DELHI HAAT, NEW DELHI, INDIA.

Organic honey farmer Geeta Bisht (in the photo).

To preserve the fragile Himalayan ecosystem, Uttarakhand encourages sustainable organic agriculture. Apiculture or beekeeping is an integral part of it. The natural honey produced isn’t just a quality health nourishment. For farmers like Geeta Bisht it is a healthy source of alternate income.

Once the last flake of snow melts and spring reasserts its grip, the highlands of Uttarakhand transforms into a carpet of rare flowers and herbs. Bushels of rhododendrons, berberies, asters and morinas jostle with alpine shrubs, conifers and pines on the sloping hills and green meadows. Petals in blossom scent the crisp air with a sweet fragrance. Bringing in the birds, the butterflies and importantly the bees.

Bees are nature’s very own honey makers. They are important agents in pollination and play an even greater part in keeping the environment healthy. In winters bees will huddle together to maintain warmth within the hive. But come spring and the workers are out transporting pollen grains and producing the world’s favourite nutrition: Honey.

For farmers who live off the rugged land, harvesting honey is a viable economic option. Yet trained beekeeper and energetic entrepreneur Geeta Bisht knows it can be quite a task. Beekeeping has been a full time passion for this mother of two who supports her doctor husband as a dealer of organic honey. “It’s not easy” she says, grumbling over Delhi’s obsession for bargaining over every dime spend.

There are expenses that have to be met. School fees to be paid. Nothing is free nowadays and beekeeping isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Specially, when it comes to harvesting organic honey – Geeta Bisht.

“Honey types differ in taste, colour and properties owing to factors such as type of flower foraged and species of bees. Different species are known to exhibit unique characteristics that influence honey production in the hive”.

Bees don’t voluntarily share the honey. They feed on it and stock it up as a food source. Worker bees will literally work themselves to death collecting the pollen from herbs and flowers that grows at different altitudes in the highlands. Beekeepers have to be careful during harvesting. Stings can sometimes be fatal and care has to be taken to ensure the bees are not harmed in the process.

Holding out a small bottle, Geeta states in a matter of fact tone. This ones comes from a type of stingless bee. It is very good for the eyes. In fact all the varieties I have here is pure raw honey, never once processed –  you can even find pollen grains in them.

In past years the state of Uttarakhand, a predominantly agriculture driven region, saw a decline in its male population as more men migrated to cities in search of a better livelihood. Traditional farming methods had helped preserve the ecosystem but failed to support the needs of growing families. The farming was left in the care of the hardy women folk. Even then modern agricultural techniques and fertilizers were mostly kept out. And the women did a wonderful job.

“Apiculture is an environmentally sound practice and helpful in sensitive areas such as the Himalayan ecosystem. The bees feed on nectar produced by flowers growing in the uncontaminated soil and in turn produce honey that’s 100% free of the slightest trace of chemicals”.

Since 2002 Uttarakhand has been looking at beekeeping as a means for promoting organic agricultural practices within its borders. As if to drive home the point, the bottles on the make shift shelves come labelled organic honey. Small banners mention the altitude. Does it really matter?

Yes, it does!”, quips Geeta.  “Organic honey is raw. It is pure nature. Not processed in the slightest way. And we ensure it is bottled in its natural form without any kind of industrial treatment. There is a huge difference which people in cities can’t comprehend.

Just before parting, she hands over a pamphlet containing a list of indigenous varieties available with her. There is Leachi Honey, Multi-Flower Honey, Wild Flower Honey, Himalayan Herbal Honey, Neem Honey, Kesar Honey, Tulsi Honey, Haldi & Adrak Honey.

The leaflet also mentions the species of bees that make the honey: The Apis Cerana Indica, a native species. The Apis Mellifera, introduced from Europe. And the giant honey bee Apis Dorsata.