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REAPING REWARDS

The latest buzz

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REAPING REWARDS: Bees are used to pollinate fruit trees and crops to increase yield manifold

Under The Mango Tree, an NGO that backs beekeeping ventures in remote areas, is set to make deeper inroads into tribal India.

Winnie the Pooh couldn't be happier. The recent recognition from World Bank - and a generous grant of a grant of $100, 000 awarded under its Market Place Program has created a new buzz at Under the Mango Tree (UTMT) a hybrid organisation, with its not-for-profit and profit arms, which aims at alleviating poverty through bee-keeping.

Since its inception four years and a few months ago, UTMT has reached 1, 500 tribal farmers across Maharashtra and Gujarat and a pilot project is on in the tribal regions of Madhya Pradesh. The aim is to reach out to 10, 000 more tribal farmers in the state.

In many European countries and in the US, bees are used to pollinate fruit trees and crops to increase farm yields multi-fold. Vijaya Pastala's spent several years in various capacities working with small farmers across India and an idea began to emerge his mind: what if farmers were trained to add bee-boxes on their farms to facilitate cross-pollination ? And what if they were guaranteed a fair-trade price for organic honey? Soon thereafter, she founded UTMT.

UTMT's non-profit wing, through grants available from various sources, provides bee-keeping training to tribal farmers in their own villages;subsidises the cost of the bee-box (farmers pay between Rs 200 to Rs 600 depending on their capacity ) - paying even a tiny sum gives them a sense of ownership;and provides ongoing technical support through its master trainers.

Farmers are trained to transfer the indigenous bee - the Apis Cerana Indica, which is a good cross pollinator from its natural habitat to bee-boxes which are then taken to the farm sites. Over a few months, the bee-boxes are divided, a new queen bee emerges and takes charge of the new hive.

Parallely, UTMT's for-profit arm guarantees tribal farmers purchase of honey and bees-wax at fair trade prices. This organic honey with varied flavours ranging from litchi to neem, finds ready buyers in Mumbai - where UTMT is headquartered - and in other cities.

The results of UTMT's efforts are showing. Bapu Jadhav, a farmer in Sehnvad village, Kolhapur district of Maharashtra owns two acres of land in which he cultivates sugarcane, banana, corn, rice, sunflower and some vegetables for self-consumption. Nearly three years ago, UTMT came to his village to provide bee-keeping training and he promptly enrolled. The bee-boxes helped him improve his banana yields. Instead of just five-six bunches of bananas obtained after the use of expensive pesticides, each banana tree now yields double and he doesn't have to spend money on pesticides. (Research proves that banana yields improve by 63 per cent through bee pollination).

Jadhav's sunflower and corn yields have also shot up. Of course, he is also pleased that in his very first year of bee-keeping, he could extract 9 kg of honey from three bee-boxes earning him Rs 250 a kg. Monthly visits by technical experts from UTMT helped motivate him to do even better.

For Gipra, in the remote Dandwal village of Gujarat, being the first woman master trainer for UTMT has resulted in a new found confidence. As master trainer, she oversees all the bee boxes in that area and her success has prompted many more women to take up the project.

"An entire new ecosystem springs up in regions where tribal farmers take up bee-keeping. Local NGOs help UTMT to reach out to the tribal farmers. In addition, villagers are trained in carpentry to build bee-boxes and women are trained to produce accessories such as bee-veils or wax sheets or even swarm bags used to transfer the bees, " explains Sujana Krishnamoorthy, Executive Director, of UTMT's non-profit wing.

For instance, the agro foundation, BAIF, helped UTMT introduce bee-keeping to the wadis (small fruit orchards) that it had helped tribal families set up in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Taj Safaris - a unit of the Taj Group of Hotels and Indian Grameen Services - help UTMT in its work in areas surrounding the Bandhavgarh National Park.

Bee-keeping can increase a farmer's income by Rs 10, 000 or more per year, and those trained to be master trainers can earn around Rs 15, 000. Needless to add, an increase in household income means a greater expenditure on health, education and higher saving capacity.

The World Bank's grant is a competitive grant, given only to those projects which have displayed innovation, scalability, sustainability, and a high beneficial social and gender impact. "After MP, the programme can even be scaled up to the surrounding areas of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and the northeastern states, " says Pastala.

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