Rural bee-keeping cooperatives, which regularly sell 3,000 kg before the honey-extraction season in January are puzzled by the fall in orders for the next season.
We are told that last seasons stocks are yet to move off the shelves, says C Yohannan, an apiarist consultant in Tamil Nadu and Kerala bee-keeping societies.
Bee-keeping is an intercrop in rubber plantations in Kerala. And Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu is souths honey capital.
The fall in demand is for processed honey, which usually commands Rs 100 to Rs 120 per kg from the end consumer. At the same time, the sales of Chinese imported honey, available in metro and big city markets in South India, are up.
Chinese brands, priced Rs 80-85 per kilogram, are getting bought in dozens of bottles at one go, sources said. Kerala Khadi and Villages Industries Board, which recently launched its brand Naruten in the market, is also not satisfied by the sales momentum.
Pure honey still fetches around Rs 50 per kg for cooperatives, but this is relatively low in margins. In the international market, honey from China and Argentina are dubbed sub-quality.
There are also apprehensions that if Indias biggest industrial honey buyer - ayurveda industry- resorts to the price advantage in Chinese processed honey, the efficacy of ayurvedic formulations could also be affected.
Apis Cerana, a domesticated bee species, found in south India is the most preferred as it produces 8 kg to 10 kg of honey on an average, according to a study by K Sarangarajan, a beekeeping industry expert.
During April to October season, bees feed mainly on coconut, neem and tamarind flowers. According to Shaji Varghese, a bee-farmer, about 200 bee colonies usually fetch him a profit of Rs 1 lakh during the season.
By November, the bee-colonies spanning Tamil Nadu and Kerala Villages in South are carried to rubber plantations in Kottayam and Idukky to be fed on tender rubber blossoms.
As beecombs fill up in January-April season, honey is extracted and sent for processing. Bee-keeping has been a livelihood enhancer for rural youth when monocrops fail. The Centre and state governments should take urgent measures to step up marketing campaigns and upgrade processing quality to insulate Indian honey from low-quality imports, says Kamala, who runs a honey producing society in Thiruvananthapuram.