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Honey Markets in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve (NBR)

The project that we have worked on is ‘Honey markets in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve (NBR)’. In this study we have traced the flow of honey from the honey hunters of NBR to the end consumers. This study is a part of a larger study, Darwin Initiative, aimed at studying the underlying linkages between Bees, Biodiversity and Livelihood in the NBR, undertaken by Keystone foundation along with University of East Anglia and Bees for Development.
For the study on ‘Honey markets in the NBR’, six sites were chosen from the sixteen sites chosen for Darwin Initiative, based on the accessibility of the site, the predominant trade channels present (based on previously available information, the sites were divided as formal and informal markets), the number of honey hunters in the site (used as a proxy to determine amount of honey collected in the sites to ensure presence of high and low honey collecting areas) and also ensuring that all the three states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh) were represented. Three sites with formal trade channels and three sites with informal trade channels were selected. In the selected sites, a few honey hunters, all the traders and institutional buyers and forest officials were interviewed to compose the value chain of honey.
The impact of Price, Credit, State regulation, Volume of honey collected in the site, presence of an accessible institutional buyer at the site, presence of a powerful leader and direct access of consumers to the honey hunters on the sale of honey by the honey hunter was studied and analyzed across the six sites. Of the factors considered, price, presence of an institutional buyer and the presence of a powerful leader had a significant impact on the flow of honey. Based on the above obtained information, the value chain of honey was drawn for all the six sites.
The project that we had to work is ‘Honey flow in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve’. In this study we have analyzed the flow of honey from the native indigenous honey hunters in the forest to the end consumers in the area of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
According to the Codex Alimentarius the definition of honey is as follows: Honey is the unfermented, natural sweet substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of blossoms or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which honeybees collect, transform and combine with specific substances of their own, store and leave in the honey comb to ripen and mature. Honey shall not have any objectionable flavour, aroma or taint absorbed from foreign matter during its production, harvesting, processing and storage and shall not contain natural plant toxins in an amount that may constitute hazard to health. The honey collected in Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is from four different sources depending on the type of honey bees collecting them i.e. Apis cerana, Apis dorsata, Apis florea and Apis dammer.
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is the first internationally designated Biosphere Reserve of India. It was established in the year 1986 under the proposition of UNESCO. It comprises the three states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It covers 0.15% of India’s land area i.e. an area of 5520 sq. km and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. The NBR has six protected areas and more than five different types of forests. The major honey zones in the area include Kotagiri and Coonoor areas of Nilgiris, Sigur, Mukkurthi, Mudumalai, Bandipur, Nagarhole, Wynad, Silent Valley, Nilambur, and New Amarambalam Reserve Forest, Attapadi Valley, Pillur Valley, Anaikatti, Boluvampatti and Sathyamangalam Hills. It also home to a large number of indigenous communities, most of them forest dwellers and hunter gatherers. There around eighteen ethnic groups living in the area each of these having small populations and living in geographical concentrations. Not all the ethnic groups engage in honey hunting, the main honey hunters are Sholigas, Kattunaickens, Kurumbas, Cholanaickens and Irulas. Todas generally collect honey for home consumption and minor sales. The dorsata honey which is generally obtained from combs that are built in cliffs and not all the tribals engage in cliff honey hunting. Kurumbas are the experts in cliff hunting of honey whereas Irulas collect it from giant trees. The cerana honey is generally collected from tree cavities whereas florea and dammer honey is collected in small quantities from twigs and cavities in walls. The dammer honey is highly priced and used for medicinal purposes. Each of this ethnic group specializes in different ways and methods to collect honey which has given rise to specific techniques and traditions. Honey hunting is a seasonal activity for them; it starts in March and extends up to June. Thus the activity happens only for a period of three to four months in a year. Honey forms a component of the Non Timber Forest Produce which is commonly known as Minor Forest Produce.
In this study we have tried to capture the existing market for honey operating in the major honey zones of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve. We met the different native honey hunters engaged in this vocation and enquired about the various selling options that they have.
This study looks at how markets function & work in these areas and identifies and analyses the factors affecting the honey market. The study tries to explore the various channels through which honey reaches the consumer from the hunter. It also analyzes the major factors affecting the emergence and establishment of particular channel in an area. The study also tries to explain how each channel function in an area, the intermediaries involved, their roles in the channel. The study also describes the value chain of honey with the prices at which different intermediaries purchase honey and wax. For the purpose of study specific sites were selected in the NBR to study the honey market and track the honey flow. This report begins by giving a brief idea about the context in which these markets are operating followed by the methodology adopted for the selection of sites. The market existing in these sites are then described followed by an analysis of all the sites.
There is neither any policy on NTFP in the state of Karnataka or any laws that have direct consequences on NTFP its collection, processing and marketing. Several legal documents have some rules regarding the extraction of certain NTFPs such as the Karnataka Forest Manual, The Karnataka Forest Act 1963 etc but by far it does not restrict the collection of honey. The state of Karnataka has defined MFP through its Karnataka Forest Act, 1963 as forest produce other than timber, sandal wood, firewood, charcoals, bamboos and minerals, and includes forest produce such as myrobolans, barks, fibres, flosses, gums, resin, dyes, grass, leaves, roots, fruits, seeds, creepers, reeds, moss, lichens, wood-oil, honey, wax, lac, wild animals, wild birds, horns, hides, bones, tusks etc. The Karnataka Forest department has allowed the collection of 45 items from the leased forest areas. The price fixation of these MFPs is done by Karnataka LAMPS.
The Tamilnadu Forest department allowed 23 items for collection from the leased forest areas. There is no proper definition for MFP in the state. The price fixation mechanism operating for these products is through the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. Honey does not figure in the list of allowable items for collection.
In the state of Kerala, forest department permitted 100 items to Tribal Services Cooperative Societies(TSCS) for extraction from the leased forest areas. The price fixation mechanism operating here is through Kerala Minor Forest Products committee. Honey and wax collection in the state is not banned but it is regulated through Cooperative Societies.
In these states for several years the trade of NTFP had been in favour of private contractors. Recently the government guideline for constitution of Village Forest Committee has, to some extent, kept the private traders away but the NTFP market is still with the hand of those traders. With the absence of any legal documents, the states like Tamil Nadu have complicated the NTFP management. The Tamil Nadu state Act has not defined NTFP and there are no transit rules for movement of produces outside the states.
The study was carried out in a sample of six sites out of the total sixteen Darwin sites. The sampling which was suggested earlier on societies may not give a uniform analysis as these function only in Kerala and parts of Karnataka. Hence we have chosen six Darwin sites for the purpose of study. The six sites chosen to study the value chain of honey under the Darwin Initiative were selected on the basis of the following criteria.

