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‘Bee friending’ the right way

‘Bee friending’ the right way
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‘Bee Friending’ The Right Way. Bees have always been objects of poets’ fantasies and a romanticist’s obsession, but seldom are...

In today’s day, when conservation has taken the front seat, Kavuri Subbarao, a retired Asst Development Officer from Central Bee-Keeping and Training Institute, Pune, is not only passionate about bee-keeping, but is as enthusiastic about training the farmers in the right methods

Bees have always been objects of poets’ fantasies and a romanticist’s obsession, but seldom are those who have wondered how to nurture the bees which are source of honey” says Kavuri Subbarao, a retired Asst Development Officer from Central Bee-Keeping and Training Institute, Pune. A native of Tenali, not only did he spend 40 years of his life with these social insects but understands their nature and behaviour so well that he trains farmers to befriend the insect first and then think of ‘honey extraction’!

Having trained over 10,000 farmers in his passionate sojourn as bee-keeper, Subbarao says after four decades of being with them has taught him the art of bee-friending! It all started from his father Kavuri Venkateshwara Rao, better known as Tene (honey) Venkateshwara Rao who spent his entire life bee-keeping and honey was only a by-product for him. Absorbing his father’s passion for the insect, Subbarao too succumbed to its sweetness. He says honey trading was never their agenda, not because of the toil involved in extracting honey, but mere fascination for the insect, which underwent a laborious life to create honey.

Throughout his career Subbarao went educating farmers on bee-keeping and showing the lucrative side of the business to them He says the Malda District (West Bengal) inhabitants regard him as demi-god, as he showed them to eke out livelihood through bee-keeping.
In a lively chat with The Hans India Subbarao shares multi-dimensional aspects of this social insect which is to be explored not just in text-books but real life too!

Why this awareness on bee-keeping at all in the first place?
There is a lot of publicity on honey thanks to the delightful advertisements, but there is hardly any awareness about how the honey comes into the bottle. I have seen our school textbooks carry stories on honey bee as a good example of social living, but that’s about it, Bee –keeping is not discussed at all. It is a well-known fact that if bees disappear from the plant, within four years human-kind would perish. This is because there wouldn’t be pollination, vegetation and fodder. It’s not just a question of learning to live without honey, but bees play an incredibly important role in agriculture as pollinators.

(Cereal crops are wind-pollinated but virtually all fruit and many vegetables are insect-pollinated, overwhelmingly by bees. Without bees, crop yields would fall off dramatically. It's estimated that one-third of all the food we eat relies on bees for its production. That includes virtually every fruit you might make into jam, but finding something to put on your toast would be the least of your worries. Over evolutionary timescales, other insects would probably take over the empty ecological niche but in the short term you could expect the apple, orange, coffee, chocolate and rapeseed oil industries to collapse. This wouldn't be an extinction-level event for humans, but it would cause widespread economic hardship and possibly famine until alternative cultivation systems and crops could be developed. Courtesy- Sciencefocus.com)

Why do you think people are apprehensive to venture into this?
It’s basically the bee-sting that everybody dreads, but with a little education on the insect’s behaviour and how to bee-keep, these stigmas can be addressed and we can open up the insect to everyone. In fact whenever we hold exhibitions on August 15 and February 26, during nursery melas, I never cage the bees but leave them swarming around the hive. I tell people who come to my stall, that honey-bee like any other animal does not sting unless provoked.

How can we encourage this awareness and inculcate healthy attitude?
We see zoo, bird parks, crocodile and even snake parks, but never any place exclusively for bees. We do not see any special isles or enclosure for bees in any of the above mentioned parks. In case the bees happen to build a comb, probably the comb is protected, but that’s about it.
If we build bee-keeping models or have them live a buzzing at prominent parks and nurseries where there is a good foot-fall, the awareness dawns. Once awareness sets in fear disappears and interest develops.

How do we attract people into Apiculture?
Generally farmers and rural folks can be drawn into this and the first step for them is awareness about bee-keeping as well as showing the business aspects of it for them to eke out a livelihood.

So pollen is as important as honey?
Around 30gm of pollen is equivalent to a full meal; it’s a protein-filled food. Hence you see bee pollen selling for anywhere between Rs 1,000-2000 per kilo. But again one needs to know quality pollen, like mushroom there’s harmful pollen too.

How are pollen and honey collected?
When bee sucks nectar the pollen sticks to the feet and honey goes straight into its stomach, both honey and pollen are food for a bee.
Pollen is collected through pollen traps and dried, not under direct sun-light, while honey is stored in combs. This honey is extracted through various ways.

While Subbarao advocates bee-keeping his wife Dr LakshmiRao, a Development Officer at Central Bee Keeping and Research Institute is an expert on pollen. Looking at the pollen in a microscope she can identify the plant. It’s rare to find a couple steeped in research activity not just as a bread-winning task but as a life-time ambition. Our society needs more people like them to bring in a balance into our disturbed ecosystem.

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