Environmental conditions badly affecting honey production in KP

Laraib Athar

It was dawn of spring season, I was coming from Nowshera to Peshawar on G.T Road, when I saw an old man wearing a unique dress, I requested my brother to stop the car, because I wanted to interview him, actually he was 52 years old Ishaaq Kaka, who came from Kunar district of Afghanistan for Honey Bee business. We saw that 3-5 hundred feet of field was full of honey bee cotton.

After request of interview Ishaaq kaka said that I am doing this business from the last 30 years, it is very good business, but now we are facing a lot of issues, as the people are cutting trees, the production of crops having flower is also decreased, due to that we are forced to shift our bees to another area. Recalling the old days, Ishaaq Kaka said that in the old days there were a lot of trees and forests on mountains, which were very much useful for our bees and its production. We used to keep our bees in one of the mountains, there was no tension for their food and water. Besides this the production of honey was also good, but now there are no flowers, so our bees have no food.

Mr. Ishaaq kaka was not fully aware of Climate change and its adverse effects on Pakistan, but he knows that due to cutting of trees and overpopulation, we are facing the adverse effects. According to climate researcher in Peshawar University, 42 years old Shukria Durani, Bees are extremely important to agricultural production around the world, and the people involved & associated with the honey business are facing financial difficulties and bidding adieu to the honey business because of the decrease in honey production in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Ms. Durani added that due to deforestation and overpopulation the green fields have been converted into towns and markets, besides this the use of carbon has also been increased because of the excessive use of automobiles, so all these factors deteriorate air quality badly, which ultimately have serious problems for honey bee’s production.

A 60-year-old woman from Kalam, Zarghuna Shah, said that until ten years ago, when I went to collect honey on the rocks with my husband, I could see hundreds of honey bee hives hanging from a distance, we could easily find 30 to 45 Kg of honey per season, we used to collect the honey and sell it in the markets and could easily earn 30-50 thousand per month, which was our livelihood, now it’s not possible for us to find even 10 kgs of honey and the earning is bellew from 20 thousand, that’s why we are forced to leave honey business and look for other sources of livelihood.
Climate change, which has already affected Pakistan in the form of increased floods, unseasonal rains, and extreme temperatures, has now significantly threatened the bee business, so those associated with the honey business are bidding adieu to the honey business.

Maaz Shah, Beekeeper and Honey Trader from Peshawar’s biggest Tarnab Market said, Our tarnab market is famous all over Pakistan and outside Pakistan for its pure honey. Until five years ago, so many beekeepers used to come to this market to sell pure honey that there was no place for them. They used to go to other cities to sell, but gradually the number decreased so much that last year people came to buy pure honey and they did not get pure honey, what they got was so expensive that it was beyond the reach of common citizens.

When we contacted the old beekeepers about why they did not bring honey, they said that due to climate change in our areas bees have disappeared or migrated to other areas, so we couldn’t collect more honey. Bees are extremely important to agricultural production around the world, but due to environmental threats and global warming, it has become more dangerous than ever before. Human activities, carbon pollution, man-made pressure, changes in habitat & biodiversity, increased use of chemicals and pesticides have led to a rapid decline in bee populations in the region.

Jalal Khan, a local farmer, said that some years ago, during the honey season, all my boxes were full of honey and I used to collect 80 to 120 kg of honey, but this year I could get only five kg of honey from one box, while others’ boxes remained empty. According to information received through RTI, in 2018 -19 fiscal year 350 containers of honey, in which 17.K Kg contains one container of Beer honey exported to gulf countries.

450 containers of Phullai Honey produced in 2020 whereas, 10 containers exported to Afghanistan and the remaining containers consumed domestically. In April May 2019 Bumper Crop /yield of Phulai honey was achieved. Moreover, there are different factors in the increase of honey production.which includes climatic conditions if afforestation through different projects like BTTP and 10 BTTP. in year 2022 the production of Honey decreased due unfavourable climatic conditions like Continuous rains and low Temp. A total 226 bee forms which include 33900 bee boxes were distributed among the different areas of KP by the Directorate of NTFP KP Forest department which estimated annual production of 339000 Kg’s per season which is estimated at 170 ton in Spring and 169 Ton in Autumn.

Y. Le Conte & M. Navajas writes in his research on Climate change titled “impact on honey bee populations and diseases” that the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, is the most economically valuable pollinator of agricultural crops worldwide. There is a large body of data at our disposal indicating that environmental changes have a direct influence on honey bee development. In this research, the authors examine the potential impact of climate change on honey bee behaviour, physiology and distribution, as well as on the evolution of the honey bee’s interaction with diseases.

