Centre prepares to tackle honey quality, adulteration issues in the long-term

One of the problems with the honey we buy from the retail outlets is that we are unable to trace exactly from which beehive it has emanated from and whether it is pure or not. Recently, we have witnessed quite a few controversies over the quality and purity of honey. These issues could be solved in a matter of few years with the Centre launching a “hive to traceability” project for honey and its products.

The project, launched in April by the National Beekeeping and Honey Mission (NHBM), is an effort to not just formalise collection of beekeepers and honey production data but also help farmers get good returns for the quality of the honey they provide from their hives. The consumer, on the other hand, will be aware of the place from where the honey originates, the exact area and the type of flora fauna in that region.

‘Blockchain technology’
BNS Murthy, Horticulture Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare, terms the “hive-to-tongue traceability” as an evolving proforma and says that it will help in getting precise details on production and how many beehive boxes are in use after the registration of these beekeepers. As of now, tackling the adulteration problem in honey is not part of the project that uses blockchain technology. It will happen in the near future, according to the Horticulture Commissioner.

“Right now, the consumer can know the batch the honey belongs to and the area it comes from. It is just like a milk where they aggregate 10 people at a particular village level that batch can be labeled together so that a person can trace it back to that batch and how many people are involved in for that one,” says Murthy.
To a BusinessLine query on adulteration and issues related to testing, he says these will not be a part of the blockchain system as there is no system to include adulteration testing.

NBHM lab
But six major regional laboratories will be developed by the NBHM, launched with a ?500 crore outlay last year as part of Atmanirbar Bharat Abhiyan, to tackle these problems. Each of these six laboratories that are capable of analyzing large number of samples will get funding to the tune of about ?15 crore.

This will help in developing a fool proof security system in the honey sector. Once that happens, the NHBM will request the FSSAI to make it mandatory to have the “hive-to-tongue traceability” registration. “That is the ultimate. That’s what we are thinking,” Murthy said.

As such, the traceability project will help the government formalise data collection and register authenticated beekeepers. About 10,000 beekeepers have registered for this project, signaling its launch, but the Centre is looking to register all beekeepers in the country. “Gradually, the NHBM will register all the stakeholders from end-to-end so that this can be digitised and ensure transparency,” he says.

This project will also help trace the share of consumer demand out of the total production, honey tapped by each beekeeper and the quantity delivered to the aggregator, exporter and the domestic market.

“This will provide a complete chain in the loop,” Murthy says, adding that many beekeepers are yet to register. “It is just evolving and will take some time. The NHBM has informed all the mission directors in the States to rope in more beekeepers to register,” he adds.

Numbers
India has over 8.10 lakh bee colonies and 169 bee cooperatives, according to the Ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises. Apiculture, like dairying, is practiced by marginal and landless farmers, the Ministry says.

Indian honey production current is estimated at 1.25 lakh tonnes with 50 per cent of it being exported. India’s natural honey exports are over 50,000 tonnes annually.

According to Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), natural honey exports during the April-February period of last fiscal were 52,100 tonnes valued at j608 crore. Natural honey shipments had zoomed to a record 61,333 tonnes fetching j732.19 crore during 2018-19.

APEDA says that the north-eastern region and Maharashtra are the key areas of natural honey production, while the US, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Canada are the primary buyers of Indian honey.

Murthy concedes that despite these records, the country does not have the exact number of beekeepers in the country and details of yield. This is where the traceability project will help as it will digitalise all the information.

Currently, data available are based on what some of the exporters provide besides the government estimates. “Indian Bank, which has done a similar exercise of data collection for a couple of ministries, has been roped in for the project,” says Murthy.

Beekeepers
Beekeepers registering for the traceability project will benefits from the bank in terms of insurance, if there is a loss to their bee-colony during the migration as they have to move the boxes from one place to another. A unified ID from this registration can be used in the check posts and other places during migration.

The NHBM, which will spend j500 crore until 2022-23 for the development of beekeeping in the country, also plans high-
Murthy says projects to the tune of j150 crore have been sanctioned and these have been awarded to Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand. Some high-altitude places in Karnataka will be considered.

The Horticulture Commissioner says 100 farmer producer organisations (FPOs) would be set up and dedicated to the honey sector and they will get j16 lakh as grant from the Centre. The FPOs will also looking at beekeeping byproducts, including bee wax and bee venom, that have good potential but have been neglected.

Business Line