The Similipal biosphere reserve in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district is renowned for its rich diversity of flora and fauna. This thickly forested area is blessed with many rare medicinal plants, trees, orchids, wildlife and honey. It is estimated that over 70 percent of the population of Mayurbhanj are semi-nomadic tribes who have a deep connection with the forests going back centuries.
Though these tribes are heavily dependent on the forests for their livelihood, food and medicines, their love and respect for Mother Earth has been fundamental in the conservation of the forest land. These tribes are enriched with extensive knowledge on various plants and traditional medicine.
The warm and humid conditions in this dense forest is conducive for the aggregation of natural honey. The natives say that there are two types of honey collected namely bada/bhagua mahu and sana mahu. Big indigenous bees are known to build their hives on the rock caves sheltered from rain or in the hollow trunks and branches of the sal trees.
Honey is collected by the forest dwellers between March to June and October to November. A group of three to sometimes ten members arm themselves with age-old tools, ropes or rope ladder, basket and a straw torch. One member of the party will climb up to use the torch (burning leaves bundle) to create the smoke to drive out the bees. Another person will be waiting below to collect the honeycombs. A stick is used to jab at the hive and make it fall down from the branch.
This process is particularly dangerous and therefore, starts at sunset and goes on into the late hours of the night because the bees are more active during the day. The honey gatherers are also particular not to harm the wildlife by creating too much smoke during the day.
Sometimes, a single tree may have as many as 50 to 60 hives on its branches making this process extremely hazardous and time-consuming. Typically, the whole honeycomb is harvested, filtered and kept safely in containers to be sold in the local markets.
All the tribes here are experts in gathering honey and the honey obtained particularly from the rock bee (Apis dorsata) is deemed to be superlative and packed with nutrients. This forest honey is now going to be marketed as Khairi brand organic honey by the Odisha Forest Development Corporation (ODFC).
The timely initiatives taken by both the state and central government for beekeeping will go a long way to provide a steady income to the natives of the forest as well as maintain the balance of the ecosystem.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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