All is not lost for Indian rubber planters as they turn to beekeeping to feed their coffers

Rubber plantation farmers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu are now turning to bee farming to earn extra income.

The earlier government initiatives have not eased the tension for rubber plantation farmers. Rubber growers expressed their displeasure over poor price realization and then on the Centre easing port restrictions for NR (natural rubber) imports under AAS (Advanced Authorisation Scheme of imports for exports).

Started in 2016-17, the course in Apiculture was enthusiastically taken on by retired people, NRI returnees and housewives as a part time engagement or side income. However this year, the Apiculture initiative has more takers. These include farmers, rubber producers and members of Self Help Groups. This has finally prompted the Rubber Board to extend the course to seven more Rubber Producers’ Society from Kollam in the South of Kerala to Kannur in the North, this year.

The first one was launched in Meenachil-Palakkad Rubber Producers’ Society.  Currently, honey production can fetch stakeholders around ₹300/kg in the local market.

“The production potential of honey from approximately 5.50 lakh hectares of rubber plantations in Kerala is 80,000 tonnes. But the actual production is reportedly hardly 5,000 tonnes as of now. This can be easily increased. Apiculture is a long-term developmental as well as employment-generating activity. It is an ideal agro-based subsidiary enterprise providing supplementary, even major income in rural areas. Kerala is apparently an ideal for bee keeping due to a favourable climate, diverse vegetation and flowering plants throughout the year,” shares P.P. Shaji, Deputy Rubber Production Commissioner, Rubber Training Institute with HinduBusinessLine.

The majority of honey production in India is confined to South India, mainly Kerala and Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu which account for 42 per cent of the national production, estimated at a lakh tonnes in 2017-18 as per the National Bee Board figures.

The figures from Kerala Agricultural University say that an estimated six lakh bee colonies are available for honey extraction in Kerala. The average production of honey in India from bee colony as per the Khadi and Village Industries Board figures is 10 kg/year.

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