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Uma Partap

International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development Kathmandu, Nepal


I am thankful to ICIMOD for providing necessary facilities, Federal Chancellery of Austria through Austroprojekt for financial assistance to carry out these studies and to farmers and local institutions in sharing their insights to the problem during the surveys. I am also grateful to Dr. Tej Partap, Vice Chancellor of Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University and my ICIMOD colleagues Dr. Farooq Ahmad, Mr. Min B. Gurung and Dr. S.R. Joshi for critically reviewing this paper and providing their valuable comments, which were of great help in improving this paper.


Plant Production and Protection Division

Seed and Plant Genetic Resources Service

Linda Collette


The focus of agriculture in the Himalayan region is slowly shifting from traditional cereal crops to high-value cash crops farming such as fruits and vegetables. This transformation from subsistence systems to commercial agriculture poses new challenges for improving and maintaining productivity and quality. Among these challenges are crop failures due to inadequate pollination. This is caused by several factors, the most important of which include the lack of adequate number of pollinators as a result of decline in pollinator populations and diversity due to several factors such as decline in wilderness and loss of habitat, land use changes, monoculture-dominated agriculture and excessive and indiscriminate use of agricultural chemicals and pesticides. Consequently, the need for ensuring pollination particularly through conserving pollinators and incorporating managed crop pollination has increased and will increase further. This calls for a more intensive focus on the issue from the perspective of policy, research, development and extension. Policy reorientation, improving institutional capabilities and human resources development are the key areas needing attention.

Based on our studies in apple pollination issues and farmers’ concerns in Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan, this paper presents a general picture of pollination issues faced by the farmers in the Himalayan region countries. The paper explains the importance of pollination in improving food security and livelihoods through enhancing agricultural productivity. It tries to analyze such issues as the decline in pollinator populations and its impact on agricultural productivity and implications on pollination management, and challenges to integrate pollination as a necessary input in agricultural policies and plans in the light of available information on pollination. This paper also emphasizes the need to conserve pollinator diversity to ensure pollination and at the same time it tries to present an alternative perception to beekeeping and that is “to promote” beekeeping primarily for crop pollination with honey and other bee products as by products”. This new approach combines the two benefits well but institutional reorientation in the context of policies, research and extension might be necessary.


Agriculture is the basis of the livelihood of over 80 percent of the rural population in the countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region. However, more than 90 percent of the farmers in the hill and mountain areas are marginal or small land-holding families, cultivating less than one hectare of land each (Banskota, 1992; Partap, 1995; Koirala and Thapa, 1997; Partap, 1999). Most agricultural land in the mountain areas is not only marginal in terms of potential productivity, but its quality also appears to be deteriorating as indicated by declining soil fertility and crop productivity. As a result, many mountain families face food shortages of varying degrees, that contribute to the chain reaction process of poverty–resource degradation–scarcity–poverty (Jodha and Shrestha, 1993). Therefore, it is necessary to explore all possible ways of increasing the sustainable productivity and carrying capacity of the farming systems in the mountains in order to improve the livelihoods of marginal mountain households (Partap, 1998, 1999).

This, however, cannot be done by emphasizing the cultivation of cereal crops alone. If the poor mountain farmers are going to compete favourably in the modern world, they must be given options and alternatives that are not already captured by the competition. Development efforts tend to focus on exploring farming approaches to increase the productivity and carrying capacity of farms (Partap and Partap, 1997; Partap, 1999). Cash crops farming – fruit and vegetable crops suitable to specific agro-climatic conditions – is one comparative advantage that can be exploited by these farmers. For example, in uplands of the Himalayan region, off-season vegetables and fruits provide the comparative advantage to the farmers. As a result the focus of mountain agriculture is shifting from traditional cereal crops farming to high value cash crops and the cultivation of such crops as apples, almonds, pear, peaches, plums and cherries and off-season vegetables, both for local and export markets is increasing (Table 1).


Cash crop farming in the Himalayan region



AREA (000 HA)



Indian Himalayas












Chinese Himalayas4
















Northwest Indian Himalayas1




Chinese Himalayas4






Other fruit crops





Chinese Himalayas (Sichuan, Yunnan)4




Indian Himalayas6







Vegetable Crops





Chinese Himalayas6




Indian Himalayas6











Oilseed crops

Chinese Himalayas (Sichuan, Yunnan)4



Other crops




(chilli, ginger,

Chinese Himalayas (Sichuan, Yunnan)4



pulses, oilseeds,

Himachal Pradesh, India



tea, cardamom,

Uttaranchal, India7



cotton, potato,

Balochistan, Pakistan7



tomato, etc.)

