Unseasonal showers have resulted in sharp fall in honey production in the forest ranges of the Western Ghats, a major source of natural as well as cultured honey in the country.
Heavy summer showers caused large-scale fall of blooming flowers in the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary (WWLS) and adjacent areas last season depriving bee colonies of the nectar leading to their collapse.
While honey collected from hives atop trees in the deep forest forms a major chunk of annual income for tribals, apiculture is a source of supplementary income for medium, small and marginal farmers here, whose hopes have been dashed by climate change.
The honey from Wayanad, especially that collected from forest, enjoys high demand from medicine and food industry on account of their high quality.
Total procurement of wild honey by the Sulthan Bathery Scheduled Tribe Co-operative society, a leading honey procuring agency, recorded a huge decline of 88.06 per cent this year.
“The society could procure only 2,346 litres of wild honey during the harvesting season this year against 19,569 litre last year,” M. George, secretary of the co-operative society told PTI.
This was for the first time that such a huge fall in honey procurement was recorded since the co-operative was formed 30 years ago, he said.
According to V. Kesavan, president of the Kerala State Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Cooperative Federation, the apex body of the tribal co-operatives, the availability all the 32 tribal societies in Kerala recorded a sharp fall in wild honey collection this year.
The decline in honey production has made the lives of the tribal people miserable as collection of honey is their main source of livelihood for them in the monsoon season, Tribal welfare workers said.
The honey harvesting season in Wayanad stretches from April to September. At the outset of the season tribal men, especially “Kattunayakas”, start preparing for their treasure-hunt deep in the forest.
Their folk knowledge, familiarity with the terrain and ability to withstand the ordeal make the Kattunayakas good honey collectors.
Bees tend to make hives on the same trees every year, which the tribal people call ‘honey trees.’
The honey collectors spend more than a week in the forests to harvest honey, which is not a sweet job as often they have to suffer not just single stings but dangerous attacks by drones.
Honey is collected only during night as that is the traditional method, said Madhavan, who has been part of honey-harvesting band for long years said.
“When we set out to the forest this year we saw heaps of perished nectar bearing flowers lying scattered,” Madhavan, head of Kattunayaka settlement at Ponkuzhy said.
Flowers have dropped off the trees and plants before growing into full bloom. This was the case not only in Wayanad but also the adjoining Mudhumala in Tamil Nadu and Bandipur in Karnataka, Mr. Madhavan said.
Flowering and fruit-bearing stages of the trees are important in the production of honey and changes in climatic cycles would harm the natural process and lead to decline in honey production, Dr Anil Kumar, Director of M S Swamithan Research Foundation here said.
The honey bees collect nectar mainly from different species of Terminalia (Maruthu )trees inside the forest and honey production mostly depend on the blooming of the tree, he added.
Rock bees (apis dorsata), Indian little bees (apis florea), sting-less bees (of the trigona species) and the common honey bees (apis cerana indica) are the ones seen in Wayanad and the adjacent forests, a senior entomologist of the Horticultural College here said.