Kohima, Sept. 1: The residents of Mimi, a Yimchunger Naga village in Kiphire district, are trying to conserve their rock bee habitats for posterity while deriving maximum profits from the fast-growing honey trade.
The residents of this region, in the easternmost part of the state along the border with Myanmar, have been involved in rock bee hunting since time immemorial. The dense forests and steep escarpments provide a critical resting place and a home to the giant rock bee and contribute substantially to the ecological diversity of this region. Mimi is home to 170-odd families of honey gatherers who have carefully preserved the tradition of rock bee hunting.
Numerous folklore and myths surround the death-defying activities of these daredevil honey gatherers. The ownership of the rock bee sites has been passed down generations like property transfer from father to son. It is also believed that the sites are guarded by spirits and the owners, to this day, try to appease the spirits by worshipping them and offering sacrifice before every harvest.
Honey hunting has always been the main profession in this area besides agriculture. The honey harvested was used mainly for domestic consumption and was rarely sold to outsiders because of the remoteness of the area and lack of a market. In the past, the wax was bartered for goods from Myanmar. But because of the efforts of the Nagaland Bee-keeping and Honey Mission, the residents have access to markets and are earning profits from their age-old trade.
The mission, launched in 2007, has so far imparted training in scientific bee keeping to over 10,000 people, mostly in the rural areas. Every beneficiary is provided a free honey box worth Rs 1,100. Nagalandís current output is around 350 metric tonnes per annum, most of it being produced by trained beekeepers.
When it comes to marketing of the produce, however, the mission is yet to forge a proper linkage between the producers and outside markets. But it provides marketing support by purchasing honey from tribal families. The government has set up a central processing unit near Dimapur and is retailing honey in 200gm bottles.
The missionís director, Mhathung Yanthan, said the national per capita honey consumption was 8gm while it was 165gm in Nagaland.
The mission says one hive produces 10-12kg of honey on an average every year. If a beekeeper has 10 hives, his annual income is around Rs 24,000.
Nagaland is home to a variety of bee species. Apis cerena (common bee), Apis dorsata and Apis laborosia (rock bee), Trigona/Mellipona spp (stingless bee) and Apis florea (little bee) are found in the wild all over the state. Many beekeepers rear Apis cerena and Trigona spp at home.