Tag Archives: India

March Timeline: Visitors time

8 Apr

Students from Mahindra pride school paid a visit to our bee garden this month to observe and learn the best practices of bee gardening. They looked at the wide variety of plants that were growing in the garden. Plants in the bee garden serve as fuel for bees and they flock the garden for nectar and pollen. Multi-fold benefits of a bee garden, which include serving bees and humans, were explained to the students at our bee garden; nectar from Chia is a great source for Omega 3.DSC_0254 - Copy

We picked up seeds from our own bee garden to start our own biodynamic seed bank! When we have enough number of seeds, we may also plan to distribute these seeds in the village.DSC_0524

We are continuing to teach our partners how to make candles from the wasted wax, which can be really useful in the village – electricity is a luxury there!DSC_0288 - Copy

 To celebrate the end of the harvesting season of coffee, we organized an event that saw coffee taster from around the world get together to taste our coffee and to meet their makers. Our CEO Manoj Kumar was present at this event along with Mr. Rajeev Dubey (President – Mahindra & Mahindra Group HR, Corporate Services & After-Market and Member of the Mahindra & Mahindra Group Executive Board). We also planted 3,000,000’th tree in the region during this event – an important milestone for Project Hariyali!

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Coffee flowers started blossoming – do you remember my article on the effect that coffee has on bees? I could not capture a bee on the flower but here’s a picture of the coffee flower blossom.DSC_0373

We also introduced our programme to a new village, Gangaiguda, which incidentally had more women than men, who sat in groups.DSC_0437 - Copy

 

February Timeline: Swarming season and the Indian summer

8 Mar

DSC_0239 - CopyWe’re happy to report a very fruitful February for the Pollinator Programme. The month started with the partners learning to divide colonies more efficiently. We’ve trained our partners to divide the hive during swarming season. According to the region and the climatic conditions, the period of swarming varies greatly from one site to another. It generally happens a few months after the beginning of the flowering season. In Araku, swarming happens from January to March, as well as at the beginning of the monsoon, in June. We were pleasantly surprised to find one of the colonies we divided in Kotagumam had more than 5 queen cells! The hive was carried around a kilometer from the mother hive,  to avoid the possibility of worker bees coming back to their initial address. The new colony has been put in a coffee plantation on a tree which is locally called Madi tree.

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We also had a visit from our mother bee, Briony Young, who brought us the original Sunhive last year. We loved sharing our ideas with her and have constantly been in touch with her throughout the last year for her valuable inputs on the programme. She was impressed by the progress that our partners had made and offered a training session on how to plant bee-friendly trees and plants around hives. She is an expert biodynamic farmer and spends her time shuttling between her native Zimbabwe and England.

With the onset of summer our bee garden has suffered. The soil is becoming harder and we are doing a séance of CPP (Cow Pat Pit) Biodynamic method to improve the quality of the soil- can be called a super fertilizer. The sultry South Indian summer does have a silver lining, with the mango flower season starting. Mango is more of a pollen supplier tree, meaning our bees are in for a treat!

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Back to Hyderabad were I visited the farm of our good friend and biodynamic farmer, Anjali Rudraraju. She is working on creating a Sunhive on her biodynamic farm as well. She has a lot of Apis florea on her plot and we also observed the presence on the Borage flower of our little friends Apis cerana. You can check out more about Anjali’s farm and her work on her Mitti and Mango Nation Facebook page.

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5 Facts about Monsanto in India

21 Aug

I recently visited Monsanto- India’s website and was quite shocked being greeted by this slogan: “Producing more, conserving more, improving lives. THAT’S SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE, AND THAT’S WHAT MONSANTO IS ALL ABOUT”. Don’t believe me? Check for yourselves.

If that’s not enough, Monsanto was awarded the World Food Prize (2013), often referred to as the “Nobel Prize” for Agriculture. Do you think, like me, that there’s something fishy about that? Below are a few of my findings about Monsanto in India I thought I’d share:

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BT cotton

  • Monsanto developed BT Brinjal illegally using 6 endemic varieties of Indian Brinjal. Biosafety test done raised serious health concerns.
  • In 2003, Monsanto got a patent granted in the European patent office for a variety of wheat that  had originally developed from Nap Hal, an Indian wheat variety. But was un-patented in India.
  • In the last 15 years, 270,000 farmers have committed suicide in India. Most of these suicides were in the cotton belt. Monsanto now controls 95% of the cotton seed supplies in the country through its GMO BT cotton, and the associated Intellectual property claims. Costs of cotton seed jumped 8000% with the introduction of BT cotton.
  • Monsanto has been conducting field trials in India with GM corn for commercial approval.  The biosafety assessments presented by Monsanto have been left incomplete. The most shocking is the fact that this assessment has been conducted by Monsanto laboratories itself.
  • After the US Monsanto Protection Act law was passed in March 2013, Monsanto is trying to impose a protection act in India, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill.