  • Type of trade (formal or informal trade).
  • Number of honey hunters in the site.
  • Representation of all the three states
Research Sites Region ,
No of hhlds No. Hhlds inter-viewed No.of Honey hunting Hhlds Trade Aspects
1 Bedaguli Chamraj Nagar
Sholiga, Kannadiga 55 55 25 Collection is banned.
2 Kannur Sathy
Tamil Nadu
Sholiga 96 48 30 Collection is banned in Tamil Nadu, but the Village Forest Council (VFC) collects honey from harvesters along with other NTFPs.
3 Kalidimbam Sathy
Tamil Nadu
Irula 55 55 20 Collection is banned in Tamil Nadu, but the Village Forest Council (VFC) collects honey from harvesters along with other NTFPs.
4 Athoor Chamraj Nagar
Sholigas, Kannadiga2 Badaga3 103 52 14 Collection is banned.
5 Comop Coonoor
Tamil Nadu
Kurumba 7 7 4 Honey is sold to green shop Keystone in Coonoor – both honey as well as beeswax. Occasionally sold to other local shops as well.
6 Pudukadu Coonoor
Tamil Nadu
Kurumba 34 34 4 The Honey is sold to shops on the Coonoor- Mettupalayam highway
7 Situkunni Coonoor
Tamil Nadu
Irula 10 10 1-2 Sold to local traders, tourists and occasionally to Keystone’s centre.
8 Kobo Kotagiri
Tamil Nadu
Toda 9 9 3-4 Honey is collected mostly for personal consumption.
9 Koduthen mund Kotagiri
Tamil Nadu
Toda, Others 4 8 8 1-2 Cerana honey collected for consumption but not regularly.
10 Tunieri Kotagiri
Tamil Nadu
Badaga, Others 320 51 None None of the households are engaged in HH.
11 Perur Sigur
Tamil Nadu
Kattunaicken 51 51 18 The product is sold within the village, tourists and local customers or to Kallur cooperative society in Kerala.
12 Chemmanatham Sigur
Tamil Nadu
Kasava/Irula 44 44 5-10 Honey collection is banned. It is collected and sold to local traders or the numerous resorts adjacent to the Mudumalai sanctuary.
13 Siriyoor Sigur
Tamil Nadu
Kasava/Irula/Jenu Kurumba 52 52 7-10 Honey collection is banned. It is collected and sold to local traders or the numerous resorts adjacent to the Mudumalai sanctuary.
14 Nala Nilambur
Kattunaicken, Paniyas 54 54 15-20 Honey is sold to the cooperative society. Society has a captive market as selling outside is illegal.
15 Mancheri Nilambur
Cholanaicken 145* All caves have Honey Hunters Honey is sold to the society Bees wax is also sold to the society. Society has a captive market as selling outside is illegal.
16 Mundakadavu Nilambur
Padinaickens, Paniyas 29 29 6 Honey is sold to the society and to the local traders. Bees wax is also sold to the society for Rs.120/kg. Society has a captive market as selling outside is illegal.