NWFP, Pakistan7



1National Horticulture Board, New Delhi, India 1998, Department of Horticulture, Himachal Pradesh 1998,
2Agricultural Statistics of Nepal, (1998/99), Department of Agriculture, HMG, Nepal
3Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Royal Government of Bhutan, 1999
4Agricultural Statistics of China, 1997; and Agricultural Census of Tibet, 1997
5Agricultural Statistics of Pakistan. Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, Economic Wing, Islamabad Government of Pakistan. 1998-99; and Khan, 1998.
6Partap and Partap, 1997
7Tulachan, 2001.


For a farmer, the most desired goal in agriculture is to get the maximum possible crop yields and better quality fruit and seeds under given inputs and ecological settings. It is particularly important to get a premium price for the produce when farmers are engaged in cash crop farming. There are two well known methods for improving crop productivity. The first method is making use of agronomic inputs, including plant husbandry techniques such as the use of good quality seeds and planting material, and practices to improve yields, for example, providing good irrigation, organic manure and inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. The second method includes the use of biotechnological techniques, such as manipulating rate of photosynthesis and biological nitrogen fixation, etc. These conventional techniques ensure healthy growth of crop plants, but work up to a limit. At some stage crop productivity becomes stagnant or declines with additional inputs for the known agronomic potentials of crop will have been harnessed (Partap and Partap, 1997).

The third and relatively less known (particularly in the countries of the Himalayan region) method of enhancing crop productivity is through managing pollination of crops using friendly insects, which in the process of searching for food perform this useful service to farmers (Partap and Partap, 1997). Pollination is an ecological process based on the principle of mutual interactions or inter-relationships (known as proto-cooperation) between the pollinated (plant) and the pollinator. Pollinators visit the flowers of the plants to obtain their food (i.e. nectar and pollen) and in return pollinate them. In many cases it is the result of the intricate relationship between plants and its pollinators and the reduction or loss of either affects the survival of both. In recent years the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has recognized pollination as a key driver in the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem function.

The pollination process involves the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower called ‘anthers’ to the female part called ‘stigma’ of the same flower (self-pollination) or another flower of the same or another plant of the same species (cross- pollination). Pollination is vital for completing the life cycle of plants and ensuring production of fruit and seed whether agricultural crops or natural vegetation/flora. This ecological process is an essential prerequisite for fertilization and fruit/seed set. If there is no pollination, there will be no fertilization, no fruits or seeds will be formed and farmers will harvest no crop. Pollination is therefore the most crucial process in the life cycle of the plants and is essential for crop production and biodiversity conservation and helps enhance farm income and rural livelihoods. Figure 1 shows the relationship of pollination to improved livelihoods through enhancing agricultural productivity and biodiversity conservation.

Many cash crops are actually self-sterile and require cross-pollination to produce seeds and fruit (McGregor, 1976; Free, 1993). But it is not only self-sterile varieties that benefit from cross-pollination, but self-fertile varieties also produce more and better quality seeds and fruits if they are cross-pollinated (Free, 1993). Logically, the increase in the cultivation of cross-pollinated cash crops will also increase the need for managed pollination. Equally interesting is the adoption of apiculture as a new enterprise by many people. Promoting use of beekeeping for pollination of cash crops will be of benefit to both the beekeeper who will receive money for the pollination services of his honeybees and harvest honey and to the farmer whose income will be increased through boosting crop productivity as a result of pollination services of bees. This will help ensure food security and enhance the livelihoods of both the farmers and the beekeepers (Figure 1). This system of hiring and renting honeybee colonies for apple pollination is being practiced in Himachal Pradesh in northwest Indian Himalayas. In Maoxian county in the Hengduan Mountains a somewhat similar but rather unsustainable system of apple pollination is prevalent. Here, farmers hire ‘human pollinators’ for pollinating apple and pear trees by hand.


Contribution of pollination to agricultural productivity and improving rural livelihood


The ongoing transformation from subsistence to cash crop farming poses new challenges for maintaining crop productivity and quality. There are signs that across the HKH region the overall productivity of many mountain crops is going down. Possibly the worst affected crops are the cash crops like fruit, particularly apples, and off-season vegetables that are the hope of the region in terms of providing farmers with cash income and underpinning development efforts. This reduction in productivity is taking place despite extensive efforts at extension and information to support improvements in a range of management practices, and strong support for the introduction of successful commercial varieties. The studies revealed that among the several factors affecting mountain crop productivity pollination plays an important role. Evidence of this emerging pollination problem has been documented in a series of field studies carried out by ICIMOD across the Himalayan region (Partap, 1998; Partap and Partap, 2000, 2001; Partap et al., 2000). These studies investigated the state of inadequate pollination, its cause factors and its impact on crop productivity.


