Commercial beekeeping is rapidly becoming a dependable resource of earning for Nepali farmers. Today there is a significant increase in the number of farmers and enterprises drawn to this business. According to Thakur Prasad Dawadee, Program Coordinator of Federation of Beekeeping Nepal, currently there are 5,000 beekeepers in 34 districts in the country and the numbers of beekeepers are rapidly rising. Some of the major districts being Jhapa, Morang, Sarlahi, Makwanpur, Chitwan, Kavre, Nawalparsi, Palpa, Kaski, Pyuthan, Kailali, Lamjung, Bardiya and Jajarkot. “Majority of beekeepers are using Apis Melifera and Apis Cerana bees because these two bees are capable of producing more amounts of honey than other species. A single Mellifera hive can produce 35 kgs of honey per year whereas one Cerena hive can produce 15-20 kgs per year (in modern hive) and 10-12 kgs (in traditional hive),” says Dawadee.
“To start beekeeping and honey producing business, I invested Rs. 50,000 of my own and took Rs. three lakhs in loan from a cooperative four years back,” says Jiwan Kumar Praja, a beekeeper from Silinge, Makwanpur. Currently Praja has 13 beehives in operation and has been able to produce only two quintals of honey yearly. He has been producing Chiuri (Indian butter tree) honey and like most modern beekeepers is using Millifera bees. “I am in break-even position right now and in two years time I will be able to make profits from this business,” states Praja with confidence. He further adds that he has established a group with other beekeepers from his area to collectively supply honey to different companies and cooperatives.
“Nepal has the potential to produce 10,000 metric tons of honey as per the joint report prepared by German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ) and Private Sector Promotion-Rural Finance Nepal.”
Information Officer of Beekeeping Development Section at Department of Agriculture
“In the initial stages, I couldn’t even sell one ton of honey in a year, but now I am selling 15 tons of honey every year which is still comparatively less and a lot needs to be done to grow the business further.”
Owner of The Beekeeping Shop and General Secretary of ApiNet Nepal
“Majority of beekeepers are using Apis melifera and Apis Cerana bees because these two bees are capable of producing more amounts of honey than other species. A single Mellifera hive can produce 35 kgs of honey per year whereas one Cerena hive can produce 15-20 kgs per year (in modern hive) and 10-12 kgs (in traditional hive).”
Thakur Prasad Dawadee
Program Coordinator of Federation of Beekeeping Nepal
Veteran honey expert and entrepreneur Mahalaxmi Shrestha, owner of The Beekeeping Shop and General Secretary of ApiNet Nepal, started out as botanical analyst in a beekeeping project and has been involved in the business for almost three decades. “Through being involved in the beekeeping project, I got a lot of exposure to international honey companies, national honey statures and beekeepers after which I realised that Nepal has lot of potential in this sector and it is very important to start the business here,” says Shrestha. When she began, only 60 metric tons of honey used to be produced in Nepal per year that also from Api Cerana bees as Api Mellifera bees hadn’t been introduced in Nepal. She highlights, “In the initial stages, I couldn’t even sell one ton of honey in a year, but now I am selling 15 tons of honey every year which is still comparatively less and a lot needs to be done to grow the business futher.”
Naagiko Honey, a new honey entrepreneurial venture by Bibhuti Neupane and Dibesh Karmacharya has been grabbing market exposure of late. “Initially we thought of doing a program on honey, but after seeing the prospect of honey, we decided to open a company making the beekeepers of Silinge, Makwanpur our partners as they had problems of direct market access,” says Neupane. They registered Naagiko Honey on December 2018 and have been able to sell 500 kgs of honey till now. Along with concentration on the domestic market, Naagiko Honey is also looking forward to exporting their product and is currently looking into the processes needed to export honey in the international market.
“To start a commercial beekeeping business or honey enterprise, a beekeeper needs to have at least 100 hives. The cost per hive along with bees is currently Rs. 8,000 so a minimum capital of Rs. 8 -10 lakhs is required,” states Dawadee. He also mentions that to break-even, it will take a minimum of two years if done appropriately, and from the following year a beekeeper can go into profit and grow the business further. “Running this business needs patience and a lot of care and although people think this business has low returns, it is not so. Done well, the profits only increase with the years.”
Honey Production Statistics
Archana Bhattarai, Information Officer of Beekeeping Development Section at Department of Agriculture (Govt. of Nepal) shared the statistical information in the Nepalese Agriculture 2016/17 Report which says that the number of beehives stand at 2.4 lakhs and that 3950 metric tons honey was produced in Nepal. According to the report, only 1,650 metric tons of honey was produced in 2013/14 from 1.7 lakhs beehives. The numbers nearly doubled in both the number of beehives and production in 2014/15 and since has been increasing by 500 metric tons per year.
“Nepal has the potential to produce 10,000 metric tons of honey as per the joint report prepared by German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ) and Private Sector Promotion-Rural Finance Nepal,” says Neupane. The report emphasise that the floral resources in Nepal can support over 500,000 colonies of beehives.
Along with producing honey, bees also play an important part in pollination. Whilst collecting honey, bees are also pollinators assisting in the development of plants and in sustaining environmental balance.
“When we don’t receive payments or receive it late, it discourages the beekeepers. Due to this many beekeepers have left the profession.”
Jiwan Kumar Praja
Beekeeper from Silinge, Makwanpur.
“Initially we thought of doing a program on honey, but after seeing the prospect of honey, we decided to open a company making the beekeepers of Silinge, Makwanpur our partners as they had problems of direct market access.”
CEO & Co-Founder of Naagiko Honey
Though Nepali honey is being promoted and exported in the international market, it is not being done properly. “Lack of proper testing plants for verifying and certifying the quality of honey is a major setback,” says Dawadee.
Praja complains that there are no proper filtration machines due to which majority of farmers like him are using old process of filtration and the honey doesn’t meet the standard for export. “Also, as Nepali beekeepers are of middle-class or lower-class, most of them are economically challenged and don’t have direct market access which is why they have to take the help of companies and cooperatives. When we don’t receive payments or receive it late, it discourages the beekeepers. Due to this many beekeepers have left the profession,” shares Praja.
International honey brands are also a major obstacle in the domestic market. “Instead of promoting and using organic domestic honey, Nepalis are consuming imported honey which is a major reason why our domestic honey hasn’t been able to flourish as it should have,” states Shrestha. She adds, “Another major reason is also the volatility of the business.” Shrestha has been in the business for nearly three decades, she has witnessed many enterprises being established and getting dissolved the very next year. She complains that people, without knowing about various aspects of honey and beekeeping, get into the honey business. Neupane, on the other hand, found out that low-end honey or impure honey is also the reason organic honey ventures haven’t been able to thrive. “While doing market research and going to different restaurants to offer them Naagiko Honey, they told us that organic honey is expensive and they would prefer cheaper variants available at Rs. 200 per kg than ours which is priced at Rs. 1,000 per kg,” highlights Neupane. Other major challenges Neupane points out are lack of proper packaging material and problem in supply chain.
Although the number of beekeepers and production are growing, in order to prosper the honey industry, a good beekeeping and entrepreneurial ecosystem needs to be established. Towards this, all interviewees say that import of honey should be stopped and local organic honey should be given priority and promoted by the government and Nepalis.
They also suggest that latest technologies and resources for filtration, processing, verification and certification should be introduced, economical assistance needs be provided to beekeepers and honey entrepreneurs along with training activities and consultation programs about protection of bees, production and storage of honey.