It’s a win-win situation for the farmers of Mayilattumpara who live near the Peechi wildlife division near Thrissur’s Pattikkad — beehives mounted on wire fences in their land help ward off wild elephants and supply them with marketable fresh honey.
A project implemented in January last year on 27 farms here – at a cost of ₹5 lakh from Thrissur’s Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA, a district-level Central and State-funded programme) – involved setting up a two-km-long ‘beehive fence’ to counter man-elephant conflict. The fence consists of 200 bee boxes (of the Italian honey bee Apis melliferaligustica), one hung for every ten metres of wire drawn between posts. Any disturbance to the wires (which occurs when elephants approach) causes bees to rush out to defend their colonies.
“There are always elephants in the vicinity, they would destroy my coconut palms and plantain trees,” says Joji N.J., a farmer. “Ever since the bee boxes were installed, elephants have not ventured close.”
Honey sale has fetched the farmers around ₹70,000 this year. However, bees do not remain in the boxes year round, say farmers. “The boxes are hung on a wire fence and they swing in wind. Then bees do not go out to collect pollen,” says Kochery Johny, president of the Mythri Bee Society, whose farm at Mayilattumpara houses 28 bee boxes. Bees either die or move out of the box and establish a colony elsewhere in such conditions.
Moreover, many farmers cannot afford to maintain beehives. “It would help if the government could maintain these boxes. So far we have lost ₹2 lakh,” Johny says.
“Elephants did not raid crops here for six months and so the farmers probably slackened beehive maintenance,” says Roy V.S., former project director of ATMA. Honey production can compensate for maintenance costs, he adds. One bee box can give up to 2 kg honey, costing approximately ₹600.
Maintaining beehives is difficult and has hence not worked in countering man-elephant conflict in many places, agrees Thrissur’s Divisional Forest Officer Patil Suyog Subhashrao. Beehive fences have been used to ward off wild elephants in Africa (which inspired its trial in Kerala, says Roy) and Sri Lanka. In India, it is being tried in places including Poothadi in Wayanad. Scientists of the Kerala Forest Research Institute have shown a drastic decrease in elephant encounters in the presence of beehive fences in forest-fringe areas of Mayiladumpara in Malappuram.