Pollinators provide an essential ecosystem service that contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity and ensures the survival of plant species including crop plants. Two types of pollinators occur in nature. These include abiotic pollinators such as wind, water and gravity, and biotic pollinators such as insects, birds and various mammals. It has been estimated that over three quarters of the world’s crops and over 80 percent of all flowering plants depend on animal pollinators, especially bees (Kenmore and Krell, 1998). Globally the annual contribution of pollinators to the agricultural crops has been estimated at about US$ 54 billion (Kenmore and Krell, 1998).

Insects are the most commonly occurring pollinators of many agricultural and horticultural crops. Different kinds of insect pollinators such as bees, flies, beetles, butterflies, moths and wasps are important pollinators of many crops. Among insects, bees are more effective pollinators than other insects because, unlike other insects, they are social and collect nectar and pollen not only to satisfy their own needs but to feed their young; their body hairs help transfer pollen from one flower to another; they show flower constancy and move from one flower to another of the same species; and many species can be reared and managed for pollination.

Over 25000 species of bees are found in the world. These include honeybees, bumble bees, stingless bees and solitary bees. Bees are the most effective pollinators of crops and natural flora and are reported to pollinate over 70 percent of the world’s cultivated crops. It has also been reported that about 15 percent of the hundred principal crops are pollinated by domestic bees (i.e. manageable species e.g. hive-kept species of honeybees, bumble bees, alfalfa bees, etc.), while at least 80 percent are pollinated by the wild bees (Kenmore and Krell, 1998). These non-honeybee pollinators are estimated to provide the pollination services worth US$ 4.1 billion per year to the US agriculture (Prescott-Allen and Prescott-Allen, 1990).


In recent years there is a world-wide decline in pollinator populations and diversity. The factors causing this decline could be the decline in the habitat, with the accompanying decrease in their food (nectar and pollen) supplies as a result of decline in pristine areas, land use changes, increase in monoculture-dominated agriculture, and negative impacts of modern agricultural interventions, e.g. use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides (Verma and Partap, 1993; Partap and Partap, 1997; Partap and Partap, 2002). Earlier, farmers used to grow a variety of crops, which bloomed during different months of the year and provided food and shelter for a number of natural insect pollinators and hence the pollination problem never existed. Monocropping also requires pesticide use to control various pests and diseases. Thus, it not only reduced the diversity of food sources of pollinator but also led to the killing of many pollinators due to pesticides. The insecticides have contributed to the extermination of both the diversity and abundance of pollinating insects. Changes in climate might also be affecting insect numbers (Partap and Partap, 2002).


The decline in pollinator population and diversity presents a serious threat to agricultural production and conservation and maintenance of biodiversity in many parts of the world. One indicator of the decline in natural insect pollinators is decreasing crop yields and quality despite necessary agronomic inputs. Examples can be found in Himachal Pradesh in northwest India, northern Pakistan and parts of China where despite all agronomic inputs, production and quality of fruit crops, such as apples, almonds, cherries and pears, is declining. Extreme negative impact of declining pollinator populations can be seen in other areas, for example in northern Pakistan where both farmers and institutions have failed to understand the importance of managed pollination. Disappointed with the very low yields and quality of apples as a result of poor pollination several farmers in Azad Jammu and Kashmir of Pakistan have chopped off their apple trees (Partap, 2001).

One implication of the decline in the pollinator populations as well as diversity is that it has created the need for managed pollination in order to maintain crop yields and quality. In fact, farmers engaged in cash crops’ farming in those areas where pollinator populations have declined are forced to manage pollination of their crops through different ways. For example, farmers in Himachal Pradesh in northwest India are using honeybees for pollination of their apples, while those in Maoxian county in Hengduan Mountains of China are pollinating their crops, e.g. apples and pears, through hand pollination using human beings as pollinators (beekeepers do not rent their honeybee colonies for pollination of these crops because farmers make excessive use of pesticides even during flowering season). Hand pollination is an interesting method of pollinating crops and provides employment and income generating opportunities to many people during apple flowering season. But at the same time it is an expensive, time-consuming and highly unsustainable proposition of crop pollination owing to the increased labour scarcity and costs. Moreover, a large part of farmers’ income is used in managing pollination of their crops.


