Bees, the unsung heroes of our ecosystem, face a serious threat from climate change. Their critical role in pollination makes them indispensable for crop production, including growing apples. In the picturesque Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, changing weather patterns have taken a toll on bees, leading to an economic crisis for local gardeners.
Climate change and Bees
Apple production in Kashmir is estimated to decline by 20 per cent this year, Bees, through their foraging activities, inadvertently transfer pollen between the male and female parts of flowers, facilitating fertilization and fruit production. Their hairy bodies allow for the efficient collection and transport of pollen, making them the most effective pollinating insects.
Kashmir, known for its picturesque landscapes and apple orchards, is also dealing with the consequences of changing weather patterns on bee populations.
Sopore, the largest fruit market in the region, is being particularly affected. Sopore Fruit Association President Fayyaz Ahmed Malik, speaking to Ground Report, said that the adverse impact of sudden rainfall and temperature drops during the critical flowering stage.
He added, “The bees were unable to leave their hives, preventing pollination and causing estimated losses in apple production of 20 to 30 per cent. As the annual turnover of apples in Kashmir amounts to Rs 8,000-10 crore, this loss has significant repercussions for the local economy”.
He claims that almost 100 per cent of the apple orchards in Kashmir rely on bees for pollination. However, due to the rain and low temperatures, the bees could not leave their hives, making cross-pollination impossible. The visible impact is reflected in the reduction in apple production. The department is currently assessing the extent of the damage.
Unpredictable weather disrupted flowering and bee activity
A local gardener, Imtiyaz Ahmad Magray of Kangan, lamented the changing weather patterns and expressed concern about declining bee populations. He said “We used to rely on bees for pollination, but now with their dwindling numbers, our apple trees are suffering. It’s getting harder and harder to sustain our livelihood.”
He added, “Unpredictable weather has disrupted the synchronization between flowering and bee activity. We are witnessing lower yields and financial losses.”
The annual turnover of apples in Kashmir amounts to Rs 8,000 to 10 crore, which is about 10 per cent of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
According to estimates, bee pollination alone can increase the yield of many crops by 10-12 times. A study by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University indicates that bee pollination increases apple production by 44 per cent.
Sajad Hussain Parey, professor of entomology at Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University said the many obstacles beekeepers face when trying to turn beekeeping into a profitable business. A major challenge is the absence of government-provided social security and insurance, leaving beekeepers without the necessary protection.
He added, “Traditional beekeepers often lack knowledge of essential skills such as seasonal hive management and bee pollen collection. These factors contribute to low honey production, which is further hampered by limited marketing opportunities”.
Region’s bee flora
Kashmiri experts have emphasized the need for a collective approach to protect the region’s bee flora and fauna. They emphasize that Kashmir produces high-quality honey, recognized worldwide.
Kashmir’s Director of Agriculture, Chowdhary Muhammad Iqbal, recognizes the immense potential of the honey-producing industry in the region.
He reveals that currently, around 90,000 young people are engaged in honey production, and there is ample scope for this business to provide livelihood opportunities for thousands of young people.
Kashmir boasts the production of 14 types of honey, which is considered the best in the world. While challenges like the use of chemicals in orchards and fields have resulted in bee mortality, remote areas still witness significant numbers of bees producing substantial amounts of honey. Director Iqbal stresses the importance of a collective approach to safeguarding honey bee flora and fauna.
Kashmir currently has two lakh bee colonies and 10,000 beekeepers actively involved in the industry. In the 2020-21 season alone, Kashmir produced 7,500 quintals of honey and its demand is still increasing.
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