Josephine Mary’s career began in 2006 with 10 boxes of bees and earnings of about

Rs. 3,000 a month. Today, she owns a 2.5-acre bee farm that produces up to 500 kg of honey and earns more than Rs 1 lakh a month.

A housewife from Vadipatti in Madurai, Josephine was married in her teens. Wanting to carve a niche for herself and encouraged by her husband, she did a post-graduation in history but finally chose to become an agri-based entrepreneur.

Joining the Krishi Vigyan Kendra, she was drawn to bee-keeping and mushroom cultivation, but soon the winged creatures had won her heart and Josephine took to apiculture seriously. “As I associated more with these tiny insects, my heart grew fonder. I loved observing their behaviour and their industrious nature. The way they grouped into workers, doctors, soldiers, corpse carriers and communicators fascinated me,” she says.

Soon, Josephine wanted to be more than just an entrepreneur. She decided to disseminate the art of apiculture to other rural women to help them become self-sufficient. Within three years, utilising schemes under the National Horticulture Mission, she supplied wooden beehive boxes to women from Madurai, Theni, Dindigul, Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga at a 50 per cent subsidy. She trained them in the upkeep of bees, maintenance of hives, and marketing techniques. ‘Invest little, reap more’ was her slogan to the entrepreneurs.

Today, Josephine has helped set up apiaries in 32 agricultural farms in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and has trained nearly 10,000 women in beekeeping. “A hive with 10,000 bees costs Rs. 1,700. Depending on the flowering season and the number of hives, a woman can easily earn between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 40, 000 a month,” she says. Besides, farmers constantly call, asking for help to set up apiaries in their fields since bees are good pollinators and bring about a better harvest.

Her own farm in Alanganallur just outside Madurai, in the verdant foothills of the Kondayampatti range, only has its own hives but also acts as a honey collection centre. She uses it to make products such as royal jelly, bee wax and bee venom. Under the brand name Vibis, she markets honey variants such as neem, amla, lichi, and thulasi honey. “Honey is a natural food. It helps purify the blood, increases immunity, cures liver disorders, coughs, colds and stomach ulcers,” she says.

A speaker in schools and colleges, she is also the author of two books on honey and is writing a third. Despite losing her daughter to bone cancer in 2009, and her husband a year ago, nothing has stopped this woman. It’s an attitude that won her the Janaki Devi Bajaj Puraskar 2012 for rural entrepreneurship.