For hundreds of diseases honey is a renowned curative. Yet for the risk of stings many people don't appreciate beehives near their homes. By contrast, the golden mustard fields of Pabna and Sirajganj in these winter months provide an ideal location for hives; the bees not only produce delicious honey from the flowers but also help secure a good mustard harvest through increased pollination.
“Mustard fields are more suitable for honey collection than other crops,” says one local apiculturist, Said Md Aslam Sardar from a village beside Chalan Beel. “I have positioned 300 box hives in a one-bigha field in Noubaria village in Pabna's Vangura upazila a couple of weeks ago. I hope to collect around two tonnes of honey.”
Like him, more than 800 beekeepers from across the country reach Pabna and Sirajganj during the winter, aiming to collect honey from mustard fields. It's a practice that has proved particularly popular over the last decade.
Up to 3,000 tonnes of honey is likely to be collected from the regions mustard fields this year, according to beekeepers, with approximately 50,000 beehives set across 66,000 hectares in Pabna and Sirajganj, especially in the lands around Chalan Beel.
The same fields will produce an estimated 76,000 tonnes of mustard crop, according to agriculture officials, with the work of the bees accounting for a fifteen to twenty percent better harvest than could otherwise be anticipated. Indeed mustard farmers who were once sceptical of apiculturists setting up hives near their fields nowadays invite them in.
“Some years ago production of mustard per hectare was not more than one tonne,” says Rawshan Alam, the upazila agriculture officer in Chatmohar. “Thanks to apiculture in the Chalan Beel area it's now easy to achieve up to 1.2 tonnes per hectare in a mustard harvest.”
“Chalan Beel of a winter is a favourite with beekeepers,” says president of the northern region's apiculturist association Jahangir Alam Modhu, “as they like to take advantage of the vast fields of mustard flowers. Although honey production peaks in winter, beekeepers are active in the area from mid-November until May.”
According to Jahangir the beekeepers don't only rely on mustard but also set hives near other winter crops including fields of rye and black caraway, locally known as kalo jeera.
“The Chalan Beel area in winter is the largest honey producing zone in the country,” says Pabna's Additional Director of the Department of Agriculture Extension Md Khoyer Uddin. “And for the presence of the bees and the associated promise of better harvests, many farmers have stopped using pesticide too.”