Gorkha villages are buzzing with hornet farmingFarmers say hornet larvae, considered a delicacy by locals, sell like hot cakes, for Rs1,000 per mana, around half a litre.
Several wooden poles have been erected at the front yard of Kamala Thapa’s house at Ranagaun in Shahid Lakhan Rural Municipality-6. A triangular wooden frame has been installed on the top of each pole. And there is a small hornet nest in the wooden frame. The tops of the poles are covered by zinc sheets to protect the nests from rain and sun.
“I started rearing hornets by bringing a hornet’s nest from the nearby Kalokhola jungle seven years ago,” said Kamala. She had two nests in the first year. She distributed the larvae, which is regarded as a delicacy among the locals, to her neighbours and relatives. She has been rearing hornets for commercial purposes from the second year.
Kamala now owns 11 nests. She keeps the nests in guava, pear and other trees near her house. “One should not disturb the hornets’ nest. They wreak havoc if they get angry,” she said.
According to her, the nests are brought home from the jungle at night. “Once the night falls and the hornets have settled in their nest hanging from a tree branch, people climb the tree, plug the nest’s mouth with cotton wool and carefully cut off the branch and bring home the nest,” said Kamala, adding that her family members help her bring the nests. She shares that it is very risky business. “One should properly install the nest on the pole before daybreak, when the hornets wake up. Hornet sting can be deadly,” she added.
“The hornets generally start making nests in the jungles in May. We first identify where the nests are located and we bring them home at night. Hornet larvae are suitable for eating in the months of September and October,” said Kamala.
Kamala is not a lone farmer rearing hornets here. Over 60 farmers of Ward No 4, 5 and 6 in Shahid Lakhan Rural Municipality have been into commercial farming of the insects. According to the locals, people started rearing hornets two decades ago.
Fried hornet larvae are considered a prized delicacy by many communities in Nepal. Those who love eating these larvae pay up to Rs1,000 per mana, a traditional measuring pot equal to around half a litre. “We can harvest up to 16 mana of larvae from one nest. We don’t have any problem finding the market for the larvae,” said Kamala.
According to the locals, Uttam Thapa of Baralthok Thanidanda settlement of Taklung in Shahid Lakhan-4 is the pioneer in rearing the hornets. Uttam started hornet-keep for the first time in the area in 2001. He used to go to the forests with his father Dil Bahadur, a noted hornet hunter in the area. Uttam had brought home two hornet nests for the first time. But nobody bought his larvae harvest that year. “I kept 14 hornet nests the next year (2002). The villagers were amazed upon seeing me rearing hornets. I had 33 nests in 2003 and earned around Rs300,000 that year selling the larvae,” said Uttam.
With Uttam’s successful venture many youths in Taklung also started keeping hornets for extra income. “In May when hornets start building nests in the jungle, we can hardly find any youths at home. They all go to the jungle searching for nests. The income is good so everyone is into hornet farming,” said Uttam. According to him, two types of hornets—black and red—are found in the area. “People in the area rear the red hornets as it is quite difficult and risky to keep the black ones,” he added.
Uttam is quite happy with the income from hornet farming. “The larvae sell like hot cakes. Some hotels in Gorkha Bazaar and Aanbukhaireni of Tahanun order hornet larvae in advance. Hornet larvae are considered nutritious due to the presence of high amounts of protein and other minerals. The demand is high as hornets are not found everywhere and not everyone can rear them,” said Uttam.
Mainly the people of the Magar community and some Chepangs are attracted to hornet farming. “Our community compulsorily needs hornets for ancestor worship during the Dashain festival along with eggs, fish, bananas and ginger. That is also one of the reasons why people from the Magar community are attracted to rearing hornets,” said Maya Thapa Magar of Shahid Lakhan-6.
Especially those farmers who are hugely affected by the monkey menace in recent years say the hornets help them keep the monkeys away. “Monkeys have been destroying crops, but after we started keeping hornets, they have been keeping distance. But one needs courage to rear hornets because they are dangerous insects,” said Arun Thapa, the ward chief of Shahid Lakhan-4.
Despite having a good market for the product, hornet farmers are a bit worried about the dwindling larvae production. “Until ten years ago, we could harvest up to 42 mana of larvae from one nest, but now that has come down to around 20 mana even from a big nest,” said Gem Bahadur Thapa of Shahid Lakhan-4.