Decline in honey sales worries farmers in central NepalCheaper and counterfeit honey in the domestic market is hurting the business, they say.
Dinesh Chepang, a resident of Raksirang Rural Municipality in Makwanpur district, has been running a honey processing factory at Piple, Chitwan since 2007. He usually sells 30 tonnes of honey every year but he has only been able to sell five tonnes since mid-April last year.
Shiva Prasad Sharma, another local farmer, shares a similar story.
“I have a stock of around 3.6 tonnes of honey,” said Sharma, who has been in the beekeeping business for the past two decades. “It doesn’t seem like they will sell anytime soon.”
Like Chepang and Sharma, around 500 beekeepers in the district have suffered from a dwindling sale of honey, which they argue is because of the cheaper honey imported from India.
“The cost of producing a kilogram of honey in Nepal is around Rs400, whereas Indian honey can be imported in the price range of Rs211 to Rs 250 per kg,” said Govinda Prasad Pokharel, senior crop protection officer in Bee Development Programme in Chitwan.
The farmers are demanding the government develop a long-term policy to protect domestic farmers from cheaper Indian honey.
The import of honey from India has skyrocketed in the past five years, from around 685 tonnes worth Rs145.2 million in the fiscal year 2017-18 to around 1,438 tonnes worth Rs304 million in 2021-22, according to the department of customs statistics.
Farmers expressed their discontent in an event organised on Monday in Bharatpur, Chitwan on the occasion of the 17th National Honey Day.
According to government records, every year around 16,500 beekeepers across the country produce 4,000 tonnes of honey.
“The annual consumption of honey in the country is around 8,000 tonnes,” said Pokharel. “While around 4,062 tonnes of honey is produced domestically, 1,556 tonnes are imported from India.”
But farmers in the area question the source of remaining honey.
“Where does the remaining honey come from?” asked Shiva Prasad Poudel, a local farmer, signalling the racket of counterfeit honey.
The farmers say that a large portion of the Nepali honey market is occupied by adulterated honey that’s illegally smuggled by counterfeiters.
Last year in January, the Metropolitan Crime Division arrested Naresh Shrestha, 38, of Sindhupalchok for producing and selling fake honey.
Police also confiscated 600 kg of the bogus product which he had made by mixing glucose and sugar.
For a long time, Shrestha had been distributing his duplicate honey to wholesale and retail markets, including hotels and restaurants in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Pokhara.
The farmers said that the sale of their honey decreased after consumers started to doubt the quality of Nepal’s honey.
“The government has prioritised only the production,” said Subhas Chandra Ghimire, chairman of the Federation of Nepal Beekeepers. “Ignoring the aspects of marketing will only hurt the farmers.”
The farmers remain worried that around 2500 tonnes of honey which they produced since mid-May last year will remain unsold.
According to the statistics of the Department of Customs, around 500 tonnes of honey worth Rs117.7 million was imported in the first eight months of the current fiscal year, almost entirely from India.
But only 2.79 tonnes of honey worth Rs13.96 million was exported in the period.
In the Nepali community, beekeeping is a cultural tradition that dates back a long time.
According to reports, Nepal is home to several native honeybee species, including the smallest honeybee (Apis florea), rock bee (Apis dorsata), Asian bee (Apis cerana), and largest honeybee (Apis laboriosa).
Apis cerena, a native bee, was introduced as a moveable comb hive in 1989, marking the beginning of scientific beekeeping in Nepal.
Nevertheless, the commercialisation of modern beekeeping accelerated with the introduction of Apis mellifera, a high-yielding European honeybee in 1994.
In addition, honey hunting from cliffs is a spectacular event for tourists to enhance the income generation of mountain people.
Due to deforestation and over-harvesting, the cliff-nesting species, Apis laboriosa, faces an alarming decline.