Kashmir youth drawn in with courses, subsidies

A projected honey output over 500 tonnes, 7,500 beekeepers and growing, with 29,850 bee colonies between them. Beekeeping has been catching on in Jammu and Kashmir, with production having jumped from 300 tonnes in 2010 to 597 last year.

It's a trend that also creates job avenues for the unemployed, say officials, pointing out that many educated youths are among those setting up bee colonies in the countryside because of its promise. Honey has not only a local market but also demand nationally and and internationally. In the last six years, 1,067 tonnes was exported out of the valley.

Beekeeping had once fallen into decline. "In 1988, a local bee became the victim of a disease, which caused the death of all colonies throughout Kashmir. It contributed to the decline of the beekeeping culture in the valley, and thousands left this business," said Farooq Ahmed Shah, who has been rearing bees for five decades. Shah, who never gave up, has 100 bee colonies and earns about Rs 2,60,000 with a season's produce.

An Italian bee resistant to that disease was introduced but Shah says the local bee coped better with the conditions.

What attracted fresh beekeepers, mostly the young, was the introduction of subsidies, schemes and technical training. "We provide beehives and bee colonies on a 50 per cent subsidy," said G M Rather, chief agriculture officer. "There are various schemes and the subsidy is given on hives, medicines, honey extracting equipment, besides free knowhow."

The state's apiculture department keeps 100 bee colonies for demonstration to beneficiaries, besides holding disease awareness programmes. "The bee colonies are for the people who come here; we train them in beekeeping. Last year we produced one quintal of honey within the department," said Imtiyaz Ahmed, a beekeeper in the department.

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