As explained earlier in this paper the populations of these pollinators are declining in several intensively cultivated areas. Thus, the need to conserve, promote and diversify pollinator resources is pressing in several countries of the developing world. This calls for initiating research and extension activities in this direction and developing strategies to promote conservation and sustainable use of pollinators. This will require much wider understanding of the multiple services provided by the pollinator diversity and the factors that influence them, including farmers, in order to secure sustained pollinator services in agricultural ecosystems. This calls for initiating efforts at awareness, research and extension level. Certain measures suggested for increasing the number of insect pollinators include habitat conservation, discouraging over-use of pesticides, promoting integrated pest management (IPM), awareness raising, formulating policies to include managed crop pollination as an input in agricultural development packages and strengthening R&D systems.

Many species of bumblebees (Bombus spp.) and solitary bees like Amegilla, Andrena, Anthophora, Ceratina, Halictus, Lasioglossum (Evylaeus), Megachile, Nomia, Osmia, Pithis, and Xylocopa can be reared on a large scale and managed for crop pollination. In fact in many developed countries various insect pollinators, including some species of bumblebees and solitary bees, are being reared and managed commercially for pollination of various crops, particularly those that are less or uneffectively pollinated by honeybees. Bumblebees, for example, are used for the pollination of potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries and other crops grown in glasshouses, alkali bees and leaf cutter bees for the pollination of alfalfa, horn-faced bees for apples, almonds and other fruit trees, and other species of solitary bees for pollination of cotton, mustards, lucerne and berseem. In Japan the solitary bee Osmia cornifrons Rad. is being reared and managed on a large scale to pollinate about one-third of all apple crops (Batra, 1995; Sekita, 2001).

There is good potential for the managed use of non-Apis pollinators in the developing countries. There are thousands of hectares of land under crops that need cross-pollination. In cold and arid areas, for example Balochistan (Pakistan), Mustang (Nepal) and Lahul (Himachal Pradesh), where stationary beekeeping cannot be practised because of the prevailing cold and dry climatic conditions and lack of forage during the larger part of the year, conserving and managing non-honeybees for pollination can be a good option. Their conservation can be ensured simply by avoiding use of pesticides during the period when crops and other plants are blooming. This could be of great help in saving these pollinators from the hazardous effects of pesticides because the period of adult life of these insects coincides with the flowering of crops.

Even though both the need and the potential exist, the practice of rearing and managing natural pollinators for crop pollination is practically absent in the developing countries. The reason is that most institutions do not have the mandate and necessary expertise in this field. Thus, development and use of these insects in this part of world will take a long time. Major research and extension efforts will be needed before such insects can be reared and managed for pollination of crops in the region. However, efforts towards the conservation of these non-Apis pollinators can be initiated. The first step in this direction could be to save them from the harmful impacts of pesticides. For this, there is need to raise awareness about the harmful effects of agricultural chemicals and pesticides on these invaluable pollinators. There is also need to train farmers and extension workers to make safe use of carefully selected, less toxic pesticides outside the blooming period of crops.


Promoting conservation and management of naturally occurring insect pollinators is very important for sustaining agricultural productivity in the long run. Efforts – both at research and extension level-must be continued to identify, assess and develop techniques/methodology to rear and manage them for enhancing crop pollination. But as already explained the population of these bees are declining and there is a lack of scientific manpower and institutional infrastructure to rear and promote them in the countries of the Himalayan region. Moreover, the problem of pollination has already started in several areas. Therefore, promoting managed pollination is essential to address this immediate problem of inadequate pollination in several cash crops, for example, apples and pears. Our findings revealed two different cases of managed pollination of apple crops in the Himalayan region; one in Himachal Pradesh a small province in north-western Indian Himalayas where farmers are using manageable species of honeybees (Apis cerana and Apis mellifera) for pollination of their apple crop, and another in Maoxian valley located in the northwest of Sichuan Province of China where farmers employ “human bees” to pollinate their apples by hand (hand pollination). The details of these case studies are given in the following text.


As explained, many varieties of these cash crops are partially or completely self-incompatible and cannot produce fruit or seed without cross-pollination of their flowers. Moreover, it is not only self-incompatible varieties that benefit from cross-pollination, but self-fertile varieties also produce better quality fruit and seeds if they are cross pollinated (Free, 1993). While other agronomic inputs, such as the use of manure, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation are important, without cross-pollination desired crop yield and quality of harvest cannot be achieved.

