By Fakhar Alam

PESHAWAR July 14 (APP ):Embraced with different climatic zones and forests ecologies from lofty mountain of K2 to the sea-level of Karachi, Pakistan is a unique country with abundance of bee-flora visited by millions of honeybees to produce quality honey for domestic and foreign consumers.

Pakistan is endowed with more than 700 plants mostly bee-flora including oranges, peaches, citrus, acacia, maize, cotton, clover, bair, serson, loquat, shain, kalongi, mosquite, shisham, sunflower, phulai and mustard found in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan, AJK and Gilgit Baltistan, which are attracting millions of indigenous and exotic honeybees every year.

Chakwal, Mianwali, Gujarkhan, Attock, Sargodha, Duska, Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Patoki in Punjab; Karak, Kohat, Swat, DI Khan, Chitral, Peshawar, Nowshera, Charsadda, Bannu, Hazara, Malakand, Turbela, Haripur in KP; Quetta, Ziarat, Naseerabad, Kalat in Balochistan and Thatta, Sujawal, Mirpur Khas and Hyderabad in Sindh are epicenters of bee-flora attracting beekeepers from across country.

Pakistan is the only country in South Asia where 10 new small and big jungles were raised with a record plantation of 1.2 billion plants under PTI Govt. flagship Billions Trees Afforestration Project (BTAP) during last five years besides mangroves plantation on 160,000 hactares at coastal belts in Sindh and Balochistan achieved to offset the looming threats posed by climate change to the little creature.

“Pakistan is a home to four famous honeybees including Apis Cerana (small bee), Apis Dorsata (wild bee), Apis Flori (little bee) and exotic Apis Mellifera having about 450,000 colonies with capacity to produce 12,000 metric ton honey per year,” said Dr. Ghulam Sarwar, Director Honeybees Research Institute (HBRI), National Agriculture Research Council (NARC), Islamabad while talking to APP.

Following decrease of population of Apis Flori and Apis Dorsata commonly known “Swat bees” due to erratic patterns of weather, Apis mellifera was imported to Pakistan from Australia in 1977 owing to her speedy growth and increased honey production’s power.

After import of mellifra, a research project was started at Agriculture Research Institute (ARI) Tarnab, Peshawar, Faisalabad and NARC Islamabad in 1979 to analyze her properties and traits, adoptability, colonalization, Queen’s characteristics and breeding potential. The exotic specie was later distributed among Afghan refugees and local beekeepers in 1981-82.

“Mellifera produces 20 to 25 kg honey per colony (box) against six to eight kilogram by native bees two times in a year,” Dr Sarwar said.

Apis Dorsata has the ability to produce 40 to 45 kg honey from each hive mostly in tall trees and buildings, adding, around 120,000 to 150,000 wild bees are busy in a one meter-length and half-meter wide comb making on 120 degree angle.

“Two queens in same colony cannot live together as the younger queen often kills the elder or the latter leaves the colony in fear of sharing of food.”

He said, “bees collect pollen and nectar within five-kilometer radius of hives and majority prefer to get food while staying close to their combs. One bee produces 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her life time and flapping their wings 11,000 times per minute beside using her tiny hairs to take pollen and stomach to carry 70mg nectar.”

“Honeybees are lifeline of Pakistan as they play 80pc role in pollination process besides making a significant contribution in food chain and life saving medicines,” Dr Sarwar maintained.

He said demands of Pakistan’s honey especially bair and palosa have increased manifold at international markets because of its usage by many pharmaceuticals companies in medicines, cosmetics, sweets products and food processing industries etc.

KP is the most suitable province for apiculture due to massive increase of beesflora plants courtesy to BTAP that gave new life to dwindling beekeeping sector.

“Beekeeping has started thriving in KP after a long time due to substantial increase in beesflora plants and all those beekeepers who had abandoned their business are returning back,” said Salim Khan, President All Pakistan Beekeepers Exporters and Honey Traders Association (APBE&HTA).

In past, beekeepers mostly relied on Swati bees and had suffered enormous financial losses after thousands of their colonies were washed away by 2010 devastating floods. To quickly recover losses, most of well-off beekeepers have switched over to Apis mellifera that led to the dawn of commercial beekeeping in Pakistan.

He urged Govt to focus on plantation of native species like palosa, bair and shisham during 10BTAP, provide interest free loans to beekeepers under “Kamyab Jawan Program”, and fix honey selling rates besides announce assistance package for beekeepers of the militancy affected areas.

He demanded Govt to impose ban on cutting of berry and palosa trees and award strict punishment to timber mafia to save millions of bees from extinction.

Former Ambassador of Pakistan, Manzoorul Haq said Pakistan is famous for bair and phulai honey being exported mostly to Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Yeman, Iraq, Qatar, Libya, Afghanistan, Maleysia, USA, China, Singapore, Azerbaijan, Mangolia etc due it’s better taste and quality and called for better marketing to increase honey exports.

Manzoorul Haq expressed concern over increased effects of climate change, use of variety of poisonous pesticides in agriculture sector which weakens bees, making them susceptible to other maladies.

He said introduction of national bee breeding program would help meet local demands for good quality queens and efforts should be made to promote commercial beekeeping, apiculture’ products and services.

He stressed the need for a national apiculture policy, establishment of high standards for bee products and equipments besides promotion of beekeeping as a productive business operation and important component of forests and agricultural ecosystem to compete at international level.

Director Non Timber Forests Produce (NTFP), Forest Department KP Iftikhar Ahmed said climate change has direct effects on development, behavior, physiology and production of bees and his department is ready to assist beekeepers in terms of colony management, queens breeding, honey extractions, pollination of crops, nutrition and diseases control programs.

“Apis malifera is mostly vulnerable to bacteria attacks such as ‘American and European foul brood diseases, which often causes substantial losses to beekeepers if not treated,” he said.

He suggested issuance of a card to beekeepers for their identification before the law enforcing agencies to save their time while migrating bees from one district to another.

Preparation of honey extractions machines by engineering universities would help purification
of tons of honey besides saving lives of bees off springs.

Dr Sarwar said new type of honey “Margalla” was introduced by Pakistan Council of Agriculture and Research (PCAR) mostly useful for asthma and allergy patients.” In addition to it, a quality “Bair and Kalongi” honey was also brought in markets for the first time of Pakistan.

BTAP Project Director, Muhammad Tehmasip said preference were being given to bees-favorite species in 10BTAP being formally launched from next week to plant one billion additional saplings during next four years in KP.

New nurseries on 540 hectares with 130.5billion plants were raised for 10BTAP, saying PC-1 of 10BTAP worth Rs27b was approved for KP under which 50pc share each would be provided by Federal and KP Govts.

Federal Govt would provide Rs7.5 billion and KP Govt Rs 2 billion for plantation related activities under 10 BTAP during fiscal 2019-20.

Minister for Environment, Forests and Wildlife, Syed Ishtiaq Umar said Basheywali mountains near Hayatabad Peshawar were identified for new plantations that would serve as breeding ground for the little creature.

Federal Govt would be approached for provision of loans to beekeepers under Kamyab Jawan Program,he said and added, beekeepers’ capacity would be enhanced by providing extensive trainings through NTFP and honey experts. He said 10 BTAP was a lifeline project for the country that would make Pakistan a land of honey.