The latest city dwellers to embrace urban beekeeping are residents of Mumbai. Courses have just began at a local nature park in the Indian city attended by 25 people. What’s interesting is the reasons the potential urban beekeepers give for wanting to keep bees. There’s the health-conscious chartered accountant who wants to produce his own honey, the resident who has read that antibiotics are used in the honey manufacatured by big brands in India (that’s why it’s banned coming in to the EC) and wants a pure honey, and the young woman who wants to sell honey at an organic farmers’ market. So it seems to more about honey than the reasons people give in the UK about reconnecting with nature, increasing the number of pollinators and saving bees.
The programme is run by social enterprise Under the Mango Tree and uses the indigenous eastern honey bee, Apis cerana, rather than our more profilic honey-making but poorly western honey bee, Apis mellifera. Using indigenous honeybees should be encouraged in projects all over the world whether they are promoting urban beekeeping or alleviating poverty through the keeping of bees. Under the Mango Tree’s main project in India is teaching subsistance farmers to keep Apis cerana to increase yields of their crops. They have had some amazing results: 227% increased yield of green peppers; 160% cashew nuts and 128% beans. The farmers’ sell any honey to UtMT which then sell it on to delis, restaurants and hotels in Mumbai and use the profits to reinvest in training more farmers. Some 1500 have been trained so far. In five year, it aims to have 10,000 farmers keeping Apis cerana.
Income for the farmers, who are tribal and marginalised, has increased by an average 40%. The project is all the more remarkable because the Indian government continues to import and encourage the use of the western honey bee by farmers. That may change, however, as the man who introduced Apis Mellifera to India is now an advisor to Under the Mango Tree and could be coming round to the idea that indigenous is best.
So should we all be using the black bee in Britain? No, according to the BBKA which recommends we use a local hybrid from a local bee breeder but with some Italian or Carniolan in them to improve their temperament.