A hobby becomes a satisfying research subject for an academic.
For K. Sajan Jose, it is a sweet relationship. Over the past three decades, the bees have brought him a lot of satisfaction, an immeasurable amount of good will as the “honey man” of Kerala and handsome returns.
It was in the early 1980s that the 52-year-old zoology lecturer at St. Joseph’s College, Moolamattam, took to meliponiculture, or culture of stingless bees (dammer bees), that produce the highly medicinal variety of honey known in Malayalam as “Cheruthen.” The hobby grew on him as did the number of bee colonies on his homestead. The pastime took an academic turn in 2006 after a chance presentation on meliponiculture at an international seminar organised by the Centre for Ecological Studies of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. A year later he was invited to a brainstorming session organised by the Department of Biotechnology of the Union government for scientists in the field of beekeeping. And, he was the sole non-scientist among the participants.
This gave him the key link to a national-level network project of the department. Mr. Jose is now the principal co-investigator in Kerala for studies on stingless bees conducted by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. Word spread about the perseverance of the “honey man of Kerala,” and soon faculty members and students from the university became regular visitors to his bee colonies. His works were further recognised when he was designated Principal Investigator in two research projects funded by the Universities Grants Commission.
Mr. Jose now boasts 250 colonies of stingless bees and extracts 30-40 kg of honey a year. “Cheruthen” is much in demand and fetches 1,200 a kg, whereas the other variety of honey costs Rs.200 a kg.
He keeps more than 70 colonies of Indian bees and extracts about 600 kg of honey.
There is a missionary zeal about Mr. Jose’s efforts to popularise meliponiculture. He frequently writes in farm journals and has co-authored a book on the subject in Malayalam with his research guide, Shaju Thomas.
Mr. Jose calls it a zero-budget initiative best suited to backyard farming as one needs only an earthen pot or a wooden box to keep the stingless bees.
Everyone can handle these bees since they do not sting, he says about meliponiculture. There is always a shortage of honey from stingless bees because of its medicinal value, he says.