The number of honey harvesters is increasing every year in the country as farmers and honey beekeepers have found success in commercial honey farming in mustard fields over the last few years.
Farmers have cultivated mustard on 5.83 lakh hectares of land this season, up from 5.68 lakh hectares last year.Professor Dr. Mohammed Sakhawat Hossain of Entomology Department at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, said, “Cross-pollination of mustard by honey bees is considered as one of the most effective and cheapest methods for triggering the crop yield. It increases the yield of mustard up to 15 to 20 per cent.”
“Besides, there is a high demand for honey in local and global markets. That is why the number of honey harvesters in mustard fields is increasing gradually,” he added.
In most cases, seasonal honey collectors don’t own the mustard fields themselves. Therefore, they rely on mustard farmers to allow them to set up their honey boxes beside their fields and pay a certain amount of money as rent for leasing land to keep the boxes.
Md Ajob Ali, a honey harvester, spends the whole mustard farming season in Mankiganj’s Paturia though his village home is situated in Kushtia.
The rest of the year he extracts honey from litchi gardens and black cumin and coriander fields travelling various parts of the country.
He has set 95 boxes across several mustard fields. Every box contains a queen bee that breeds while other bees collect honey from mustard flowers from morning to evening and stock up it in the boxes.Ajob Ali then collects honey from the boxes once a week.
“I have spent about Tk 235,000. In return, I hope to make a profit between Tk140,000 and 180,000 after all expenses. Various companies and wholesalers come to buy honey from me,” he said.
Several mustard farmers also keep bee boxes beside their mustard fields with the aim to boost yields and collect honey at the same time.
Motiul Islam, a mustard farmer who also extracts honey from 40 bee boxes he has set up next to his mustard croplands in Tangali’s Basail, said, “Earlier, I used to lend my land to seasonal honey collectors for setting up bee boxes centring my fields. Gradually I have bought bee boxes and begun extracting honey. The composite farming is useful indeed.”
There are over 25,000 beekeepers in the country who collect honey from mustard, black cumin and coriander fields apart from litchi gardens, hilly areas of Chattogram division and the Sundarbans, according to Department of Agriculture Extensions (DAE).
Some of the beekeepers have said that they are yet to get any support from the government.
Rejecting their claim, DAE Director General Md Asadullah said, “In coordination with Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC), we have been providing training to honey beekeepers and farmers. Moreover, we have brought high-quality bee boxes from abroad and distributed them among the beekeepers and farmers of Sirajganj, Tangail, Jamalpur and Brahmanbaria.”
“Honey extracted from mustard flowers is good in quality and cheap in price compared to the honeys available in the international market. We have a plan of boosting export of this honey involving our private companies,” he added.
Experts think that the honey extracted from mustard flowers is a natural antibiotic.
And according to honey traders, honey is sold at Tk 450-550 in the retail market and Tk400 per kg in the wholesale market.
Bangladesh Beekeepers Foundation President Md Ebadullah Afzal said the country has 2,500 beekeeping farms and their produce is enough to meet the local demand.
“The BSCIC has established a processing centre for honey and taking help from it and a few other processing centres we are exporting honey.”
Honey collectors of Bangladesh extract about 10,000 tonnes of honey annually. More than 75 per cent of the honey are collected during the mustard cultivation season from November to February.