“The government has promoted egg consumption for decades, taking inspiration from the dairy revolution in India, which led the country to become one of the largest milk producers in the world,” said Pankaj Kumar Mishra, CEO of the honey manufacturer.
What Mishra is looking for now is the same amount of promotion in other sectors, especially honey, in the budget. He says the per capita consumption of honey in India is about 50 grams per year. This number varies from 250 to 300 g worldwide.
“There are over 1.3 billion people in the country with such low per capita honey consumption. A much smaller country like Germany has a per capita consumption of 2 kg per year. It’s really important for the government to promote the consumption of honey and educate people about its nutritional value,” he says, pointing out the magnitude of honey’s growth.
The next budget could make room to launch initiatives and programs aimed at educating people about the honey ecosystem, including the process of beekeeping, types of honey, and the right kind of honey, Mishra says.
With bees already in decline – some even claim they are on the verge of extinction – it is high time the government looked beyond allocating monetary support to the sector and sought to create a more favorable to the beekeeping industry.
Mishra explains that beekeeping is a very fragmented and unorganized sector and there are no large farms here, unlike other agricultural products. Even though the government has allocated funds and created initiatives, such as the Sweet Revolution scheme, to promote beekeeping and allocated Rs 500 crore to help with infrastructure, Apis CEO says it must be done in a way very planned. The government has worked hard to lead the milk revolution – also called the white revolution – and pro-egg campaigns in the country. These drives are necessary for honey and beekeeping.
“They allocate funds, do bits here and there. But there was no proper strategy or long-term action plan. These are short term steps. Allocating funds here and there will not help much. We have to work on the challenges we have on the ground,” he said.
The cultivation of honey offers great opportunities, especially with regard to exports.
One of the biggest challenges in the sector is beekeeping, not getting stable income or a stable price structure. They mainly depend on other factors, such as crop cycles and foreign export demands. “They need the right flowering season to support bee migration. It also takes a lot of work. At the same time, beekeepers and farmers need a good link to the market to sell their products,” explains Mishra.
Regarding exports, the last two years have certainly been good for the export of honey and beekeepers have obtained good rates, but the segment is entirely dependent on the international market. “The United States has banned Chinese honey, which has led to an increase in demand for Indian honey. It’s very cyclical. There is no stable price structure. If there is no stability, why would anyone get into beekeeping,” he says.
Another significant industry challenge is the issue of adulteration. A recent report from the Center for Science and Environment found that honey from 10 major brands was adulterated with sugar syrup. Mishra, however, denies these claims, saying these issues need to be addressed in a very calibrated approach. The report says the brands failed the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy test, a mandatory requirement for exports. Mishra points out that there are hardly any labs in North India capable of doing all the required tests. “This requires a budget allocation to improve the domain’s laboratories in all regions. Each state should have at least two to three laboratories equipped to perform all kinds of tests, which will not only help beekeepers, but also help the entire industry to ensure quality and reduce costs. When I export a product, I have to send my samples to Germany for testing, which is a huge cost for just one sample,” he explains.
Small beekeepers cannot afford to do such tests. These farmers have 200 to 500 bee boxes to test and they need access to labs to test. Otherwise, they depend on another company in the market to do the testing. The government should provide subsidized testing because testing on bees can be very expensive, he adds.
The Blue Economy Blues
Another niche sector with high potential is aquaculture. The government has not been oblivious to the sector and has come up with programs such as the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) to fill gaps in fish quality and production, as well as Blue Revolution and Blue Revolution 2.0 .
Rajamanohar Somasundaram, Founder and CEO of Aquaconnect, a network of leading aquaculturists, hails these initiatives and credits them with doubling seafood exports and promoting technology-driven agriculture in the industry. . However, the sector certainly requires more effort. He explains that 95% of prawns farmed in India are exported, which accounts for 70% of the value of seafood exports. Fish produced from the land is for domestic consumption.
“Currently, Indian seafood exports are highly dependent on a single species. Any shock in import markets leads to a sudden drop in prices. This weighs heavily on farmers. Moreover, we have yet to realize the export potential of aquaculture products,” he says, stressing that India needs to diversify within aquaculture.
India needs to focus on other opportunities like seaweed farming to diversify its aquaculture strategy.
A balanced approach to the seafood export portfolio can open up more opportunities and promote the domestic market. But to do this, Somasundaram points out, it is necessary to have integrated water parks, quality controls and better access to finance and insurance. Traditional farming practices are still prevalent in the segment, leading to outbreaks, high production costs and sudden losses, he says. “To accelerate the blue revolution, it is essential to promote digital solutions throughout the value chain – from pre-production to post-harvest – to bring predictability, efficiency and traceability. We believe that with wider promotion of technology-driven agriculture on the production front, farmers will be able to overcome risk, improve productivity and achieve higher profit margins.
Aquaconnect CEO emphasizes the importance of technology adoption. It is essential to incentivize farmers with better subsidies to adopt data-driven farming, monitoring and automation tools. Insurance premium subsidies are also needed to encourage farmers to increase production. Unlike farmers, fish and shrimp farmers do not benefit from any subsidy premium. “Government support on premiums will help farmers mitigate production risks. This will further contribute to increasing the working capital ceiling for aquaculturists,” he adds.
Need for fruitful efforts
Horticulture is another important sector that would need budget support. India saw a significant increase in its agricultural exports last year, as did its contribution to the country’s GDP. But some lingering issues are holding the segment back.
Perishables like fruits face logistical challenges when it comes to getting products to consumers.
Pankaj Khandelwal, President and Managing Director of INI Farms, says that with an increase in exports and demand, commodity prices have risen. At the same time, the management of perishables has become more difficult due to the container crisis. Most of the initiatives announced by the government are aimed at large farmers. Small farmers need more support.
High on his budget wish list is export logistics subsidies. “Indian products are becoming uncompetitive for export. A lot of logistical support is needed here. The right kind of export logistics support and subsidies could help,” says Khandelwal.
At the same time, the focus should be on long-term subsidy competitiveness. “Previously any subsidy was 5%, now it’s close to 2%.”
The managing director of INI Farms says additional financial and regulatory support is needed for products like bananas, mangoes and pomegranates. “India has a lot of opportunities that are not fully captured because the value chain is not integrated. This can be supported by either financial support or regulatory support,” he adds.
(Editing by Ram Mohan)