Honeybees are the most widely known of all the bees because they provide honey, beeswax and other products and beekeeping is a prevailing tradition among mountain farming communities. They are the most efficient pollinators of cultivated crops because their body parts are especially modified to pick up pollen grains, they have body hair, have potential for long working hours, show flower constancy, and adaptability to different climates (Free, 1964, 1966; McGregor, 1976). Research has shown that pollination by honeybees increases fruit set, enhances fruit quality and reduces fruit drop in apple (Dulta and Verma, 1987). Among different species of honeybees, the hive-kept species (Apis cerana and Apis mellifera) are of special value because they can be managed for pollination and moved to fields/orchards where and when necessary for pollination. Pollination using honeybees is the most cost-effective method for pollinating apple and other fruit crops. Use of beekeeping is, therefore, the most promising method of cash crop pollination in the Himalayan region.

In fact, the main significance of honeybees and beekeeping is pollination, whereas hive products are of secondary value. It has been estimated that the benefit of using honeybees for enhancing crop yields through cross-pollination is much higher than their role as produces of honey and beeswax. Various estimates have been made to prove the economic value of honeybees in agriculture in developed countries. Recent estimates by Morse and Calderone (2000) show that the value of honeybee pollination to crop production in the US is US$ 14.6 billion. Similar estimates have been made for other countries. For example the value of honeybee pollination has been estimated at CAN$ 1.2 billion in Canadian agriculture (Winston and Scott, 1984), US$ 3 billion in EEC (Williams, 1992), and US$ 2.3 billion in New Zealand (Matheson and Schrader, 1987). Cadoret (1992) estimated that the direct contribution of honeybee pollination to increase farm production in 20 Mediterranean countries was US$ 5.2 billion per year – 3.2 billion in developing countries and two billion in other countries. Similarly, Chen (1993) estimated the value of honeybees to four major crops in China, including cotton, rapeseed, sunflower and tea, at US$ 0.7 billion.

Experimental research on the impact of honeybee pollination on crop productivity in the Himalayan Region

Honeybees are reported to play a vital role in enhancing the productivity levels of different crops such as fruit and nuts, vegetables, pulses, oilseeds and forage crops. A number of studies have been done to show the impact of honeybee pollination on different cash crops. However, the role of honeybees is not very well understood in the countries of the Himalayan region. Most of the research work has been done in developed countries of the world where honeybees are being used for the pollination of various crops. However, the limited research carried out in the countries of the Himalayan region has proved that bee pollination increases the yield and quality of various crops (Table 2).


Impact of honeybee (Apis cerana) pollination on fruit productivity









15, 10

Verma and Dulta, 1998




29, 23

Partap et al., 2000




11, 14

Partap et al., 2000




9, 35
Also, premature fruit drop decreased by 46 percent, increased juice by 68 percent and sugar contents in juice by 39 percent

Partap, 2000




Misshapen fruits decreased by 50 percent

Partap, 2000

These experiments showed that bee pollination increased yield and fruit quality in apple (Dulta and Verma, 1987; Gupta et al., 1996), peach, plum, citrus, kiwi (Gupta et al., 2000) and strawberry (Partap, 2000; Partap et al., 2000). Bee pollination did not only increase the fruit set but also reduced fruit drop in apple, peach, plum and citrus (Dulta and Verma, 1987; Partap, 2000; Partap et al., 2000). Reports have also indicated an increase in fruit juice and sugar content in citrus fruits (Partap, 2000). In strawberry, bee pollination reportedly reduces the percentage of misshapen fruits (Partap, 2000).

Studies have shown that honeybee pollination enhanced seed production and quality of seed in various vegetable crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, radish, broad leaf mustard and lettuce (Partap and Verma, 1992; 1994; Verma and Partap, 1993; 1994). These results confirm the usefulness of bee pollination and its role in increasing crop productivity and improving the quality of fruits and seeds (Table 3).


Impact of honeybee (Apis cerana) pollination on vegetable seed production

















Broad leaf mustard








Source: Partap and Verma, 1992; 1994, Verma and Partap, 1993; 1994

Scientific evidence confirms that bee pollination also improves the yield and quality of other vegetable crops such as asparagus, carrots, onion, turnips and several other crops (Deodikar and Suryanarayana, 1977). Recent experiments carried out in different parts of the northeast Himalayan region show that honeybee pollination does not only increase fruit set in rapeseed and sunflower but also increases the oil contents in these oilseed crops (Singh et al., 2000).

The quality of pollination is determined by the number of colonies per unit area, strength of bee colonies, placement of colonies in the field, time of placement of bee colonies, and the weather conditions. Experiences from pilot experiments have shown that the best results are achieved by placing strong bee colonies, having large amount of unsealed brood, free of diseases, at the time of 5-10 percent flowering in the crop (Free, 1993; Verma and Partap, 1993).

