You may want to swat a bee when you seen one but they do more than just give a nasty little sting. Honey bees are responsible for at least 30 percent of the world crop production and account for 80% of all insect pollination, but 460 kms east of Mumbai in Vidharba, a region famous for its cotton cultivation they are nowhere to be found.
Vidarbha has suffered from drought conditions for the last 15 years and high debt rates have caused many farmers to see no hope and devastatingly, end their lives. Even after government intervention crop productivity has been much lower than the national average of 5 quintals per acre.
So, can bees work their pollination magic to help this region’s declining crop yields? 19 year old, agriculture student, Tushar thinks they can. And he has a business plan to prove it. He had watched a documentary on beekeeping (apiculture) on Discovery channel and it occurred to him that a bee keeping business could increase the crop yields for farmers in his village and he could make profits selling the honey extract.
He went looking for capital to fund his venture. A venture he believed could solve his community’s problem. But banks would not loan him the money as he had no collateral left to pledge.
Tushar called us after watching one of the Be! Movies – our Bollywood inspired movies about young entrepreneurs who solve problems by building a business. After two long interviews, we visited Tushar in his village and put his idea to test and assess whether it’s risk capital he needs.
We met a number of farmers and found that they liked Tushar’s idea. 46 of them had given him confirmed orders. Ashok Daiya, a cotton and soy bean farmer with 20 acres of land said “by installing the bee boxes, I will use less pesticides and my pesticide cost will go down by 50%”
But bee keeping is not as easy at it sounds. Honey bees are under threat globally. A condition called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is causing bee populations to plummet to alarming levels. Scientists are still not sure of its occurrence and say factors such as erratic whether, mites, malnutrition, stress and fungi are to blame. According to Natural Resources Defense Council in United States alone, more than 25 percent of the managed honey bee population has disappeared since 1990
There is no doubt that Tushar’s beekeeping business will have an impact in his village in the short term. But with honey bees at risk globally and causes of their mysterious disappearance still not certain, he will need to be ready to tackle any curveball the business throws at him if he is to succeed in the long run. Risks come in many shapes and forms.