Case Studies

Devbhumi: Making a sweet buzz with Organic Honey in Uttarakhand

Sandeep Rawat  tells a success story of beekeeping from Uttarakhand

Devbhumi: Making a sweet buzz with Organic Honey in Uttarakhand

Albert Einstein once quoted that “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”  Sandeep Rawat tells a success story of beekeeping from Uttarakhand

Einstein’s remark fairly sums up the importance of bees for human civilization, it also alarms us against our role in disturbing nature’s harmony. These bees not only play an important role in pollinating the plants but also in creation of honey that is widely used for commercial production and human consumption. Uttarakhand, known as Devbhumi, has moved ahead in beekeeping and interestingly rural women producers are  bringing sweetness to the lives of thousands of households in  Garhwal region of the state. It brings the classic case of how a local enterprise with professional support is helping in transforming the lives of thousands of rural women both socially and economically.

Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand
Facing the majestic snow-covered peaks of Mt. Chaukhamba in Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand is situated a fairly large town known as Guptakashi which has emerged a major hub for beekeeping business in the state. The region, blessed with densely populated flora and fauna, attracts Apis cerana indica, commonly known as Indian honey bees. These indigenous species of honey bees are considered as relatively non aggressive and rarely exhibit swarming behavior, which makes them ideal for bee keeping.

Traditional beekeeping and fragmented production
Beekeeping has been a traditional activity of many households since ages. Warmth of the traditionally made hill houses in the relatively cold weather of mountains has always attracted bees to create their colonies near human habitation. While the local women have been indulged in beekeeping since ages and selling it in local markets, its commercialisation and their linkages with market has always been a matter of concern for them. This fragmented production in the region and its unorganized sales have led to poor price realization for these honey producers. Traditionally they have been selling this honey to local shopkeepers or the pilgrimage tourists who come to them for purchasing honey during the char dham yatra season. This unpredictable sale was a demotivating factor for them to take honey production seriously as a regular livelihood opportunity. Also, the fragmented production was a major hindrance for promoting this pure organic honey as a branded product in the urban centers like Delhi.

In urban centers, organic honey is in huge demand among the consumers due to its health benefits and medicinal properties. The gap between the fragmented producers’ base in the remote hills and the affluent consumers’ base in the urban places was seen as an opportunity to create a rural enterprise with decentralized production and centralised processing and marketing. With the aim of conserving the Himalayan ecosystem and at the same time promoting rural livelihood for women in these remote hills, this seemed as a perfect opportunity for developing an enterprise that can procure  honey from remote hills and market this honey to urban consumers.

Devbhumi Natural Producer Company Ltd
Devbhumi Natural Product Producer Company Ltd (DNPPCL), popularly known as ‘Devbhumi’, was evolved from the merger of two community owned private limited companies namely Chamoli Tasar Pvt. Ltd. and Devbhumi Madhu Pvt. Ltd, in the year 1995. It was promoted with the help of Appropriate Technology India (ATI), a development organization which has been working in this region since the year 1993. ATI promotes the forest based enterprise development with an aim to provide economic security to local forest dependent communities. Apart from its independent interventions in the area of creating livelihood generating activities in this hill state, it acts as a strong grass root organization that provides a base support to ‘Devbhumi’ in reaching remote valleys and villages of this region. Its strong presence and grass root mobilization has enabled ‘Devbhumi’ to reach many remote villages for its honey procurement. 

Farmer Producer Company Model
Farmer Producer Company (FPC) model, which is distinctly different from that of cooperative model, helps in gaining autonomy to these cooperative entities which helps them to get freedom from bureaucratic  control and politicisation of these organizations by elite members. What makes this organization special is that it is one of India’s first farmer producer companies and the very first of its kind in Uttarakhand.  Working on this model, each primary producer of ‘Devbhumi’ is a shareholder and the owner of the company.

Today the organisation is completely owned by small and marginal farmers, primarily by rural women of Uttarakhand. Its strong producer’s base is around 8500 shareholders, who are scattered in remote villages across 5 districts of Uttarakhand namely Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Pauri, Tehri and Uttarkashi. Apart from the shareholders base, Devbhumi today procures its produce from additional 2500 primary producers. The company has expanded its product range from organic honey to organic spices, Tasar and other forest based silks along with the recent initiative of milk production and marketing in Gupkashi region. This intervention has not only led in creation of economic stability among the producers but also has attracted them towards an enterprise based development model.

Decentralised production and Centralised Marketing
‘Devbhumi’ is one of the first Producer Companies in the state. It has developed brand visibility & identity under the brand name ‘Devbhumi’. It has pioneered in decentralized community-owned production and processing. Promoters feel that  economies of scale of a rural enterprise can only be achieved when an enterprise operates on the principles of cooperation among the producers. The organisation  has been making all efforts to  promote organic certified honey and to create a niche market for Uttarakhand organic honey nationwide.

“After getting a phenomenal response and feedback from the customers, we initiated  organic processing in Dehradun and marketing at the affluent urban centers of Delhi/NCR. Today

‘Devbhumi’ operates at three levels. It first procures the organic honey from the hills where it has a strong producer base, and then the raw honey is brought to its state of art processing facility in Dehradun and from there it is packaged and marketed in urban centers nationwide,” says Amrish Khurana, Chief General Manager, ‘Devbhumi’.

First certified organic honey producer
In 2003-04, the organisation became the first certified organic honey producer in the country and was recognised by fair trade federation of America. It has now approximately 1000 ha  land under organic certification by the Uttarakhand State Organic Certification Agency (USOCA) which is accredited by APEDA. A total of 2966 farmers have been certified through a group certification scheme that have commercially produced and marketed more than 31500 kg of honey in year 2015-16.

“The recognition as first certified organic honey producer provided the much needed boost to business. Now we are marketing our product under the brand name-  Devbhumi Certified Organic Honey. There is a huge demand of pure organic honey in urban centres. Since we procure their honey straight from the Himalayan Mountains which signifies purity, its demand and response among the consumers is quite good,” adds Khurana.

Rakesh Dhirwan, who is production manager (Bee keeping vertical) for ‘Devbhumi’ explains that Organic certification for honey is a very time taking, expensive and a complex process.

It takes almost three years to certify a land as completely organic here and this certification can be cancelled any time if the product is found not to be pure by the monitoring officials. Hence adding these many producers as completely organically certified and maintaining the quality
over the years have been quite a remarkable task for a considerably smaller organisation like ‘Devbhumi’. 

Linking honey producers to market: A Challenge
Jack Croucher, Founder, ATI and senior  advisor at ‘Devbhumi’ says “While the value chain of honey production is comparatively much simpler, except from the part where you have to replace the traditional wall hives with improved bee hive production practices, linking these primary producers to market was the biggest challenge.”

Over the years of selling raw and minimum processed organic honey to buyers, ‘Devbhumi’ realised that there is a market out there for organic honey which gave them the courage to produce honey under own brand name.

Future markets and expansion
The current market analysis and response has motivated ‘Devbhumi’ to expand in urban markets of southern India from where they are getting good response for their certified organic honey.  Croucher says that they are in the process of exporting their certified organic honey to some regions of United Kingdom.

The organisation is trying to increase its current producers’ base in the region by involving more honey producers from different districts of Uttarakhand and tapping to some good honey making clusters of Kumaun region. The organization believes that capacity building of small and marginal producers of the region and providing the improved ways of production through technological intervention is the way forward for strengthening the supply side of the market.

(the author is a Research Scholar at Mudra Institute of Communications-Ahmadabad. The information is provided by the author. Rural & Marketing is not legally responsible for the content of the story)

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