The significance of honeybee diversity for pollination

The Himalayan region is one of the richest in honeybee species’ diversity in the world. There are five species of honeybees: three wild species that cannot be kept in hives – the giant honeybee (Apis dorsata), the little bee (Apis florea), and the rock bee (Apis laboriosa) – and two hive-bee species, the Asian hive bee (Apis cerana), and the introduced bee (Apis mellifera). All honeybees are good crop pollinators, but because the wild species cannot be kept in man-made hives they cannot be transported to the sites where bees are needed for crop pollination. The honeybee species’ diversity in the Himalayan region holds much potential for wider use in managing crop pollination in ways suited to the conditions in specific areas. In particular, the native hive honeybee Apis cerana offers clear advantages as a pollinator in remote and higher altitude area (Partap and Partap, 1997, 2001, 2002). Partap and Partap (2002) suggested an area-based approach to use the existing honeybees’ diversity for pollination.

Managed pollination through using honeybees for apple pollination in the Himalayan Region: A case study from Himachal Pradesh, India

In the developed countries like the US, Canada, Europe and Japan honeybees are used as one of the inputs in agriculture. These countries are for long using honeybees for pollination of crops such as apples, almonds, pears, plums, cucumbers, melons, watermelons, and a number of berries. But the Himalayan region lags far behind in making use of honeybees for crop pollination. Even though plenty of scientific evidence is now available to prove that honeybees increase the productivity of various cash crops, still the practice of using honeybees for crop pollination does not exists in the Himalayan region. While in the US first colonies of honeybee, Apis mellifera were rented for pollination of pears in Virginia in 1895 (Waite, 1895) and for apple pollination in 1909 in New Jersey (Morse and Calderone, 2000), in the Himalayan region (in Himachal Pradesh) first colonies of honeybees were rented for apple pollination only recently in 1996.

A recent survey carried out by the author in apple farming areas of Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan revealed that it is only in Himachal Pradesh in northwestern Indian Himalayas where honeybees are being used for apple pollination (Partap, 1998). Here, some farmers keep their own honeybee colonies while others rent them from the Department of Horticulture or from the private beekeepers. The fees for renting bee colonies either Apis cerana or A. mellifera is Indian rupees 800 (US$ 16) per colony for two weeks. This includes Rs 500 (US$ 10) as refundable security deposit and Rs. 300 (US$ 6) per colony per two weeks of rent. Apis mellifera is the main bee species made available to farmers from government institution and private beekeepers for pollination purpose.

At present, Himachal Pradesh is the only place in the whole of the HKH region where a well-organized system has been established for hiring and renting honeybee colonies. A number of pollination entrepreneurs (beekeepers who rent honeybee colonies for crop pollination) have now started up in the state to complement the official services. The findings also revealed that in addition to increasing the number of insect pollinators by renting colonies of honeybees, some farmers are trying to save the populations of existing pollinators by making judicious use of carefully selected, less toxic pesticides and spraying outside the flowering period of apple. Even though beekeeping is a common tradition throughout the Himalayan region, yet renting honeybees for crop pollination is not much known in other countries. In Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal farmers are not aware of the importance of pollination and the existing pollination crises in their orchards. Thus, any kinds of management efforts are also absent.


Among other countries of the Himalayan region, it is in China where farmers have understood the value of managed pollination. There is a serious problem of apple and pear pollination in Maoxian county of China because pollinators have been killed by the overuse of pesticides and beekeepers do not rent their honeybees for pollination for the same reason. But unlike Himachal Pradesh, farmers pollinate their apples by hand. Hand-pollination is a common practice of managing pollination in apple crop in this valley where every family member - men, women and children are engaged in pollination of apple flowers making it a community effort (Partap and Partap, 2000). Here people do the work that can otherwise be done more efficiently by honeybees and other insect pollinators. They pollinate large areas of apples and pears by hand to make sure that each flower is properly pollinated (Partap and Partap, 2000). Therefore, hand-pollination has been promoted by the local government and is now a common practice of managing pollination in apple crop in this valley.

Various cooperation mechanisms among farmers have also evolved for sharing labour and skills. Farmers having larger orchards generally employ labourers for this purpose. Even though beekeeping is common in the area, the practice of renting honeybee colonies for pollination is surprisingly absent. Two reasons were assigned for it; one, it was not promoted in the first place; and second, beekeepers are hesitant to rent their bee colonies because of excessive use of pesticide sprays on apples.

