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Protect insects, save crops: experts

Staff Reporter
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Say rewards from beekeeping are thus doubly sweet

A three-day refresher training course in beekeeping that began here on Wednesday has stressed the need for conserving insects, especially honeybees, by using only eco-friendly pesticides in limited quantities.

“Insects, especially honeybees, are responsible for pollination of 80 per cent of the crops worldwide and loss of honeybees through indiscriminate use of hazardous pesticides can result in reduced pollination and a decline in crop yield,” Stephen Devanesan, Principal Scientist at the Kerala Agriculture University, Thiruvananthapuram, said.

Apple, cardamom, cashew, vegetables and coconut are the major crops pollinated by honeybees and the irrational use of hazardous pesticides destroys the species, resulting in a drastic decline in yield potential, Prof. Devanesan said.

Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the training, hosted by the Coconut Development Board and the State Horticulture Mission at the Agriculture College at Padannakad, he said the Indian Council of Agriculture Research was promoting apiculture through an all-India coordinated research project on honeybees and other pollinators in 16 agriculture university colleges in the country to help people keep honeybees. The step was bound to increase crop production, thanks to higher pollination, and generate additional income from honey production.

He said that during 1990, honeybees came under attack in South India from a catastrophic outbreak of the Thai sac brood virus, resulting in the destruction of 95 per cent of the honeybee colonies in the region. Kerala Agriculture University had evolved a virus-tolerant strain.

A nucleus honeybee colony, developed by the university's college, was put to multiplication and distributed to the beekeepers through selected honeybee breeders, resulting in the rejuvenation of the beekeeping industry in the State.

Quoting studies, Prof. Devanesan said 20-30 per cent of the cashew yield came from pollination, and urged farmers to go for eco-friendly pesticides to conserve the insects.

He said 272 million pollen grains could be found in a single inflorescence of a coconut tree. Kerala had immense potential for beekeeping, with eight lakh colonies. Each of them could produce 10 kg of honey that could fetch a beekeeper Rs.2,000. A sustained effort in that direction could increase the number of colonies to 55 lakh in the near future and the income generated could be increased manifold.

He said the Kudumbasree units, other women's groups and the unemployed youth in northern Kannur and Kasaragod districts, where there was a huge potential for beekeeping, could expect lucrative income by becoming part of the project.

K. Pratapan, Director of State Horticulture Mission, addressing the trainees, said honey, with high medicinal values, offered immense potential for setting up value-addition units and thrust should be given for marketing strategies.

Only 20-30 per cent of Kerala's huge potential in honey production was being tapped now.

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