The establishment of Khadi and Village Industries omission to revitalize the traditional village industries hastened the envelopment of beekeeping. During the 1980s, an estimated one million bee hives had been functioning under various schemes of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission. Production of apiary honey in the country reached 10,000 tons, valued at about Rs. 300 million.
Bee-Keeping Industry is one of the important activities of Khadi Board. Honey manufactured by the Board has good patronage from the public. The Board’s Honey processing unit at Amsi in Kanyakumari District is producing "A" Grade Honey. The raw honey is procured mostly from Jamunamaruthur in Thiruvannamalai District and Marthandam in Kanyakumari District. This raw honey is 100% tested before packing for sales. The Government provides financial support to this Industry by way of providing grant for supply of bee-hives to the Tribal on hill areas, Scheduled Castes /Scheduled Tribes under Western Ghats Development Programmes, Hill Area Development Programme and Integrated Tribal Development Programme. The income earned by the farmers through bee-keeping activities is an additional income to their agriculture income.
Honey industry in the country can well become a major foreign exchange earner if international standards are met. Beekeeping is an age-old tradition in India but it is considered a no-investment profit giving venture in most areas. Of late it has been recognised that it has the potential to develop as a prime agri-horticultural and forest-based industry. Honey production is a lucrative business and it generates employment. Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu is a pioneer in honey production and the beekeepers depend solely on the flow season for improving their economic condition.
Marketing of honey
About 10,000 tons of forest honey are produced annually. Apiary honey produced under the KVI sector is estimated to be a little less than 10,000 tons in 1990-91. Over 95 per cent of this was from the A. cerana colonies, the rest being from the European bee colonies. Forest honey, mostly from rock bee hives, is usually collected by tribals in forests and is procured by forest or tribal corporations as a minor forest produce. Quite a large quantity is also collected by groups or individuals on their own. Forest honey is usually thin, contains large quantity of pollen, bee juices and parts, wax and soil particles. The honey collector gets between Rs. 10 and Rs. 25 per kilogram of the forest honey. Forest honeys are mostly multifloral.
Apiary honey is produced in bee hives and is harvested by extraction in honey extractors. Other types of beekeeping equipment like queen excluder, smoker, hive tool, pollen trap, honey processing plant are also used. Beekeepers sell the honey to the co-operative society, if one exists in the area. In many parts of India, the beekeeper gets a much higher price if he sells it directly to the consumer. Apiary honeys are usually multifloral when marketed by state-level marketing organizations, because honeys from different sources are mixed while pooling, storage and processing. Several unifloral honeys are available in markets restricted to small areas within the state where it is produced. Rubber plant contributed to over 60 per cent of the total apiary honey production during 1990-91. Besides this, jamun, hirda, beheda, arjun, neem, litchi, palmyrah palm, eucalyptus, lagerstroemias, tamarind, cashew tree, scheffleras, tun, karanj, false acacia, wild shrubs like shain, crops of different varieties of mustards, sesame, niger, sunflower, berseem clover, khesari, coriander, orchard trees including different types of citrus, apple, puddum, cherry and other temperate fruit trees, coconut tree and coffee plantations are some important sources that provide unifloral honey.
Much of the forest honey is sold to the pharmaceutical, confectionery and food industries, where it is processed and used in different formulations. Apiary honey is usually processed at the producers level. This consists mainly of heating the honey and filtering. A few beekeepers or honey producers co-operative societies have better processing facilities that involve killing of honey fermenting yeasts. About 50 per cent of the apiary honey under the KVI sector is graded and marketed under AGMARK specifications. In 1985 the consumption of honey was estimated to be about 8.4 g per capita, while in other countries this was 200 g. Presently this would be about 2.5 g. Honey has so far been consumed mainly as a medicine and for religious purposes. A small quantity has been used in kitchen as an ingredient of pickles, jams and preserves. With the increasing production in recent years, there is an increasing trend to use honey in food. This is obviously the case with the affluent segments of the population. Forest honey is used in pharmaceutical, food, confectionery, bakery and cosmetic industries.
Indian honey has a good export market. With the use of modern collection, storage, beekeeping equipment, honey processing plants and bottling technologies the potential export market can be tapped.