High-altitude beekeeping helping Tibetan refugees earn a new source of income

There’s no doubt that bees are the most important pollinators on the planet. In Tibet, Mountain Resiliency is helping to nurture bees and in that, provide a new source of income for indigenous peoples that have been displaced.

Mountain Resiliency have invested in 25 bee colonies at the Dhorpattan Tibetan Refugee Camp, first established in 1961 for Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese persecution, to help provide refugees with a much-needed source of income.

Nepal has a rich tradition of beekeeping in rural areas with the native apis cerana bees. Villagers have been using indigenous knowledge in sustainable management of beekeeping in traditional log hives. Apis cerana bees have adapted to Nepal’s mountainous terrain and difficult landscape; it can survive up to 11,500ft and requires little management. It is resistant to cold, predators and diseases. They produce honey twice a year and each hive can yield 20 kilograms.

Dhorpattan Tibetan Refugee Camp, in the Baglung district, sits at 9,500 ft above sea level. Today, it is inhabited by 40 families, who make a meagre living by breeding horses and raising livestock–and growing buckwheat and potatoes. And those crops are seeing reduced yields due to climate-change factors.

Following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Mountain Resiliency was instrumental in the rebuilding efforts. To bolster food security in vulnerable communities, Mountain Resiliency has built over 50 greenhouses across Nepal to grow diverse vegetables in these harsh environments, and one community has started mushroom farming.

The environment and availability of organic, non-pesticide pollen in Dhorpattan Tibetan Refugee Camp makes it very suitable for beekeeping. And as Himalayan bee species are disappearing due to receding biodiversity, Mountain Resiliency’s aim to propagate more bees to generate extra income for the refugees has a wider impact.

Bees are important pollinators of high-altitude flowering species such as rhododendrons, juniper and magnolia. They visit some 500 flowers a day, collecting pollen and nectar. The resulting honey flavours vary, depending on what the bees have been foraging on: mustard, buckwheat, rhododendron flowers, apple blossom, butternut squash, or lemon trees. These are the highest-altitude bees in the world.

Each hive can be harvested twice a year, producing between 30 and 40 kilograms of honey. This can generate over US$5,000 a year in income for the refugee camp. Most of the beekeepers are women: the money going towards their children’s education, as well as buying more diverse seeds for farming.

Mountain Resiliency aims to implement the bee project in other camps in Nepal as well as introducing other income streams such as mushroom growing.

Images: © Mountain Resiliency

Mountain Resiliency

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

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