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By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
He is one of 141 beneficiaries of beekeeping workshops in the village of Ghool, who also received financial support from the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), within the framework of the Drought Preparedness and Mitigation project. , implemented in different villages in this district of Chakwal, whose farmers depend on the rains and suffer from its scarcity.
Jan's income from peanuts has decreased steadily since 1999, when the rains began to decrease in quantity and duration.
The hives do not need more land or compete with agricultural or livestock activities, they are easy to care for and only require a small initial investment.
Three years ago, Jan bought 10 wooden boxes with hives for 34,000 rupees (about $ 326). Currently, it has 90, which is worth about $ 9,792.
"I produce about 800 kilograms of honey a year, which generates about $ 5,760, with less intensive work and without worrying about losses due to irregular weather conditions," he said.
Each box has between four and five hives.
About 90 kilometers southeast of Islamabad, the Chakwal district spans 6,500 square kilometers of arid terrain. Almost 90 percent of the 1.5 million people depend on agriculture for their living.
In Chakwal peanuts are grown on 32,375 hectares. Sowing begins between the last week of March and mid-April and runs until the end of May. Irregular rainy periods between June and August are needed to soak the cultivated area for the seeds to sprout at the end of this last month.
"For this year the objective of cultivating 28,328 hectares was set, but only 50 percent was achieved due to the lack of rain," said Mohammad Jalid, Chakwal's agriculture official, when asked by IPS.
Peanuts were considered a dream crop thanks to the profits it used to make, which allowed farmers to pay off their debts and organize their children's marriage.
Currently, 73 farmers in the village of Ghool have adopted beekeeping as an additional source of income and as a way to compensate for the losses from peanut cultivation, said Rab Nawaz, one of the large beekeepers in that town with 400 hives.
There are about 16,000 hives in about 4,000 wooden boxes, he said by phone from Ghool.
In total, "they produce about 35,000 kilograms of pure honey, about 35 tons, which amounts to about $ 268,800," he estimated.
Traders from urban markets go to the village to buy honey directly from beekeepers at about $ 7.68 per kilogram, which they then sell at $ 11.52, Nawaz said.
Sometimes 50 percent of the income is total profit, depending on how much honey beekeepers extract from each of their hives, he added.
The PPAF climate change adaptation and mitigation specialist, Zafar Pervez Sabri, explained: “We want to offer them different capacities so that their income does not suffer, even if they decrease due to the losses of their crops, since the effects of the drought are made more evident in their economies ”.
Within the framework of the multimillion-dollar Income Protection and Improvement Project (LEPP), first implemented in 1992 by the PPAF, together with the National Rural Support Program, 150 farmers in this district were trained in beekeeping.
“After realizing the tangible socio-economic impact on the lives of the agricultural communities of the drought-prone Chakwal, we plan to expand the project to different parts of Pakistan,” said Zafar Pervez Sabri.
"Crop loss is common in these rain-dependent areas, causing farmers to fall into the trap of borrowing and being at the mercy of exploitative lenders," he explained.
Climate change is a great threat to Pakistan's agriculture, supporting the national economy, said Zafar Iqbal, former president of the National Disaster Management Authority.
"Training in alternative ways of generating income that do not depend on the weather, such as beekeeping, is very helpful in making farming communities resistant to the effects of climate change and in protecting their income," he explained.
The president of the Pakistan Beekeepers Association, Naim Qasmi, observed that the accelerated felling of berry trees was hurting honey production in this country, especially in the Pothohar region.
"Logging is widespread and uncontrolled and, if it is not stopped, it will affect honey production," he warned.
Unlike other trees, berry trees bloom from mid-September to mid-October, when bees work wonders in their hives with the nectar extracted from the flowers, explained Rashid Hussain, a researcher at the Bee Research Institute, National Center. of Agrarian Research (NARC, in English), when consulted by IPS.
Honey made from the nectar of berry trees has a higher medicinal value compared to honey made from other flowers, he said.
Farmers in this area are not aware of the greatest advantages or the role that bees play in pollinating crops, he warned.
Muhammad Asif Aziz, an entomologist at the University of Arid Agriculture in the city of Rawalpindi, in northern Punjab province, stressed the need to raise awareness among farmers about the importance of bees.
"In the United States, farmers pay beekeepers about $ 150 per hive per season rent for pollination," he said. "But Ghool beekeepers offer the service for free in the area and without knowing it," said Asif Aziz.
The entomologist explained that it is necessary to inform farmers that bees are the most efficient insects in terms of pollination and alert them that the decrease in beekeeping activity will harm their production, especially that of fruits, vegetables and oilseed crops.
Inter Press Service - IPS Venezuela