The apiculture sector is a small and overlooked one, even by SME standards. This is unsurprising since honey globally is given limited importance with world exports at about $2.5 billion. Its significance in Pakistan is linked in part to livelihood of small remote areas all over the country and increase in agriculture productivity.
While Pakistan exports of honey are a paltry $5 million in FY18, beekeeping allows livelihood to local indigenous communities. A report by SMEDA estimates that there are about 3,800 bee keeper entrepreneurs in KP providing direct employment to about 17,500 people.
Unlike other SMEs, there is little required in terms of investment. No large tracts of land, no expensive specialised equipment, and no large amount of financing is required to set up a bee farm. As per back of envelope calculations by figures provided by SMEDA, one bee hive would require roughly Rs20,000 in fixed investment and working capital costs. One colony can yield 30kg of honey per year of which 24 kg is natural honey and 6 kg is berry honey.
By one estimate, a small successful two person operation of a bee farm can yield Rs100,000 over a four month peak bee season. A trivial amount by many standards but essential for existence living in the boondocks of KP, FATA, Punjab and Sindh.
Currently, there are two types of honey sold in the market. One is wild honey from FATA and Changa Manga in Punjab and the other is farm honey produced largely in Punjab, KP & Sindh. Karachi is considered to be the biggest urban market, consuming about a third of local honey produced. Saudi Arabia is the main international market where bair (jujebe) honey is particularly preferred.
Other than honey, bees are an important source of pollination for agriculture. Planed honeybee pollination can improve the quality and quantity of fruits, vegetables and horticulture sector to produce export quality products. For example, one set of research results indicated that sunflower growers in Badin recorded 22 percent increase in crop yield due to planned honeybee pollination trials in their farms.
Lately climate change has impacted honey production. Living in cities and picking up imported bottles of honey from supermarkets, urban dwellers are unaware that deforestation and unseasoned rains have decreased honey production by 50 percent.
The bottom line of Imran Khan’s chicken plan is to alleviate poverty amongst the lower strata of society. Promotion of bee keeping is along similar lines requiring more knowledge than investment.
Small scale projects could target specific rural population to aid their livelihood as well as increase agricultural productivity.
Measures are required not only to mitigate impacts of deforestation and climate change, but support a sector that can be a source of income in remote areas.