Women play an important role in our society. Some of them are great caretakers, some are great chefs, and some are great entrepreneurs. They work hard, persevere and do whatever it takes to overcome their challenges and succeed in life.
It was on 26th September 2019, Zizira got a call from a lady beekeeper who told us that she wanted to sell us her honey. It was then that our team called her to our office to bring some of her honey for testing.
That lady was Kong Elvira Kharchandy, a beekeeper who hails from Thieddieng, Mawsynram.
Upon conversing with her, our team loved her authenticity and passion so much, that we decided to visit her home and see for ourselves the beehives and her process of rearing bees.
On October 18th, 2019, Zizira travelled the rough roads to Thieddieng village in Mawsynram to meet Kong Elvira and her bees!
Upon reaching Elvira’s house, her family warmly greeted us and introduced themselves to us and that’s when our bonding started.
We were surprised that she spoke good English. We found out that Kong Elvira passed out her 12th Standard from Synod School, Shillong. After her schooling, she returned to her village to continue her family legacy, that is rearing bees.
She is married to Bah Tenning Rynjah, a gentleman from the same village. They now have three children.
(If you have been following us, ‘kong’ is the Khasi people's respectful way of addressing ladies, and for men it is ‘bah’)
Excerpt from our conversation with Kong Elvira-
When Did You Start Rearing Bees?
My forefathers have been rearing bees for many years. As the tradition goes, my husband and I also continued with this business to support our family.
What Other Jobs Do You Do Apart From Bee Rearing?
Apart from bee rearing, we also work on our fields. We plant long pepper or ‘soh mrit khlaw’, beetle nuts or ‘kwai’, perilla seeds or ‘nei lieh’ and broom or ‘synsar’ that we sell in the local market.
How Do You Rear the Bees?
The people of our village use traditional beehives to rear bees. These are wooden logs called ‘ksing’ where the bees would reside.
We get the bees from the forest and keep them in the ‘ksing’. The bees stay inside the ‘ksing’ for a few months.
Bee rearing is not so easy. We need to look after the hives from time to time. Normally the bees are always busy and working. If we see less activity or the bees are weak, or if they looked drunken or would often faint, then this may indicate that they may be sick. They may have eaten something poisonous for them like ‘soh liang’ (Gynocardia odorata) or soap water.
We need to make sure there is not soap water clogging in the surrounding area. We have to maintain our surroundings and keep it clean to make sure the bees live in clean and healthy surrounding.
You also need to have patience in rearing bees. During the rainy season, there are times worker bees die due to sickness, or they did not return to their hives while pollinating, which left the other bees in the hives, starving without much food. Hence the other bees die and eventually, the queen bee would die too.
The hive would be dead without any honeycomb or honey. In cases like these, we need to go to the forest to catch the queen bee and populate the beehives again. Most beekeepers do not have the patience and give up too easily, which is why bee rearing may not be easy for some people.
Besides the traditional beehive or ‘ksing’, we also use the government provided bee boxes. We discovered that these government bee boxes do not last for a long time.
White ants or termites would eat the wood and they would only last for 2 years or so. So we have constructed cement cover around the boxes. We noticed that this method prevented the wood from getting spoiled, and bee box last for many years.
Learn about the myths about raw honey
Do You Feed Your Bees With Sugar? Where Do Your Bees Collect Nectar?
No, we do not need to feed the bees with sugar. Different flowers grow here in the forest that the bees love and they provide sufficient nectar for the bees.
There is a flower we called ‘syntiew ngap’ that the bees particularly love during the summers. There are also plenty of orange trees and chestnut trees around the forest that the bees love and collect their nectar.
How Do You Extract Honey and How Many Times in a Year?
Once it’s time to take the honey out, we make a kind of a doa or ‘wait’ (in Khasi) out of a plant to take the honey out.
We extract the honey at night because bees cannot see during the night and so this protects us from being bitten by the bees.
Honey is the bees’ food too, so while extracting the honey, we do not take all of it but preserve some of the honey for the bees. This way, the bees feed themselves and stay inside the ‘ksing’.
Depending on the production of honey by the bees, we can extract honey upto 2-3 times. We extract them during March, May and November months.
