Monday, August 2, 2010


What they do and why, their role in the lives of the communities

The lower reaches of the Nilgiris, a part of the Western Ghats are still home to a number of tribal settlements and retain relatively good forest cover. This region is also important because it is a critical watershed and part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Even though it is rich in flora and fauna, this area is under threat. Some of the factors responsible for its degradation are:

-Unsuitable land use (tea plantations)
-Extensive use of pesticides- killing insect life
-Clear felling of large forest tracts
-Teak monoculture- reducing diversity
-Forest fires- destroying habitat
-Drastic shift from land-based economy to wage-based economy
       Today honey hunters are faced with a changed way of life through a new set of circumstances. Government development programmes, growing economic opportunity and restrictions on the use of forest produce are causing a shift in the cultural and natural ethos of the hill people, making honey hunting a rare and endangered activity.

Colonising the hive with bees

The Apiary at Semmanarai

A survey on honeyhunters and beekeepers in Tamil Nadu during 1994 helped Keystone to choose a base in the Nilgiris. The main reasons for selecting this area were the existing hunter-gatherer communities, their highly skilled honey-hunting practices, and the need for action, documentation and support for their traditional activities and lifestyle. Besides, the good vegetation in some areas would support their initial activity of beekeeping and experiments in Appropriate technology.

Keystone’s intervention has been mainly in the field of Beekeeping. This covers comprehensively all important aspects related to training and maintenance, technology application, hygienic extraction of honey, processing of beeswax, etc. Keeping bees in hives not only adds income to the family, but also aids pollination to the crops and the nearby forest species.

Appropriate technology in Beekeeping

Finding the conventional way of beekeeping difficult for tribals to grasp, and also being expensive, a new technology has been developed. This is the Mountain Hive made out of bamboo and forest vines and packed with local binding materials. This hive is woven by local artisans, and is affordable, also has easy handling and maintenance techniques.

Making the Mountain Hive

Monitoring disease in the colonies
Hands on training on bees and beekeeping

Honey extraction
Honey Extraction by an Irula tribal

Last Forest Honey in the market

Products made with Beeswax  
Slabs of beeswax

Beeswax Balm
Beeswax Candles

 Once the combs were collected, they were squeezed to get honey and the waste(beeswax) was usually thrown. Keystone provides marketing support to these tribals and has a processing centre to bottle and sell it under the brand name of Last Forest Honey. They are also trained to hygienically drain out the honey instead of squeezing it and processing the combs to get beeswax which has a high market value.

Beeswax lamps

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