The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

In 2020, India launched a beekeeping initiative with the primary goal of empowering women and providing employment opportunities in rural areas.

Indian women in rural areas account for almost 48% of the population. Since agriculture is a primary means of making a living in rural areas, around 80% of women are found to be engaged in the agricultural sector. Although agriculture is considered a male-dominated profession in India, it is home to women farmers in large numbers- a category that has suffered from underrepresentation over the years.

The beekeeping initiative is expected to remain operational until 2023. It has shown remarkable success in making this category more ‘visible’ and ameliorating existing gender imbalances. This initiative, given its many benefits, should be extended.

The initiative provides training on how to produce good quality honey on a commercial scale. Thus, it enables women to contribute to overall household income. Women and girls learning how to make high-value products like beeswax and royal jelly, for instance, helps generate additional income for farming communities under distress.

Beekeeping is both environmentally friendly and can be quite lucrative. The program becomes all the more significant at a time when low-carbon development remains a national priority. Further, by playing a crucial role as pollinators, bees are responsible for the sustenance of natural ecosystems since bees help maintain the genetic diversity of plants.

In most communities that practice agroforestry, women and young girls venture out into the forests in search of nuts, berries, mushrooms, and other food sources. However, more often than not, this falls short of guaranteeing that their families will be able to feed themselves. Beekeeping helps provide such families with honey as an added source of nutrition.

Conditioned to believe that bees only sting, the fear of being stung remains quite pronounced within Indian society. In real practice, bees become aggressive only if they feel threatened. Beekeeping is a generally safe profession, making it a safe and lucrative endeavor for many rural residents.

In India, beekeeping is an age-old practice that has been traditionally performed by men. The government initiative not only keeps this age-old tradition alive but goes on to break the gender divide in the traditional art of beekeeping. As of 2021, 15,445 people have benefited from this initiative in rural areas, with farmers and women showing great interest in beekeeping.

The reshuffling of gender roles has been hugely successful in mixed economies like Norway. It is hoped that India would be no exception to this trend. Since the program provides for the involvement of self-help groups to facilitate training in the art of beekeeping, it helps ensure better participation of women farmers in such skill development exercises.

Further, the initiative provides a platform for Indian women to be heard, thereby lending a “voice to the voiceless.”

Prarthana Sen is a former Research Assistant at ORF, an independent global think tank. Her research interests include gender, sustainable development, forced displacement, and development cooperation. She is also a member of the Indian Association for Asian and Pacific Studies.