Each hive gives around 4-6kgs of honey along with the honeycomb.
Where Do You Sell Your Honey and for How Much?
In Thieddieng village, it is hard to sell our honey because there are no proper roads and we have to travel a long journey. Vehicles come on and off. Because of bad roads, we do not prefer taking up a vehicle, but we prefer walking a long distance to sell our honey. It takes around two and a half hours from our village to Mawsynram market.
When people asked for the honey and if we have it, we need to meet them in Mawsynram market which is around 7km from here. We cannot go any day or anytime that the customers call us. We arrange a day to meet the buyers and sell the honey to them.
Sometimes we had to carry 10 bottles of honey, and that’s a very heavy load to carry.
We get up early morning and travel to Mawsynram market. We stay there for 2 or more days until we sell out the honey. We cannot do any other labour work during these days.
I sell the honey for Rs 700 per kg.
Sometimes a few of our friends and family members help sell the honey to their families and the local market.
This is how we used to sell our honey to the market.
Rearing bees has become an important part of our lives. We have been able to support our family. Without honey, we will not be able to meet our daily needs.
How Did You Know About Zizira?
I used to wonder where to sell our honey, even if we can produce plenty of it. I was searching for other ways to sell our honey.
It was then that I came across Zizira through the internet. I saw their website and came to know that Zizira does many things and that they also sell honey.
I found their number and thought I should call them. When I called up Zizira, one ‘kong’ or ma’am picked up the call and said that they would call back. The next day I again called Zizira, and then I spoke to Eddie (Zizira team member).
That was when my journey with Zizira started. As requested by Eddie, I brought the honey to Zizira’s office. I was happy to know that my honey results are good. I now have hope that we can work together to support and sell our honey to a bigger market.
How Many Beehives Do You Have?
Before we had only a few beehives, we work hard to get more hives so we can increase our business. But then if we have the honey, but if there are no buyers, it cannot help us.
We had 40 beehives earlier, now that we met with you, we are happy, and it gives us hope that perhaps our work will grow and expand. This year, we have increased the number to hives to 100. With these 100 hives, I do hope to double my honey production.
Why Does the Honey Texture Differ With Every Honey Batch You Provide?
The color and texture of the honey depend on different seasons, the pollen and different flowers that the bees collect the honey from and also on the age of the honeycomb. Usually, the honey collected during the month of May is lighter in color while the honey collected in November is thicker and has a more brownish orange color.
What are Your Dream and Aspirations?
I want my kids to carry on with this business. Even though we are sending them to school but still we do not know what the future holds.
Beekeeping has supported us so far and we want our kids to take this up and carry on this business.
We want our kids to know how to do this work and to carry on what we have been passed down to us by our ancestors. We believe this business will support and benefit them in the future. They can make it even bigger.
We work hard and do not want our hard work to go wasted or to stay where we are. Though we face many difficulties, we want to find out ways to keep growing and not to stay in poverty and problems.
What Other Products Do You Want Zizira to Help You Sell?
Our village also produces ‘Sla tyrpad’ or Bay leaf, ‘Soh mrit Khlaw’ or long pepper, ‘nei-lieh’ or perilla seeds. There are also roots like ‘soh krot’ where people used to make medicines out of it.
These plants are available here, and we do not want them to stay here. There may be people who need them and through Zizira, these plants can be made accessible to everyone.
What Message Do You Want to Give to Other Farmers?
I have benefited a lot working with Zizira. Before I would struggle to find a market for my honey but now, I can sell a lot of my honey to Zizira.
I also want other farmers to benefit through Zizira, not just me. When we help and support each other, both farmers and Zizira will benefit, and this will be a win-win situation.
Secondly, I would also like to encourage other youngsters to be able to stand on their own feet and learn how to work. We should not just depend on government jobs, make use of our education and take up small businesses like rearing bees. If you work hard and persevere, you will slowly be successful.
That was a great motivational statement for everyone from Kong Elvira.
Zizira is privileged to work with her, a passionate and entrepreneurial farmer. We wish her the best and more fame for your honey. And why not, when it’s Mawsynram’s purest and raw form processed in the most ethical way possible.
Do you know of any other women entrepreneurial beekeeper? Tell us about her.