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What is the BRAI exactly? 

This Bill was introduced by the Ministry of Science and Technology in the Lok Sabha on 22 April 2013 as a promise to promote the safe use of modern biotechnology. This bill is a threat to our health,  the environment and agriculture. The introduction of GM seeds means that:

  • This bill promotes the use of GMO and GE in India without taking inconsideration of the health risk associated to this modern technology. Basically Monsanto thinks that more is better, doesn’t matter the quality.
  •  The bill reduces the role of the state government and gives them no power to ban or reject the introduction of GM seed on the market and citizen will not have access to information about the safety of GM food.
  • There is no socio-economic survey proving that GM will be a better solution to India agriculture. (introduction of the GM cotton is a good example of the negative effect of GM crops.

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Working everyday with poor, tribal communities, I can’t imagine them buying all seeds every year, they have traditionally always kept seeds stored for the coming year. Few days ago, an Indian nationwide campaign has been launched against the BRAI Bill and GM crop to fight the invasion of Monsanto in Indian crops. You can join the fight and sign the petition.To be continued.

[Photo credit – abhisheksrivastava]

August 2013: The mighty Indian Monsoon and the Araku Valley

17 Aug

August saw us face a number of setbacks, in addition to the weather-related roadblocks we were faced with a bee predator – the Asian hornet. While we’d had minor incidents in the past, this month saw us lose 2 colonies were killed (or hopefully absconding) out of the 4 hives that faced attack. It is always heart-breaking to open a hive and find no sign of life 😦

Just a little info on Asian hornets. They are voracious predators that feed bees and bee larvae to their young. A single giant hornet can kill over 10,000 honeybees! They attack in groups of three to thirty, and once under attack, a beehive is destroyed within two to forty-eight hours. Apis cerana can defend itself by forming a fire ball which consist to create a bee ball around the hornet and kill it by increasing the temperature. Unfortunately they are not able to win every battle.hornet

On our way to Thurukulametta where we were working, a farmer from Bakuru who heard about the program stopped us and told us that he was interested in become a beekeeper. He reported seeing a swarm earlier that morning but he didn’t have a hive to capture it. We came back in a few hours with a hive and walked 15 minutes away from the village to find the small treasure. The swarm was tiny, no more than 5,000 bees. It seems like these little chaps had to leave their previous beehive in an emergency. There are two possible explanations for this off season swarming. Due to the heavy rain,  these colonies may have faced flooded hives or perhaps they were attacked by the hornets.DSC_1256 DSC_0010DSC_0012DSC_0014DSC_0049

The area we are working in has patches of shrubbery (consisting mainly of silver oak and coffee) not exactly a food paradise for our little friends. One of our main objectives is to transform this area where the bees will have food all round the year and for this we need to plant. Since all our farmers don’t have easy access to water, we are focusing  during during this monsoon on sowing seeds and planting bee-friendly plants. Since the beginning of the month, my assistant and myself have been running all over the places locating seeds and distributing them to our beekeepers. Moringa, hibiscus, wild flowers found in the area, roses, vegetables etc….

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One of our other objectives is to spread the good word about the threat honey bees are facing around the world. as well as create awareness about natural beekeeping and share our vision to create a bee sanctuary in the Araku region. I was invited to deliver a lecture in Auroville, Tamil Nadu recently. My audience for these 3 days was diverse. Apprentice farmers from different nationalities, high-school students from Chennai with an interest in agriculture and environmentalists from around the country.

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All in all, a fantastic experience although I discovered a lack of knowledge wherever I went with only a handful of people being truly conscious about the worldwide decline of honeybees. It’s time to join the buzz and help us spread the word.

photo credit by [Thomas]

July 2013: Araku welcomes the Indian monsoon

17 Jul

After the harsh summer, farmers can finally rejoice, monsoons have arrived!  Most farmers in our emerald valley don’t have access to irrigation systems and can only rely heavily on the rain. When the monsoon skies open, farmers plough their lands and start sowing rice and vegetables. In a week’s time the dry, arid landscape transforms itself into a lush green landscape.

