Honey at Makaibari Tea Estates

Buzz is the word at the Makaibari tea estate.

After offering home stay to tourists, workers at the garden, located 3 km from here, have found a new way to earn that extra bit — beekeeping and selling honey.

With encouragement from the proprietor of the estate, Raja Banerjee, and help from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Darjeeling, nine workers have set up an apiary, which they hope will soon become a major source of additional income. “We have nine members in our co-operative society who have started beekeeping. Almost two years ago, our sahib (Raja Banerjee) gave us around Rs10,000 to form the co-operative, buy beehives and set up the necessary infrastructure,” said Santosh Rai, the secretary of the Buzz Co-operative Society.

“We had started at a very low scale, but it has grown over the years. Today, we have around 35 hives from where we extract honey and sell them at Rs 200 per bottle,” said Rai, who is a security guard at the factory. And of course, the money comes handy. “We find it the most beneficial at the beginning of new sessions in schools when we have to buy books, uniforms and other necessary items for our children. The extra money kind of eases the burden and we do not have to worry about our wards’ education,” said Janak Chettri, a member of the society.

Initially, the co-operative granted loans — from the money given by Banerjee — to interested workers to install beehives on the plots in front of their homes.

“Every member has four hives, from which we extract honey twice a year. We get around four bottles of honey from one hive,” said Rai, who has seven beehives at his place. “Usually we get the extract once in April-May and again in November-December.”

A training camp will be held this November or December, for which the WWF has promised to send an expert to teach the volunteers the know-how of beekeeping.

In a bid to increase the production, the society now plans to raise the number of beehives to at least 1,000. “Our sahib, who is very interested in the project, told us that we can get a machine for bottling the honey and labelling the containers. One day, we hope to make it big in the market, set up a company and get a patent for our produce,” Rai added.

Though Banerjee was not available for comment, deputy manager Debarata Majumdar told The Telegraph that inspired by the hard work put in by the workers, the management is now planning to export honey.

“Since ours is an organic garden, the bee population is pretty high here. With encouragement from Mr Bannerjee, the labourers have utilised the opportunity well,” Majumdar said. “For export, we have to produce around 10,000 bottles of honey every year. We think we can make it within the next two years.”

Source: The Telegraph