Scientific intervention by the KAU’s College of Agriculture has helped revive the industry.
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The bee-keeping industry, which was in a shambles in the State following the outbreak of a dreadful disease in the early 1990s, is now picking up, thanks to the scientific intervention of the honeybee research centre at Kerala Agricultural University’s (KAU) College of Agriculture, Vellayini, near here.
According to scientists at the centre, the State contributed more than 50 per cent of the honey produced in the country till 1991. But with the outbreak of the disease, nearly 95 per cent of the then existing colonies of Indian bee were wiped out leading to near decimation of commercial bee-keeping activities in the State.
However, the trend is now getting reversed. Now we have more than four lakh bee colonies in the State. It is estimated that there were record yields of honey during the last two years — around 4,000 tonnes a year.
The KAU scientists started work on ways to control the disease in 1991, as directed by the State Government, under the leadership of eminent bee pathologist Dr. Abraham Jacob, who was then the Head of the Department of Entomology, College of Agriculture. They identified the causal organism of the disease as Thai Sacbrood Virus (TSBV), which is an RNA virus. Detailed studies were done later by S. Devanesan under the guidance of Dr. Jacob.
Around this time, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) started the All India Co-ordinated Project (AICRP) on Honeybee Research and Training at nine different centres in the potential areas of the country. One of the centres was established at the Department of Entomology of the KAU.
Dr. Devanesan, who is the principal scientist of the ICAR project, said the KAU centre had contributed to the development of TSBV tolerant nucleus colonies of Indian bee ‘A. cerana indica’ by selective breeding. These bee colonies were distributed to beekeepers through Horticorp, the nodal agency for the project to support honeybee industry.
As part of the strategies to contain the TSBV disease, the KAU scientists introduced the exotic Italian bee ‘Apis mellifera’ to Kerala and evaluated its performance, as well as standardised its management practices suited to local conditions. They also contributed in the domestication and hiving of stingless bee ‘Trigona iridipennis,’ which yields honey with more medicinal value. They could also identify 76 plant species that provide nectar pollen to stingless bee.