The largest honeybee in all of the world, the Himalayan giant honeybee, is responsible for making and protecting the honey. Photo by VCG
On November 19, 2021, honey hunters climb a hill carrying ropes and other tools to harvest cliff honey in Dolakha (115 km east of Kathmandu, Nepal). Photograph: VCG
Chitra Bhan Khatri was a beekeeper in west Nepal for 15 years. He has never had to struggle to provide food for his bees, except for 2021 when unseasonally heavy rains left his honeybees starving.
Five days of torrential rain in Dang district in October sent temperatures plummeting. The bright yellow mustard plants Khatri grows to provide nectar for his 300 colonies European honeybees were decimated by the storms.
He then took his bees to graze nectar from chiuri trees in a nearby forest. He discovered that the rains had wiped out all the flowers.
He was 44 years old and he was walking through his apiary looking at his honeycombs empty. The 44-year-old beekeeper stated that he used more than 40kg of honey per hive every year. His insects produced half that amount in 2021.
Khatri used to be able to move the hives around in the region, but there was no pollen or nectar available anywhere in 2021.
“My 500,000 rupees [$4,220]He stated that investment had all been in vain. “Honey is the only source of my income. I don’t know how to cover my household expenses.
In the past decade, heavy rain, prolonged droughts and harsher winters have disrupted flowering seasons in Nepal and decimated the country’s honey supply.
2020 saw a drop in honey production by Nepali beekeepers of around 50% compared to three years ago. This is due to the warming climate, according Shiva Prasad Sharma (a beekeeper and president of Federation of Nepal Beekeepers)
Sharma predicts that 2021’s national honey yields will be lower than in the previous year. Sharma blames a prolonged, extremely wet monsoon season for destroying what was once a flourishing industry.
“My beekeeping was expanding. I was making good money selling honey. I thought 2021 would be even better. But the heavy rains in monsoon prevented me from getting my dream job. [season]He said that October had ruined all of my dreams.
According to data from Department of Hydrology and Meteorology in 2021, the monsoon season from June to September saw 15 percent more rainfall than the average and parts of the country received five times as much rain in October.
Sundar Tiwari (entomology professor at Chitwan’s Agriculture and Forestry University, AFU) said, “Honeybees can be very sensitive and susceptible both high and low temperature, and they die pretty quickly, so, extra care must be taken in the changing climate.”
Pressure piles up
The global food chain is dependent on bees, but their numbers are declining rapidly due to climate change and large-scale agriculture.
According to Nepalese beekeepers, unusual weather patterns are leading increase in colony collapse. Large swarms of bees are leaving their hives to escape heavy rains and freezing temperatures.
Dileshwor Gurung is a beekeeper from Lamjung in central Nepal. He stated that the spring of 2019, which was extremely hot and dry, saw thousands of bees die in his 53 hives.
Gurung, who is a nucleus colonist from larger bee colonies, said, “I tried to protect them with soaked jute bags and straw, but to no avail.”
“Bees are my lifeline. He said that their deaths caused him great trouble as I couldn’t create as many colonies as I wanted.
His business was again stung by bees in May 2021, when a quarter his hives were abandoned to search for food because of the significantly higher than average rainfall in Nepal after six months’ drought.
Ram Prasad Poudel, Chitwan beekeeper, said that the long dry spells have attracted mites to his hives. He has also seen more fungal disease in his mustard plants.
As a result, he uses more pesticides and herbicides, which can pose a threat to his insects.
Bees can’t fly well during prolonged periods of wet weather, which makes it harder for them to pollinate local flowers and plants. This eventually leads to fewer sources.
Poudel said, “Unfavorable Climate, Pesticides, and Pests – all pile up to the pressure on our shoulders.”
Laxmi Kharel, senior plant protection officer at Nepal’s Apiculture Development Centre (which represents the beekeeping industry), said that beekeepers throughout Nepal are worried about how they will survive.
“This year [in 2022,]He said that he had received numerous complaints from beekeepers all over the country about their high bee mortality rate. The federal government created an insurance program in 2015 to cover honeybees that are lost due to weather catastrophes. This was to help protect the industry from declining yields.
The government pays upto 80 percent of the premium. In addition, the payouts cover 90% of honey shortfalls.
Nirmal Adhikari is the deputy director of Insurance Board. He said that only a small percentage of beekeepers know how to insure their colonies.
According to the FNBK, there are more than 11,000 beekeepers currently in Nepal. According to the Insurance Board’s figures, only 215 of these beekeepers were insured as at July 2021.
Arjun Pokharel is the chairperson of the Nepal Beekeeping Central Cooperative Union. He stated that the government hadn’t done enough to promote bee health insurance.
He stated that the Insurance Board and local agricultural divisions must conduct a nationwide campaign to inform beekeepers about the benefits of the Insurance Board. Khem Raj Neupane is a professor of horticulture at the AFU. He said that insurance alone won’t be enough to keep the industry alive as scientists warn that the impacts of climate change will only get more severe and unpredictable.
The government and beekeepers should work together to increase plant biodiversity. They should also encourage beekeepers to grow plants that bloom at different times throughout the year so that honeybees can eat all year.