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Bringing bees in to produce honey, pollinate Panjshir

  • Published
  • By Capt. John T. Stamm
  • Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs
In an effort to increase agricultural productivity and boost economic capacity, 450 deserving families throughout Panjshir province were supplied with training and materials to operate and manage their own honey production businesses.

The Panjshir Ministry of Agriculture-sponsored program began in July 2008 with the delivery of 900 bee boxes (two per family) called "lower deep supers" or "brood chambers," complete with a queen bee and a starter colony.

Initially, "starter" colonies produce only enough honey to survive, but as the colonies continue to grow, they will produce excess honey that can be harvested. This natural progression requires an "excluder" for the queen, "deep upper supers" or "food chambers" for the bees, and additional training for the beekeepers.

"The deep uppers are where the bees store the excess honey that will be harvested and will allow the queen growing room for the colony to keep them from swarming to another location," said Mr. Greg Schlenz, United States Department of Agriculture representative to the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team. "The training is necessary to ensure understanding in bee colony development and use of received materials."

Local sources that were interviewed had no recollection of a substantial honey-bee population ever existing in the Panjshir province. 42-year-old Abdulla Shah, a life-long resident of the valley and Mujahideen guard, stated the Dara district had some honey-bee hives prior to the PRT arrival, but does not know what happened to them.

"I remember seeing the hives and the farmers selling honey in Dara about five years ago," Mr. Abdulla said. "But, I don't remember them anywhere else in Panjshir, not even as a child."

According to the USDA, bees are a vital component in pollination, a process by which the male cells of a plant are carried to the female cells that enables fertilization. This process is necessary in agriculture because 80 percent of plant fertilization occurs by animal interaction. Without pollination, plants cannot bear fruit or reproduce.

"Pollination was the number one reason for bringing bees into the province," Mr. Schlenz said. "The secondary reason was the honey production."

A single bee hive can pollinate a three-mile radius and produce three harvestable kilograms of honey a year. Currently in Panjshir the price of honey is between 300 and 1,000 Afghanis a kilogram, or about six dollars a pound. This translates into an average of 2,100 Afghanis, or $42, per hive per year. This is a substantial supplement to the farmer's income, which averages 20,000 Afghanis, or $400 a year.

A farmer in the Khenj district of Panjshir, who identified himself as "Abdullah," is a participant in the bee-keeping project. His farm has grown from two to five hives in just one season. He recently harvested eight kilograms of honey.

"This has been very good for my family," said Mr. Abdullah. "I have the honey for my family and the bees have increased the pollination in my fields."

The beneficiaries of the starter bee-farms were hand-picked by the Panjshir Director of Agriculture through consult with community shuras. The recipients had to meet stringent criteria and attend four weeks of training, which included biology, species, identification, raising and caring techniques, maintenance, pollination, production and harvesting, and basic business and marketing skills.

The project not only benefits the ecosystem, it also builds capacity through cooperation. Currently, there are only two honey extractors within each of Panjshir's seven districts; with beekeepers having to share the equipment. Through this process, beekeepers share experience, knowledge and information.

"It's a win-win project where, agriculturally, we are seeing an increase in fruit, vegetables, wild flowers, clovers, alfalfas and other plants," Mr. Schlenz said. "Secondly, the farmers are earning an extra income they probably never thought would occur from bees."