Hand pollination is a laborious and time-consuming method of crop pollination. Even though it is the most reliable method of ensuring apple pollination today, it will not be sustainable as a long-term solution, largely because of increasing labour scarcity and costs. Therefore, in areas where agriculture is diversifying to new cash crops there is a need to raise awareness among people and local research and extension systems about not only the significance of managing pollination but also for using bee pollinators as an alternative to the prevalent practice of pollination by hand. The risk of pesticides can be minimized through judicious use, as well as by adopting practices like integrated pest management practices (Partap et al., 2001; Partap and Partap, 2002).


As reported in the earlier sections of this paper, insect pollinators including manageable species of honeybees, stingless bees, bumblebees and solitary bees can play an important role in pollination and in areas like N. America, Europe, and Japan they are used extensively to ensure pollination of fruit and vegetable crops. However, although both the need and the potential exist in the developing countries, the practice of managed pollination is practically absent. Forget about rearing and using species of bumblebees and solitary bees; here there is even no practice of using hivebees such as Apis cerana and Apis mellifera and stingless bees even though beekeeping is a tradition throughout the developing countries. Development and use of insects other than hivebees in this part of world will take a long time and need major research and extension efforts before such insects can be reared and managed for pollination of crops in the region.

This section discusses the issues and challenges in ensuring crop pollination through using manageable species as well as promoting conservation and sustainable use of natural pollinators as a sustainable solution to enhance agricultural productivity. Figure 2 presents the challenges to integrate pollination with farming systems and enhancing rural livelihoods through promoting managed pollination and conserving pollinator populations. The main constraints to promoting managed pollination by using honeybees and other pollinators are lack of awareness and understanding among farmers, extension workers, planners and policy-makers about the importance of pollinators and pollination, lack of integrating pollination in agricultural development packages, scarcity of managed colonies of honeybees, and lack of knowledge about conservation, rearing and use of pollinators and their pollination behaviour.


Awareness raising, reorientation of agricultural development policies to include pollination as an input, institutional strengthening R&D Institutions, human resources development and capacity building are necessary to integrate pollination in farming systems and enhance agricultural productivity and livelihoods of rural people

Awareness raising

Lack of awareness at all levels - be it farmers, extension workers, and professionals at policy and planning level-is one of the main problems in promoting managed pollination. With a few exceptions of farmers in those areas where there is a pollination problem, people are not aware of the value of honeybees (including other pollinators) for agricultural production. This is both because beekeeping has always been promoted exclusively as an enterprise for honey production and because cash crops’ farming is a new activity in many developing countries, and there is no indigenous knowledge on the need for managed crop pollination for enhancing cash crop production. Raising awareness at all levels about the importance of managed crop pollination through beekeeping and other pollinators is the first step as part of development efforts.

Including pollination as a technological input to agricultural development packages

Pollination has been overlooked in agricultural development strategies and is not included as a technological input in agricultural development packages. High value agriculture is being promoted in several areas and extension institutions offer packages of practices for each type of crop, but the importance of managing pollination to achieve higher yields has been overlooked. Thus farmers have no way of knowing how essential it can be. This weakness in the agricultural extension system needs to be addressed.

Since pollination is essential for the production of fruits and seeds, it should be included in agricultural development packages by promoting beekeeping for crop pollination as a ‘double benefit approach’. Thus the most important step in promoting the wider use of honeybees for crop pollination is to include beekeeping as part of agricultural development efforts. Including managed crop pollination in agricultural development packages will also help develop strategies to conserve, promote and use other pollinators.

Influencing thinking about bees and beekeeping

Traditional thinking is that beekeeping is for honey production, its role in crop pollination is rarely considered. Today, most government agencies are only engaged in promoting beekeeping for honey production. The move towards introduction of Apis mellifera to increase honey production is an example of this. Thus there is need to change the general ‘mindset’ about honeybees and beekeeping, and to raise awareness about the importance of managed crop pollination.

Strengthening research and development institutions

Managed crop pollination is a relatively new area. There are few institutions with explicit mandates or expertise for research and extension in this area. Most institutions are working only with beekeeping and promoting it as a cottage industry to increase family income through the sale of honey. Promoting the value of honeybees as reliable pollinators of agricultural crops will require special efforts to strengthen research and extension systems. This is necessary in order to underline applied research in key areas of managed crop pollination. Issues such as decline of pollinator populations and the need to conserve them need to be addressed by the institutions.

Human resources development and capacity building

Lack of knowledge among farmers about the pollination behaviour of honeybees is another constraint hindering the use of honeybees for crop pollination. Even those farmers, who do know that they can use honeybees to increase apple pollination and yield, don’t always know how to use the bees. Though linked with the institutional strengthening, it requires more focus to build the capacities of individual farmers, development workers and farmer-led organizations that are the agents of change. There is need to train farmers and beekeepers in managing honeybees for crop pollination. There is also need to develop human resources and build their capacities to initiate activities in the area of conserving, rearing and using pollinators to improve pollination and thus agricultural productivity.


