The writer learns a few things about apiculture from entrepreneur Josephine Selvaraj for whom the business is growing fast
The farm at Kondayampatti foothills is one of the archetypes of rural life, a treat both aural and visual. The vibe of the rustic setting is brought into life with the buzzing of the bees. My inquisitiveness to peep into the box is interrupted by an ‘ouch' sound and the shying away is but natural to save the skin from a sting.
“Never mind, my winged angel is angry with me,” says Josephine Selvaraj while rubbing oxidised calcium on her skin.
Coupled with the sweetness of the honey she produces, Josephine personifies confidence, grace and humility.
Love for nature
This ardent lover of nature always wished to barge into the male domain of bee-keeping and narrated the story of how her winged angels helped her to become a successful entrepreneur.
However scaling greater heights of entrepreneurship did not come easy for this 37-year-old from Sivaganga.
Today, she manages to earn about Rs.50,000 a month. During the flower-blooming seasons, she pockets a few thousands more.
Her diary is filled with dates for schools and colleges where she waxes eloquent on honeybees, honey cultivation and other products including the royal jelly, bee venom, wax, pollen and propolis. She also sells more than a dozen varieties of honey such as - Thulasi honey, rose honey, naaval honey, neem, amla, pepper, lichi, crunch (punnai), coorg - under the brand name VIBIS. The taste, colour and medicinal values differ as it is based on the nectar and nature of flower, she notes. She is exports to Sri Lanka and Singapore.
Josephine has employed 20 people who are with her round the year besides some temporary workers during the peak season. She also has set up boxes in various parts of Kerala.
Married to Madurai-based businessman Selvaraj in her teens, destiny ushered in ample ‘twists and turns' in her life. Some personal family issues put the onus on Josephine, who always nurtured a dream of becoming a successful agriculture-based entrepreneur.
Her husband motivated her to complete Post Graduation in History and played a big role in her entrepreneurship.
So, at the age of 33, Josephine chose not to wallow in self-pity. Instead, she decided to make her life sweeter. Her serious and series of thoughts and a restless search for a niche led her into the premises of Agricultural College where she registered with Krish Vigyan Kendra for two courses that were in the pipeline – bee keeping and mushroom cultivation.
“I owe my love for nature to my parents and teachers, who strongly believed that human beings should maintain a cordial relationship with nature,” she says.
“I always felt strongly attracted towards the winged angels and knew that apiculture is my future and I plunged into it.”
She feels sad and concerned that people just do not realise the value of honey and importance of honeybees. It helps in pollination, enhancing the yield and honey is a wholesome and healthy food.
With 10 boxes Josephine began her journey and made a profit of around Rs.3,000 in three months. Now, she has about 2,000 boxes to cultivate honey. She also supplies boxes and machineries to farmers in 11 districts, mostly for government schemes under the National Horticulture Mission.
When sorrows come, they come in battalions. Unfortunately, it proved true for Josephine. Death plucked her daughter away at an untimely moment and Josephine was shattered to the core. But she came back with a determination and vengeance against destiny.
“So far destiny captained my life. Now I have take up the captainship with the support of my thousands of winged angels, who work for me uninterruptedly even in my absence,” she notes.
Currently, Josephine is busy setting up her own machinery for processing honey and to produce some value-added products. Besides, she is planning to establish an area titled ‘Honey Parlour' where people can buy unadulterated honey besides witnessing all kinds of bees and machineries involved in apiculture.
“I also want to prove that ethics, principles and business can co-exist harmoniously,” she says and adds that she volunteers to introduce women into this sweet business. And she doesn't forget to mention KVIC and Department of Horticulture for the help they extend.
So far she has imparted training to about 2000 women and helped about a dozen women to earn decent profit in Tiruchi, Tirupur, Coimbatore and Virudhunagar districts.
“Bees are like any other pet animals. Women should come forward to rear honeybees. It is suitable for them as 90 per cent of the work is done by the bees only. One needs to spend only two hours a week for maintaining 10 boxes,” she notes.
“One need not be afraid of the sting. It actually helps in curing nerve problems. Worldwide bee venom therapy is very famous and people go to the centres just to get the sting,” she adds.
Apparently, nearly a dozen people from Madurai and neighbouring districts have visited her farm to specifically get a ‘bee sting” as they believe it relieves them of the Chikungunya pain.“I have a very professional approach, but I am humane too. Look, how in a fit of anger, the bee killed herself by stinging me. So far, more than 2000 bees have stung me,” she notes as a matter of fact.
After all, you need to focus on the positives of life. If you have love for nature and are patient, then bees can be your best friends,” she philosophises, getting ready for the photo shoot.