Wild honey harvests have reduced as the indigenous, wild bees have not produced enough honey this year and experts say this is mainly due to climate change, besides other reasons.
Muhammad Daud Khan
A bitter winter accompanied with rain, deforestation and the smell of fired gunpowder have all together wrought havoc on honey gatherers of Kurram, in Pakistan’s north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Beekeepers in this district on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan expect their worst harvest in decades. The honey here comes from the wild and is in huge demand. But the indigenous, wild bees haven’t produced enough honey this year.
Beekeepers say that the bees have migrated due to extensive use of ammunition and deforestation in the past decade. The changing weather pattern and rapid urbanization have also affected honey production.
Mastu, 55, an Ali Sherzai tribesman from Central Kurram said that he hunts local wild honey at Spin Ghar or the White Mountain, that serves as natural frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“It is a difficult task to find wild honey in the mountain these days. Beekeeping business is on the decline,” Mastu said.
Mountains of Parachinar once provided a natural habitat for honey bees. Thousands of people in Central Kurram were associated with the honey business.
Beekeepers like Matsu are worried. The once profitable business is declining for a variety of reasons, principal among them being the region’s changing weather pattern.
Beekeepers in the north of the district, or Upper Kurram, complain that over past decade, the number of honeybees has been decreased in the mountains. However, they do not know the exact reasons for the decrease in honey bees’ population.
Honey production in Kurram
Locals farmers keep wild bee as they produce high-quality honey. Kurram beekeepers obtain honey produced by four types of honey bees, including Apis florla, Apis dorata, Apis cerana and Mellfera.
Amjad Hussain, in charge of the Parachinar Sericulture department said that the department organises training sessions for the local honey beekeepers so that they can obtain a good harvest of honey. The honey production is reducing, nevertheless.
Kurram’s farmers annually produce at least 1,000 kilograms of honey and generate millions of rupees in revenue.
Honey production down 40 per cent
On the other hand, Pakistan beekeeper exporters and honey association (APBEHA) has estimated a decline in the honey harvest in tribal districts up to 40 per cent.
APBEHA senior vice president Sheikh Gul Bacha says 1.5 million families were involved in honey production and business in Pakistan. “The majority of indigenous bees died from infections due to deforestation in tribal districts,” he said.
“Those surviving the deforestation migrated and as a result, now, the production of high-quality local honey has reduced,” Sheikh Gul Bacha said.
APBEHA general secretary Sher Zaman said that the Hindukush range has been badly affected due to climate change and deforestation. “Over the last decade, Apis florla bees had migrated from the tribal districts, leading to a reduced harvest of honey harvest of up to 40 per cent,” he said.
Sher Zaman said that climate change and extensive use of pesticides sprays on crops were the two biggest threats to local bees.
Dr Hussain Ali, a researcher says that there is evidence of how climate change has affected weather patterns in the tribal districts. Dr Ali said climate change has also directly affected floral season and disturbed the natural habitats of indigenous honeybees.
Besides, he said that the spraying of insecticides and pesticides in agricultural practices and urbanization were the biggest emerging threats to the indigenous honeybees.
He said that many associated with indigenous beekeeping business were practicing wild hunting. “The standard practice is to keep half of the honey for the bee’s survival in extreme cold. If the hunter takes away all the honey, the honey bees will naturally die,” he said.
Billion tree honey initiative
74-year-old Mehboob Ali has been associated with indigenous honeybee keeping from as long as he can remember. He has established a natural habitat for bees at home. “The bees arrive in Kurram in April and stay in the mountains till October. Due to extreme cold weather in winter, the bees migrate to lower parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, which has affected our honey production,” he says.
But the septuagenarian’s knowledge and experience doesn’t matter to those in government. The federal government is working to launch the ‘billion tree honey’ initiative in Pakistan. Under the project, the government would provide financial and technical support to beekeepers to expand their businesses.
The ‘billion tree honey’ project, part of the Pakistan government’s 10 billion trees project, has drawn praise from the United Nations’ environment programme for greening the country. Simultaneously, the project has also drawn brickbats from environmentalists from within the country as a huge water guzzling scheme. Environmentalists believe that the ‘billion tree honey’ initiative is a failure from the very start.
Mr Bacha said that if the government wants to bring back local honey bees and attract more from neighbouring countries, then they need to focus on reversing deforestation. “It is the only natural solution to increase honey production and for the restoration of biodiversity in the tribal districts,” he said.
Muhammad Daud Khan is a radio producer and storyteller from North West Pakistan.
Image: Hippopx, licensed under Creative Commons Zero – CC0