India produces a total of 70,000 tonnes of honey every year, of which 25,000-27,000 tonnes are being exported to more than 42 countries including the EU, the Middle East and the US. The EU has slapped a ban on Chinese honey three years ago after it was found that Chinese honey contained high levels of antibiotics Chloramphenicol. The chemical was used to control disease in honeybees, but on the other hand it created side-effects on the consumers, causing dreaded diseases like cancer. However, the ban was lifted after China agreed to reduce the level of Chloramphenicol in honey bee treatment last year.
Talking to FE on the sidelines of International Bee Keeping Congress (IBKC) here, Randeep Singh, executive director of Kashmir Apiaries Exports said Indias major honey importers were European countries. After the EU imposed the ban on Chinese honey, the price of the Indian honey exported to European countries jumped to $2,800 per tonne in 2003. But the export price declined to $1,400 per tonne in 2004, when the EU lifted ban on China, and further tumbled to $800 per tonne in the current year when China started exporting honey to EU on a large scale.
Meanwhile, a mite menace is also threatening the Indian honey industry, according to Prof LR Verma, president of IBKC and vice-chancellor of Himachal Pradesh University. As per a rough estimate, Mr Verma said more than one million bee colonies are identified in the country. A mite called Varrora has destroyed 20-25% of bee colonies in the country. There is market potential to keep more than 10 million bee colonies in India. But processing technologies and maintaining styles of bee colonies should improve to increase the productivity, he said.
Currently, only a few private agencies and universities are conducting research on bee-keeping techniques. However, IBKC has requested the Karnataka government to allot land in Bangalore to establish an international centre for bee-keeping research and development, which is first of its kind in the country. Once the international standard research centre was set up, the Indian honey industry would be able to compete with China in international honey market, he pointed out.