The inputs of pollinators in agriculture husbandry and biodiversity conservation have not been recognized by policy makers, planners, development workers and farmers. There is no conceptual clarity and recognition of the value of pollinators. There is also need for a change in thinking about the value of honeybees as crop pollinators at all levels: policy, planning, research, beekeeping and farming. The initial thrust of the pollination programme should be to raise awareness about the significance of managing pollination through honeybees and generate knowledge and information to facilitate the formulation of strategies to ensure the wider use of beekeeping for pollination. Honeybees should be seen as crop pollinators first, and as honey producers second. Changes in research and development investment policies may be needed to encourage this. It is also necessary to evolve strategies to promote investment in research and development that will enhance the use of honeybees and other pollinators for pollination. This means developing area-based approaches, making full use of the existing diversity of pollinators including honeybees.


Women play an important role in agriculture and food production in several developing countries. They are the dominant labour force in agriculture and make a crucial contribution through engaging themselves in all agricultural activities from preparation of the soil to post-harvest operations. Development of rural women and encouraging their full participation as equal partners in the social and economic mainstream is one of the greatest challenges being faced by several developing countries today.

Pollinator management and managed pollination have direct impact on improving women’s lives in terms of increasing the economic/food security and reducing their drudgery. Information on the role and significance of women and how their livelihood is affected by failure of pollination and better management of crop pollination is presented here to make a case why future strategies relating to managing pollination should give due attention to gender roles and capacity building.

Let us first analyze how women are affected by managed pollination. As reported, the most visible impact of crop pollination failure is seen in cash crops. Cash crops have played a major role in improving food security and livelihoods of farmers in hills and mountains. Increased productivity through managed pollination has direct implications for women’s lives in terms of increasing their economic security. Better pollination leads to increased agricultural production resulting in increased family income leading to enhanced food security and livelihoods. This also ensures better health, nutrition and education for women. On the other hand declining crop yields through lack of adequate pollination increases drudgery as the women have to work extra hard to achieve food security. Therefore, involvement of women in managed pollination should be encouraged.

Our studies also show that women are key to successful management of pollinators (Partap, 1998; Partap and Partap, 2000; Partap and Partap, 2002; Partap et al., 1991). In Himachal Pradesh, where honeybees are being used for pollination of fruit crops, women farmers manage colonies for use in their own orchards as well as for renting (Partap, 1998; Partap and Partap, 2002). There are numerous local women farmers’ associations in Himachal Pradesh, known as Mahila Mandals, which are actively engaged in beekeeping for renting bee colonies for pollination. These hill women farmers are being encouraged to raise honeybees and rent them for apple pollination. As a result a number of women beekeepers’ groups are coming up. This has not only increased the income of these ‘women-headed pollination entrepreneurs’ through renting bee colonies for pollination but also through sale of honey. In Hengduan mountains of China women are the backbone of the hand pollination process of fruit trees. Thus, it is necessary to evolve strategies for improving the skills of women in this field.

It is necessary to encourage women’s involvement in management of pollinators and pollination in other countries also by creating a conducive environment through extension and demonstration activities, empowering them through training, research, and involving them in projects at national and international levels. While designing training programmes and formulating policies on pollination and conservation and sustainable use of pollinators special consideration should be given to the training of women and building their capacities. For example, women can be encouraged to take up beekeeping for pollination as an income generating activity. Programmes to provide training and support to such pollination entrepreneurs headed by the women can be launched. Such programmes may include capacity building, training and transfer of knowledge and appropriate technology. This will also help in bringing them into the mainstream of development.


Like soil, water and nutrients, pollination is also a limiting factor in crop productivity. The declining agricultural productivity can be attributed to a number of factors, but pollination plays a crucial role. We may make use of plant husbandry techniques, such as the use of better quality seed and planting material and provide all agronomic inputs including, good irrigation, use of organic and inorganic fertilizers and biocides, but if there is no pollination, no fruit or seed will be formed.

The pollination problem is relatively new and needs due attention at this early stage. Since pollinator scarcity is the main factor responsible for inadequate pollination, solutions to this lie in increasing the number of pollinators. This can be done by conserving populations of natural insect pollinators by promoting integrated pest management and making judicious use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, however, the most practical and preferred solution to increase the number of pollinators would be by promoting manageable species of honeybees for pollination. There is need to formulate policies that include pollination as an integrated input to agricultural production technologies. Other challenges include strengthening research and extension institutions and human resources development.


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