Samtse, the return of a native who worked in a beekeeping cooperative in Bumthang was enough to take up modern beekeeping.

The residents, who practiced traditional beekeeping, have now become members of a beekeeping group and practice modern methods.

Romnath Acharja, 34, of Maneygaon village is the man behind the modern beekeeping in the locality.

He returned home in 2012 to shoulder the family responsibilities after his brother expired.

By then he already had six years of work experience at the beekeepers’ cooperative in Bumthang and four years of beekeeping practice on his own.

“It was the only skill I had when I returned home,” he said. “So I started on a trial.”

Romnath Acharja said he started to look for support in the third year of the trial.

“From Dorokha livestock office to Agriculture Research Development Centre in Jakar, I sought help. “The Queen’s Project came to support and we formed Dophuchen Beekeeping Group (DBG).”

Today, it has been two years since farmers have been getting support from the project.

From training to subsidies and motivations, the Queen’s Project has also funded the new beekeeping centre and its equipment. About 100 new hives would also be provided soon.

Romnath Acharja, the DBG’s chairman said farmers came to observe his beehives and became eager to learn.

“This encouraged me to take the initiative to a new level and that is how I started to look for support,” he said.

He said beekeeping is a full-fledged activity now. “Beekeeping is the only farming activity where small amounts of land could be used effectively to earn a good income.”

About half an hour walk from the DBG centre, Krishna Bahadur Rai, 36, has two modern hives.

He is also a member of the group. “I have been training for the last one year.”

He said his family doesn’t own much land and beekeeping is the best way to make a livelihood.

Krishna Bahadur Rai, the secretary of DBG and Romanth Acharja train other interested farmers.

Under the three gewogs of Dophuchen today, Dorokha gewog has 37 farmers trained in beekeeping, who are the members of the beekeeping group, Denchukha has 32, and Dumtey has 27. The members together have about 200 modern hives.

In the last one year, Krishna Bahadur Rai has supplied about 20kg of natural honey to the group.

DBG members say the Queen’s Project has boosted their confidence and inspired to take it to new heights.

The project also buys all the honey from DBG. It gives subsidies to members such as the modern hive box, which costs around Nu 2,800 is provided at a subsidised rate of Nu 500.

The group generated 470kg of natural honey in 2017. About 320kg were supplied to the project, while the rest were sold in the local market.

A member, Chemnath Timsina, said the honey market is huge and the group is not producing enough. “I want to keep at least 300 modern hives,” he said.

Meanwhile, honey is harvested thrice in a year, DBG members said.

June to July is the second phase of harvesting. It is also harvested in January-February and September-October.

In the first phase of harvest time in January-February this year, the group harvested 62kg.

DBG members said they collected about 72kgs in the current phase, addding that the collection would continue until July end.

Romnath Acharja said the group would extract at least 1,000kg this year.

The farmers are paid Nu 500 a kg by the group. The group buys the honey at any time so that farmers could have cash whenever required.

Other by-products such as wax, royal jelly, pollen, and propolis are also in demand in the market.

DBG chairman said he is trying to market all these products so farmers benefit.

“Farmers are already earning through the sale of honey wax, which is used to construct artificial comb for the bees,” he said.

Catching bees is the only challenge.

“At times we receive calls from people of sightings of swarms,” Romnath Acharja said. “Ants and hornets are also a problem, but they can be managed.”

Vegetation in Dophuchen is favourable and there is no need to feed the bees, Romnath Acharja said.

DBG has also started to train members in queen breeding. This method of breeding would domesticate the bees and this means easy management.

“We can choose the larvae from the best performing hives and convert them to queen bees,” Romnath Acharja said, adding this would help the new hives perform better.

However, as beekeeping is not new in Dophuchen, the transition to modern beekeeping remains a challenge, according to the chairman.

“There are countless traditional beekeepers,” he said, adding that both members and non-members still follow the traditional method.

“My aim is to do away with the traditional method completely.”

Rajesh Rai | Dorokha