“Children holding the frames and watching the bees without fear is the first step in establishing a connection. I have been told not to humanise bees, but breaking that feeling of alienation is important too.”
As a boy, Apoorva B V was curious about bees. He would sit near his bedroom window and listen, intently, to variations in their buzzing. Later, the fascination was fed by his guru – Shanth Veeraiah S M – who initiated Apoorva into beekeeping, when he was a mechanical engineering student in Chitradurga.
His interest has led him through multiple roles, from hobbyist and conservationist to trainer and entrepreneur. As Apoorva, 37, meticulously lifts the frame of his bee box for us to see the bees making honey, he appears to have retained the curiosity of that boy from Chitradurga. The difference, he says, is in the perseverance which comes with it now. There is resolve to persist, despite setbacks, as a beekeeper – to dispel unfounded fears, offer sustainable models and spread the word on how bees, as pollinators, are critical to the environment and food security.
“People understand the importance of bees in abstract terms, but are influenced by misconceptions about them being dangerous,” he says. We are at HoneyDay Bee Farms, the beekeeping and honey production company Apoorva runs in Kadabagere, in north Bengaluru. It is an integrated setting, comprising colonies of honey bees in about 25 wooden hives, a carpentry wing where hives are made for sale, and a unit where the honey is processed and packaged.
HoneyDay runs seven more apiaries in Bengaluru, Ramanagara and Kodagu.
The farm produces four varieties of honey (eucalyptus, jamun, Coorg’s forest, and sunflower) and aggregates 18 varieties from beekeepers associated with the farm.
Apoorva met Guruprasad Rao, a businessman, in 2010 and their shared interest in beekeeping led them to create HoneyDay. The company’s sensitisation and training programme is undertaken by its non-profit wing, The Hive. Farmers and tribespeople in Chhattisgarh and the Western Ghats have been trained as part of the programme.
Results for all
Apoorva says gaps in pollination education have hampered the possibilities of beekeeping. Over the course of the sensitisation programmes, participants, including farmers, have learnt about the importance of having bees around.
“On average, the farmers buy three to five hives, with the bees. They do harvest the honey, but for them, the real gains are in better crop yields,” says Apoorva. HoneyDay sells between 5,000 and 10,000 hives in a year.
Shivarudrappa, a retired police sub-inspector who has installed over 25 hives in his areca nut farm in Kadabagere, says the results have started to show, in a yield increase of about 20%. “What is noticeable is that the surrounding areas have also benefited (from the increased pollination),” he says.
Pointing to a jamun tree, Apoorva tells us how surprised the local residents were with the amount of fruit the tree bore after the bees turned up. Beekeeping could be a solitary pursuit but the returns, he tells us, are always shared.
“I have known Apoorva for about 10 to 12 years, as a beekeeper, an educator, and as an empanelled supplier for the Horticulture Department which is the nodal agency for beekeeping schemes in the state,” says K T Vijayakumar, Assistant Professor, Department of Apiculture, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. Apoorva has done significant work in capacity-building and his contributions as a conservation strategist – particularly with solitary bees (species of bees that do not live in a hive) and their efficiency as pollinators – have been impactful, says Vijayakumar.
The Hive has worked with farmers across Kodagu. In Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, the non-profit has collaborated with self-help groups for tribal women in a beekeeping project.
It has, so far, trained more than 3,000 people in beekeeping. One such trainee, M Sudeendra, started keeping bees on the terrace of his Rajajinagar home five years ago. His meeting with Apoorva was a key initiation point. “In addition to the two hives on my terrace, there are around 50 to 60 boxes in our farm in Malavalli. The results are showing on the crops,” says Sudeendra. He does not sell the harvested honey and shares it with friends and family. “Watching the bees at work is an exhilarating experience and I am also doing my bit for nature,” says the amateur beekeeper.
The increase in public interest is palpable, but it has not been an easy road. “There were days when I drove 40 km to talk to people about beekeeping, to see only one or two of them turning up. These things cannot turn you off; that is not a choice,” says Apoorva.
In 2012, a forest fire that hit Apoorva’s facility near Yelahanka led to a loss of bees in about 100 boxes, setting off a period of severe discontentment. The recovery path opened with small-time marketing of honey. Over the next two years, Apoorva and Guruprasad secured loans under the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme, through the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, to rebuild the enterprise – the processing and packaging unit and then, the carpentry wing. A large order from the northeast set things in motion. “Without the HoneyDay team, this would not have happened,” he says.
Today, the property in Kadabagere also houses rescued bee hives, affected by a severe loss of habitat, triggered by urbanisation. “About 300 hives are destroyed every day in Bengaluru. When we are alerted about these hives, typically in apartment buildings, we try to help the residents understand the ways of this species of rock bees (more aggressive and migratory). We share information on deterring rock bees from building nests in the balconies,” says Apoorva.
Children on board
When a government primary school in the neighbourhood was being repainted, Apoorva managed to get messages about bees and what they mean to the world, painted on the new compound wall. Apoorva and his wife Mamata, who teaches at the school, have a four-year-old son, Avagath.
The farm hosts school groups and families to help them understand the bees better. Experiential is the way forward, he says – “Children holding the frames and watching the bees without fear is the first step in establishing a connection. I have been told not to humanise bees, but breaking that feeling of alienation is important too.”