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There is little info available as to where the bees migrate to during the monsoon, they become scarce in this region when the monsoon start. Apis cerana builds its nest in October, which often gets flooded during monsoon and the honey bees evacuate. I was surprised to see this swarm at one of our empty hives a couple weeks ago.

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That morning I went to a particular village to monitor the bees and inform the villagers about monsoon management techniques. When we reached one of our new beekeepers came to us, telling us that there is a group of bees hanging on her empty hive. I was delighted to be greeted by lively swarm! The colony found its new house all by itself! Taking established colony count to 15!

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Our first trained beekeeper, Laxmi,  is now ready to teach other women of her village. She looks like a pro and she isn’t the least bit scared of the bees anymore. She has a passion for her bees and when she opens her hive, she takes great care not to disturb them too much.The team is extremely proud of her!

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June Timeline: Celebration of the Pollinator week

14 Jun

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This month, from the 17 to 23rd, the world will celebrate pollinator week. To  mark the event, our post of the month will be focused on the different insect pollinators that we find in the region, actually more specifically the ones that I was able to photograph.

 

 

Of course, we are working with Apis Cerena, the Indian honey bee, I think everyone knows how our little friend looks by now.

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Apis cerana

I was able to capture a couple other honey bee species which are not domesticable.

Apis Dorsata, or Rock bees (as they’re popularly called) are usually double the size of their European counterpart. In India, Honey harvesting from A. Dorsata is a tradition. The honey hunters are renowned for their bravery and skill. A nest can contain 60 kilogram of honey! JACKPOT!

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Apis dorsata nest

Apis florea, on the other hand is 2 times smaller than their European brethren. Their nest is not bigger than 20 cm and a colony produce an average of 200 gram of honey yearly.  I found it quite strange to see the 2 distinctly different species side by side, but hey, this is India for you.

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Honey bees are the best known pollinators but there are others as well. Some of the most beautiful and graceful are butterflies. They are not as efficient as bees, because butterflies are perching feeders, they do not come as close to the flower therefor to the pollen. Still, they do their part in pollination and who doesn’t like watching them, they are so colorful and elegant!

Papilio polytes

Common Mormon- Papilio polytes

Euthalia aconthea

Simple Baron- Euthalia aconthea

There are also more discrete pollinators, that you may not even noticed or just mistake with a honey bee: the solitary bee. They are not social insect, which mean they have no queens and all female are fertile. Also they do not produce honey or wax. Around the world 90% of the bee species are solitary. Solitary bees are important pollinators and have advanced pollen collecting structures on their bodies with which to collect the pollen.

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Bee hotel

In Araku we want to create a bee sanctuary or should I say a pollinator sanctuary. Our main focus is Apis Cerana, but we do not for a moment forget to consider the various other pollinators. This month we have started creating bee-hotel for solitary bees to nest in. We used bamboo sticks of different size for the first one, but for the next one, we’ll try to vary the material to offer more habitat options to these guys. Can’t wait to go back there to see the first customers!

May 2013: Meet Killo Ananth

17 May

Recently, on a visit to a new village, I came across an interesting man named Killo Ananth. I wish to introduce this remarkable man to you guys.

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The 58-year old Ananth was an animal hunter till he was around 35.

“Killing animals for a living was easy money but not giving anything back to the forest began  feeling wrong” he told us. This is when he took up farming.

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On his plantation you can find a diverse array of plants: Jack fruits, mango, banana, lemon, sweet orange, guava, neem, pongamia, soap nuts, all kind of vegetables and many others.

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Three years ago, he noticed his cousin’s neighbor practicing beekeeping. At first it was a child-like curiosity which soon turned to genuine interest for beekeeping. He began going about his business by borrowing a hive from his neighbor. A year later, he replicated 2 hives by himself. Last year he made 2 more hives. He now has a total of 5 hives with colonies. Over the past 6 months, his bees produced 36 kilo of honey. He made a special trip to Hyderabad in order to gain some insight and get some formal training on beekeeping. He learned everything from observing his acquaintances. For example how to extract the honey, he will use a vessel and make it spin.

Ananth&hiveHe dreams to have around 20 hives and live from apiculture activity. He tried to convince his neighbors to invest with him but no one was interested. After observing his hives and discussing with him, I noticed that he falls a bit short of knowledge on techniques in beekeeping. So we will give him technical support and the 15 hives he is missing. I do think that when we find people with such motivation and passion, it can only benefit to help them.