An Extraordinary Beekeeper of Khetri, Assam
Mr. Arun Mitra's story is an extraordinary saga, of someone who went beyond what could have been a humdrum life in a village called Oujari in Assam's Kamrup District. Oujari is off the national highway 37 which skirts the Kaziranga National Park. A harmonious mix of Assamese and Bengali inhabitants populate this small farming village that grows paddy, areca nut, betel leaves and vegetables.
Develops interest in Beekeeping
His first brush with the bees happened when he was in the sixth grade. A chance encounter with a beekeeper was a turning point in his life. He pleaded with the man to teach him the basics of beekeeping, which he did, and helped young Arun with one beehive that started him on his journey with beekeeping. With the sale from the first colony’s harvest, he paid his school fees.
Honey used to sell for ₹30 a kg at that time, he said. The next year he got another colony. Year after year he increased the number of colonies. By the time he finished his high school, he had ten colonies, paying his way through school.
The Start of the Honey bee farm
It was in 1991 that he happened to see a signboard in Khetri that said 'Central Bee Research and Training Institute'. Curious, he entered and met the officers in charge. When they heard his story, the officers were truly surprised and congratulated him on his entrepreneurial acumen. They suggested he needed to induct some method and science into his enterprise. That was what the training institute would be able to give him.
Would he be interested? Of course, he would. The three-month beginners' beekeeping course put Mr. Arun Mitra on track as a professional apiarist. He attended a couple more advanced courses in Kolkata and Pune and soon became adept enough to train others. He learnt more about bees, the small insects that do big things.
“Without the bees, the environment would not survive”, he said, “so it is actually essential to promote beekeeping for the environment’s sake.” 36 years down the line, Mr. Mitra continues to be passionately engaged in his chosen profession. He is now recognized as a trainer of repute and is a visiting faculty with the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE). The institute regularly engages him as an instructor in its various apiculture programmes and courses.
Mr. Mitra told us that he has trained nearly two thousand students from Assam and other Northeastern states like Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Sikkim.
Rewards of Beekeeping
Does he find life as a practicing apiarist and instructor challenging? Yes, but it is also very fulfilling, and personally rewarding. For one, most of the students come from a rural poor background.
Such training provides them with the necessary knowledge to embark upon a very rewarding and economically uplifting occupation. If taken seriously, the students can truly become entrepreneurs themselves, he explained. The market for honey is quite huge and supply is inadequate.
Bees are extremely important in Agriculture and Horticulture, pollinating plants and increasing crop production. Besides the main product and the by-products are in very high demand in the paints and varnish, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Another lucrative area of earning for beekeepers is breeding and selling of queen bees and colonies, which fetch multiple times the sale of raw honey.
Bee colonies can also be rented out to farmers, to help pollination in their farms and orchards. These are value additions that can fetch handsome returns.
Did you know? Apart from raw honey, there are other by-products, which are useful: Wax products for candles, cosmetics, crafts and varnishes Specialty honey products, such as pollen, as a food supplement for bees and humans Propolis, Royal Jelly and Bee Venom, which are being researched for their health benefits.
Asked how being an instructor helps him personally, Mr. Mitra says it helped him learn more about bees and their habits. He came to know about other value additions in beekeeping that compensates him monetarily and in other ways. He explains; labor is scarce in Khetri, but in his apiary, he has no such problem – the practical sessions provide the students with the intensive hands-on training, and him with more than enough free labor for honey collection! It is a win-win situation for both.
The Saga Continues
This then is the continuing story of Mr. Arun Mitra, beekeeper, instructor, farmer and entrepreneur all rolled into one. His house in Oujari village is a virtual village factory manufacturing beekeeping equipment and bottling raw honey. His farms are lush with paddy and vegetables and his ponds flush with fish. He works, learns, teaches and earn all at the same time.
We at Zizira are always exploring opportunities for our farmer-entrepreneurs, to discover avenues that may help them spot hidden wealth in existing opportunities and utilize these learnings for bigger returns. Want to know more about what we are and do? Drop in your comment below and we’ll get back to you.