Conservation measures will be needed to prevent the loss of this rich genetic diversity of honey bees and to preserve ecotypes that are so valuable for world biodiversity.

Khyal Khan, who exports large quantities of honey from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to other cities and some countries as well, says that honey production has declined by 70 percent from last six years, he explained that Selling honey is my family business, my grandfather and my father also used to do the same business, we keep 300 to 500 honey boxes every season and all the boxes were always full of honey but from last 10 years the honey in these boxes started decreasing, there was a time when more than half of the boxes were empty, our honey has decreased by about 70% in last season, we took many measures for it but to no avail, he added that changes in habitat and biodiversity, as well as increased use of chemicals and pesticides, have led to the loss of honey bees in the region.

Sohrab Khan had kept 100 bee boxes on a river bank in Badin, a cold area of Swat, to protect the bees from the hot heat, which were swept away by the flood after heavy rain. Sohrab Khan said that the accident caused a loss of Rs 14 lac. Along with Sohrab Khan, another 20 Mugasbans had a total of 2,000 pits on the banks of this river, most of them also got flooded.

Iftikhar Khalil, former director non timber forest produce KP said data of affected beekeepers would be collected for financial assistance. “Floods have affected beekeepers mostly in Swat, Charsadda, Tank, DI Khan and Charsadda and a scetfic survey would be required to verify floods damages to four famous honey bees including Apis Cerana (small bee), Apis Dorsata (wild bee), Apis Flori (little bee) and exotic Apis Mellifera.”

He said Pakistan has huge potential of producing over 7,500 to 8,000MT honey from about 300,000 colonies per year and diversion of financial resources to flood mitigation was the need of the hour. Admitting climate change’s effects on the population of Apis Flori and Apis Dorsata commonly known as “Swat bees”, he said Apis mellifera was imported from Australia in 1977 owing to her speedy growth and increased power of honey production.

He further added that a research project was launched at Agriculture Research Institute Tarnab, Peshawar, Faisalabad and National Agriculture Research Centre Islamabad in 1979 to analyze mellifera’s properties. Mallifera produces about 20 to 25 kgs honey per box against six to eight kg by native bees two times in a year. “Apis Dorsata has an ability to produce 40kgs to 45 kgs honey from each hive mostly in tall trees and buildings,” he said, adding around 120,000 to 150,000 wild bees were busy in one meter-length and half-meter wide comb making 120 degree angle and their honey generation powers affected in case of torrential rains and floods due to loss of plants and destruction of their hives. As a result of all this, the price of honey in Pakistan has increased. Wild honey, which was usually available at Rs 1,400 to 1,600 per kg, is now selling at Rs 3,000 to 4,000 per kg. The prices of honey produced in the home farm were earlier 800 to 1200 per kg, but now they have reached to 2000 to 2500 rupees per kg.

An official of Agriculture Research Institute (ARI) at Tarnab, Peshawar said that the Government should make special provision of interest-free loans under Islamic banking system to encourage flood-hit beekeepers. “The recent flood have also affected the local bee population scientifically known as Apis florae ( Swati small bee) due to loss of bee-flora plants in Swat,” There was every possibility of loosing an average of five to ten kgs out of 1000 kilogram of honey production if flood preventive measures were not taken for their preservation and protection. He added.

Similarly Pakistan is the country in the region which is emitting less than 1% of carbon to Ozone, but it is included in the top ten countries, which are facing the adverse effects of climate change. Unless authorities take action to protect bees and combat a warming climate, Pakistan’s agriculture will also face serious threats.
When we asked former chief conservator of wildlife department Dr Mumtaz Malik, he said: “There is a possibility of losing the wild bees in future if floods mitigation efforts were not made besides proper attention to their preservation and management of natural forest”. “Wild bee is a big source of quality honey that needs proper strategy and mechanism to get maximum production and protection from flood and rains,” Dr Malik added, further he said that honey business could be developed as a non-wood-forest product for the locals living near forests to raise their income through preservation and protection of wild bees population from floods.

He stressed the need for capacity building of beekeepers to face any situation like flood and raising nurseries of bee-flora plants for promotion of the honey industry. Focus on conservation of Apis Dorsata (wild bee) should be made as it has the ability to produce 35 to 40 kg honey from each comb, he said, adding that the wild bees usually made their nests in tall trees or buildings in reserved forests.