Jeevan Rekha Parishad


Voices from India: Basanti in Bebari

It’s a balmy Tuesday morning in Orissa as we make our way to the village of Bebari, nearly a three-hour drive from the state capital of Bhubaneswar. For the last few miles, the road is nothing but thick red clay, and several times we pause to give way to cows, the cowherds clucking their tongues to clear up the jam.

A year has gone by since I’ve been to Orissa, and I’m delighted to find myself here once again with Jeevika’s programmes officer, Judith, our in-country coordinator, Priya, and Manu and Madhu, directors of our partner NGO in Orissa, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP).

Today is our first day heading back into the field to visit our projects.

Come and learn from bees reads a poster on one of the first buildings we see in Bebari. But today we have come to not only learn from bees, but from the women who keep them. After receiving a two-year extension from DFID, Jeevika and JRP have continued the Madhu Network Project, which supports 300 traditional women beekeepers in 10 villages across Orissa.

The first woman I sit down with is named Basanti. With Manu kindly offering to translate, I learn that she is 40 years old and has four children – a son and three daughters, ranging in age from 8 to 20 years old. While her children are all studying, Basanti herself has no education.

“There was no school at the time,” she explains. “There was only jungle when I was a child. My parents taught me some letters. That is all. Originally from the Ganjam district, Basanti has lived in Bebari for 25 years, and was married at the age of 15. “Earlier, there was nothing. We were just housewives. Now we have started beekeeping.”

Basanti even tells us she had the first beehive box in the village. And since two Self-Help Groups (SHGs) were formed in Bebari six months ago, she has become president of hers.

“Bees and honey”: Small-scale honey production in

A few weeks ago, Jeevika’s programmes officer, Judith shared some exciting news–a new eco-project on Chilika Lake made possible by the Innocent Foundation. Today the good news continues as our funding strategy officer, Mark, discusses another new project, focused on improving the commercial viability of small scale honey production in Orissa.

In Cockney rhyming slang, “bees and honey” also means money. For the women bee-keepers of Orissa, bees and honey certainly do bring hope of money and secure livelihoods. The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) is helping to support Jeevika’s work with our partner Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) to improve the commercial viability of honey production in Orissa. There are many small scale bee-keepers in the region producing honey for local markets and personal consumption. Often their production of honey is limited by minimal resources and skills and they have few opportunities to access wider markets.

Bee-keeping skills training with the help of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, new equipment, and the creation of a District Resource Centres will help the bee-keepers increase their production. They can then pool the honey they produce, giving them better access to wholesale markets whilst improving the quality of the honey.

Over 300 bee-keepers are taking part and with help from JRP, they are setting up a Women’s Bee-keepers Association (WBA) in the region, which will make them less isolated and better able to share skills and resources.

An annual honey market is planned to promote sales and membership of the WBA and eventually they hope to apply for Fair Trade registration, gaining access not only to markets in Orissa and within India but also possibly opening up export opportunities.

But bees do more than just make honey. As Nick Holland reported for the BBC in 2009, when bees fly, they polinate all sorts of fruit and vegetables which adds to local food production. Indeed in the UK the National Audit Office collated research working out the value of bees to the UK economy. The value of bees’ services were estimated at £200m a year. The retail value of what they pollinate was valued closer to £1bn! “If we had a serious loss of honeybees in the UK, then inevitably food prices would have to increase,” said Simon Potts, head of pollination research at Reading University.

In China where bees are extinct in some areas, people have to be employed to go around with feather dusters brushing the inside of plants with pollen. Reading University is working out what an apple would cost in the UK if you had to employ someone on the minimum wage to pollinate the trees. Estimates suggest that the cost would more than double.

Voices from India, part 1: Dhani in Orissa

or the next month here on our blog, we’ll be running a weekly series called “Voices from India.” Every Monday will bring you face-to-face with a new woman involved in the livelihood projects we support in India, from crab cultivation to getting involved with self-help groups. Today we travel to a forest tribal area in coastal Orissa…

When I first meet Dhani, her face is obscured behind the net of her beekeeper’s hat and her hands are full of honeycomb.

She works quickly, carefully lifting trays from the three hives set out around her house to assess which ones are ripe for the harvest.

Born in Ambapadia, a small village in Orissa, India, Dhani is 30 years old and lives in the Chandaka Forest tribal area with her four children: two sons and two daughters, she tells me.

Through Project Madhu, set up by Jeevika and our partner in Orissa, Jeevan Rekha Parishad, Dhani has been involved in beekeeping activities for a year and currently serves as the project leader.

When not tending to her own hives, Dhani helps other women in the village care for their bees. To harvest the honey, thick layers of honeycomb, oozing with amber-coloured liquid, are scraped off each tray and then placed in a silver extraction drum, where the comb is spun by hand.

As the honey drips slowly down the walls of the drum, a tap at the bottom is opened and old whiskey bottles are recycled to hold the harvest. The women involved in beekeeping currently will keep half of the honey for their own use, and sell the other half in local markets.

Finally, as the last drop of honey is bottled up and sealed away, Dhani’s net comes off and her tools are set down. We find a seat on a fallen tree trunk and talk about her involvement with the project.

She says: “I was doing agricultural labour before, very seasonal work. Because of the project, the economic condition of my family has improved. We own this. “Some money is saved in the self-help group fund, and some is used for the education of my children and medicine.

And maybe that’s the only thing sweeter than honey to Dhani—the unmistakable feeling of ownership.

There are typically three kilograms of honey in a harvest, with each kilogram earning 200 rupees in local markets. Basanti uses the extra income to buy household items, for the treatment of her son when he was suffering from fever, and “also for the study of my children.”

“Earlier no one was giving us a single rupee for our activities. Now we have our group and our savings. We are very happy to be working together in a team for economic activities. It is increasing day by day, so we will not stop.

“Now you all have come. We need to assess our other needs and other programmes. That is our future plan. We are very happy many people are coming to our village now.”

In addition to meeting household needs and expenses, each member of the SHG also currently saves 20 rupees a month in their collective savings account. Hearing this is a necessary reminder of the hundreds of millions of rural people living at the ‘base of the pyramid’ that is today’s modern India.

While those at the top now earn and spend at European rates, women like Basanti still find tiny amounts of money to be a worthwhile return on time and effort. Indeed, I think back to what she had said earlier in our conversation:

We are increasing day by day.

I already look forward to the updates – and to seeing Basanti again – when we’re back in Orissa this time next month. Please consider supporting Jeevika with a small donation as we work to support Basanti and other women beekeepers like her in the communities of village India:


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Prof(Ms) Bedabati Mohanty
Ms. Kalpana pattnaik
Ms. Archana Khandayat roy
Ms. P.Das Mohapatra
Ms. Mohapatra Minati Bhanja
Ms. Indra Pattnaik
Ms. Madhusmita Mishra
Dr.(Ms)Anita Choudhury
Dr. Atasi Mohanty
Ms. Manasi Pattnaik
Ms. Sabita Behera


Dr. Bimalendu Mohanty
(Former Vice chancellor Utkal University of Culture Bhubaneswar)
Mr. Perry Gottesfeld
(Executive Director Occupational Knowledge International ,USA)
Ms. Anima Basak
(Vienna India Women's Assn.Austria)
Ms. Jyosna Chattarjee
(Joint Women's programme New Delhi)


Adress: 387 Damana Square
Chandra Shekharpur
Pin Code : 751016
State : Odisha

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