Learning all about bee keeping in rural and corporate offices

India is a country of extremes they say, which was last week very prominent by type of meeting rooms I worked in. On day one I was picked up by Govind from Under The Mango Tree (UTMT) for a field visit in Gujarat. Train left at 05:45 from Mumbai central station which was at this early hour already very crowded.

Bee keeping farmers happy with their work
The team of UTMT in Gujarat explained all about bee keeping. The team consists of mostly men; master trainers, technical assistants, carpenters and coordinating management. The first ‘meeting room’ was definitely rural India (bottom picture) The farmers who keep the bees like their work a lot. First of all keeping bees provides them an income but besides that it gives them self-esteem, better language skills by learning Hindi i.s.o. talking their local dialect and respect from other villagers. And above all they like farming and bee keeping.

Innovations in bee keeping
The team is continuously innovating their ways of working. Like an ants prevention system (picture 2nd from below), a cover for sun protection or the use of cow urine to keep possible herds of infection out. They meet fortnightly at the BRC (BeeResourceCenter) to share experiences, planning and track their achievements. They told me about two successful projects were only women are trained. This is a new thing for UTMT, and of course stimulated and welcomed by the involvement of Women on Wings. One freshly trained female master trainer divided a natural bee colony from 1 to 2 colonies – an important technique to scale up.

Cross pollination improves crop yield and involves more female famers
After the field visit I work two days with the team and all partners involved to discuss the future business model of UTMT. The challenge is to make the model more self-supporting. Now UTMT has an intense involvement in both training the bee keepers – which is an intense program of 6 months –and giving the handheld support after that. The new model should develop entrepreneurs in bee keeping in the local villages. After the intense training – which remains and is crucial – they should be self-supporting and renting out bee boxes and providing pollination services to other local farmers. Through these services other farmers benefit from cross pollination which substantially will improve their crop yield. Pollination services seem an interesting way to involve more women. The geographical span of a master trainer is sometimes too wide, and being away from their home and village for a few days is not always accepted/possible for female beekeepers. Skills required to be a successful beekeeper are quite feminine, like consistency, attention and patience.

The way forward for UTMT by helping them think
On Friday we prepared the presentation for an important meeting on Saturday with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), using the CANVAS business model which again proved its usefulness as a framework to bring across all the thinking and work done by the UMTM team initiated by our workshop in March earlier this year.
Saturday we worked at the fully air-conditioned BCG office in Mumbai (picture 2nd from top). Ronald also joined. Purpose of the meeting was to discuss options for new business models and to discuss the way forward, including roles and responsibilities of all the partners involved. This was constructive and gave guidance in the way UTMT will develop. We were grateful that we could contribute by facilitating this process. UTMT summarized the contribution of Women on Wings and other partners by only 4 words: “You helped us think.”

Judith van Riet