Rent-a-bee project in India helps farms flourish

UN Environment Programme
4 min readMar 12, 2019

Siang Hee Tan, Executive Director, Croplife Asia

Did you know that US$575 billion worth of annual global food production relies directly on pollinators? Species like bees, butterflies, birds, moths, beetles, and even bats, help plants reproduce. It is estimated that pollinators can increase farmers’ yields by 24 per cent on average.

But in India, few farmers have access to pollination services that could help them increase their yields and improve their livelihoods.

That is why we, at CropLife India, partnered with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and one of its extension facilities, Agricultural Development Trust (KVK) Baramati to provide farmers with beehives rental during the flowering season to increase crop pollination and, ultimately, yields and income.

The Madhu Sandesh project provided knowledge and practical advice to farmers and beekeepers, helping them use crop protection products appropriately to ensure bees and other wild pollinators were not harmed.

Worldwide, pollinators, like bees and butterflies, are facing huge challenges as urbanization, climate change, disease and land use change threaten their survival. Farmers have a big role to play in safeguarding our pollinators, and the appropriate use of crop protection products is one of them.

Agricultural extension workers regularly visited villages to check on the health of the beehives and crops. The project provided knowledge and practical advice to farmers and beekeepers, helping them to use crop protection products appropriately, according to need and during times least damaging to crops and to pollinators.

Training helped farmers understand when and how to spray their fields, for example avoiding windy conditions to prevent drift of the product, and the mornings, when pollinators are most active. Farmers were advised to move the rental hives away from areas being treated, and to only spray the areas affected by pests while using personal protection equipment.

These approaches will not only help the farmers save on the costs of pesticide, they will also help them keep the pollinators they depend on for better yields healthy and protected.

The project has led to real benefits for onion and pomegranate farmers in crop yield, quality and income.

At the end of the first year, 90 per cent of the 180 participants reported better quality crops. Pomegranate farmers saw an average of 35 per cent increase in their yields, corresponding to a 42 per cent increase in income, while the training they received helped reduce waste.

Moreover, the farmers who benefitted from the programme became enthusiastic advocates of promoting pollination, protecting the environment and using crop protection products responsibly. The programme continued to enrol more participants and has now run for five years.

“We are thankful to the project, since we increased our income by 25–30 per cent. We can produce export-quality produce,” Vijay Vinayak Rao Jadhav, an onion export farmer told us.

“This is the time we should start thinking about protecting pollinators while utilizing different integrated pest management tactics,” said Raj Kumar Thakur, Coordinator of the All India Coordinated Research Project on Honey bees and Pollinators at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

In addition to providing pollination services, bees are an additional source of income for the farmers thanks to honey harvesting.

Our village has a women’s self-help group. We decided that we will continue beekeeping. It gives us good profits, as we can collect honey and sell it,” Pramila Dattatray Baravkar, a farmer in Maharashtra told us.

The Madhu Sandesh project has demonstrated the important role bees can play in helping farms flourish, while also ensuring farmers are well equipped to protect their harvests, and the pollinators themselves.

Find out how the crop protection industry is working with other partners to support sustainable agriculture around the world. For more stories from Farming First supporters that are working towards a more sustainable food system, visit Science and innovation in agriculture.

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UN Environment Programme

Official Medium account of the United Nations Environment Programme.