Table 1: Information about honey trade across Darwin sites
As mentioned above the criteria used for selection of site for the study of value chain of honey from the Darwin sites were the type of trade (formal or informal trade), number of honey hunters in the site and the representation of all the three states.
These criteria were applied to the sites in the above mentioned order. The Darwin sites were initially categorized into one of the three trade types prevalent by large. Throughout our study, we have used the terms ‘formal, informal’ trade to describe the trade channels existing in the different sites. Informal trade includes the honey collection and trade in the area where it is banned by law and is not allowed by the forest officials. This kind of a trade can be seen on the Karnataka part of NBR. By ‘Informal’ trade we refer to honey trade with private traders and the flow through informal channels of trade. Here there is no organizational set up for buying honey. The honey traded here is unbilled. Honey trade in Tamil Nadu is not allowed by law but it is permitted by the forest officials. This is also included under informal trade. Honey collection and trade in this area happen with the knowledge of the forest officials. The above mentioned are considered as ‘permitted’ trade. The ‘permitted’ trade, can again be formal and informal trade. By ‘formal’ trade, we refer to honey trade with organizations like keystone (in Tamil Nadu) or cooperative societies (in Kerala). In this, the honey traded is billed. Honey collection and trade in Kerala is permitted by law. The following table shows the classification of Darwin sites according to the type of trade
Table 2: Classification of Darwin sites based on the type of trade


Tuneri has not been included in the table because no honey collection takes place there. In the next step, the sites were ranked based on the number of honey hunting households present in the village. The following table shows the sites ranked in descending order of honey hunters present in a village.
Table 3: Sites selected for the study


After the sites were ranked, they were selected based on the number of honey hunters and other factors as mentioned below
Athoor and Bedaguli are the two Darwin sites in Karnataka. In these sites, honey hunting is banned as per the state regulation and is also not permitted by the forest officials. In spite of it, honey is being collected there. Athoor was chosen over Bedaguli in the state of Karnataka because of the following reasons

  • Easy accessibility.
  • Athoor is located on a highway (Sathyamangalam Mysore highway). Athoor is the only site that is located on a highway and has the possibility of sale to travelers on the road. It has the potential for retail trade by honey hunters.

There are nine sites that fall under the informal trade category including the two sites in Karnataka. Of these seven sites, Perur had the highest number of honey hunters (more than twice the number of the second highest) and was selected. Koduthenmundu and Situkunni were not selected for low honey flow areas even though they had only one honey hunting house hold each because the hunters here do not go for honey hunting every year. So Kobo with three honey hunting house holds was selected as the site for low honey flow area under the informal trade category.
In the formal trade category, Mancheri (even though it has the highest number of honey hunting house holds) was not selected because of accessibility problems. Kannur with thirty house holds was selected as the site for high honey flow and Comop with the least number of honey hunting house holds in the category was selected.
Then the selected

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