I participated in writing an article about  resilience and biodiversity. Then I learned the concept of nature’s contributions to people, like clean air, pollination, water supply, etc. I wanted to focus on one of them to be able to calculate cost-effectiveness in numbers. Well, I didn’t reach the goal properly, but at least I got experience. 

Disclaimers: 

  • Nearly all calculations are done using very rough simplifications and they may lack important aspects. (For example: I found out about livestock as a part of agricultural GDP just when I was publishing this, so it’s missing.) Hopefully most calculations are still in the right scope.
  • I’ve never been to India, so all the knowledge is gathered from the internet. I’m a BBA, so I hope that I’ve got the economic calculations quite right, but this kind of stuff isn’t my special area (yet).

Short: 

Indian crops are suboptimally pollinated, and there’s a risk of the situation getting much worse, because of insecticides and habitat loss. Pollination can increase the agricultural GDP 7% or decrease it 9% at worst, plus potential cascading effects. On the micro-level the variation in effects are far more dramatic. 


The Indian government has an objective to double the farmers’ income and increasing beekeeping is part of the plan. All the pollination services create 300 times more value than the actual beekeeping industry, which suggests great cost-effectiveness. India is now the 4th biggest importer of honey in the world. There’s still capacity left to sustain beekeeping up to 50-fold. The Indian Beekeeping Development Committee has proposed several actions. The honey production has tripled 2006-2018. 

There are also solutions which enhance natural pollination to safeguard and help the pollinators. 

In more detail: 

Problem (Importance)

Indian crops are suboptimally pollinated, and there’s a risk of the situation getting much worse from insecticides and habitat loss. Indian pollinators have declined from their natural level by 40% in 2016. (I could not find more current numbers). 9% of India’s agricultural GDP depends directly on pollination. (Animal production excluded.) There are also some cascading effects. On the micro-level the effects are far more dramatic, because the dependence on pollination varies a lot between crops. When it’s about food, as agriculture mostly is, the human consequences of lowered production can be much more severe than in other industries. 


For a rough estimate: beekeeping increased yields 28-43% in this paper. But the researched crops might be unusually pollinator-sensitive or the researched area might have less pollinators than average, so let's be more conservative and estimate the average increase for pollination-dependent crops is 15%. Half of Indian agriculture (produced by crops) needs pollinators. So the potential to increase agricultural GDP would be approximately 7%. (15% ÷ 2) 

Indian farmers make 40% of India’s current workforce (there’s a decreasing trend) and 15% of India’s GDP. Indian GDP per capita is about 2000$. Agricultural GDP per agricultural worker is 650$ as I calculated here. 1% better income would mean 6,50$ more per person and cost 650$ for a hundred people.

Solution (Tractability)

The Indian government’s objective is to double the farmers’ income, and increasing beekeeping is part of the plan. According to The Indian Express article, “Agriculture experts say the additional yield obtained after pollination is 15 to 20 times more than the money generated from the hive products.” (A study said in 2016, that the overall value created by pollination is about 300 times bigger than the beekeeping industry, but it’s unclear how much of it comes from the industry and how much naturally. I think it’s in part because pollination is not economically captured: it's an externality that is very valuable but not very sellable. Therefore it is value that is not being properly provided by economic/capitalistic systems and undersupplied/neglected.)

The ratio

So, to get pollination to grow, someone must invest. How much growth does one expect to have for investment in bees? My calculations, based on this farming site, give numbers between 18%-65% annually. Indian Apiculture Industry Report says it’s about 12% per year. Those numbers are only for the hive products. What about the big thing, pollination? If we calculate it’s 15 bigger, as Indian Express agriculture experts say, then the growth is 15*12% = 180% So, the money will almost triple, when put into beehives. 

The Indian honey production has tripled 2006-2018 and it’s estimated to double again in five years.

There are alternative methods to safeguard and increase natural pollination. Conserving forests and decreasing pesticide use.

Neglectedness

This study mentioned that when there were 1,3 million beehives in India, there was 98,3% unused potential indicating potential capacity is about 65 million hives. It’s also estimated that there would be enough resources to have 200 million hives in india. 

With the current growth rate about 12%, and the current amount of 3,5 million beehives, the capacity of 65 million bee colonies will be reached in 2042 and the upper limit, 200 million colonies in 2054. I assumed that the ratio between beehives and the value of the honey products stays the same all the time.

There’s a limit on increasing demand, but it won’t be reached anytime soon. I calculated that if domestic demand per person grows to the global average, the total demand will triple. If it grows to the level of Germany, the total demand will grow ten-fold.

Some things resist the growth: According to The Economic Times, “[the CEO of honey manufacturer Apis India, Pankaj Kumar] Mishra explains that beekeeping is a very fragmented and unorganised sector and there are no big farms here, unlike for other agricultural products.” The industry is not very established yet and the beekeepers lack financial security because of changing prices. Importing honey abroad needs laboratories for quality control, but they are too expensive and rare for small beekeepers. 

The domestic demand per person is small, but the Indian government works to get it higher and helps farmers to market their honey. I believe it will help to stabilize the demand for honey, and help secure the income of beekeepers. There are subsidies for investing in beekeeping equipment, and education centers for beekeepers provided. 


It looks to me that the Indian government is doing quite good work and the markets are growing, which suggests there will be enough funding. This doesn’t seem very neglected, but there may be niches where you can make great gains. 

The budget of the Indian Gov for “The Sweet Revolution,” is $63 million US dollars for 3 years. 11 projects of 3.2 million USD each have been selected. Open question is how big other money sources are, and how much is needed.

Counter arguments

I expect diminishing returns on fixing this: The closer you are to the optimal pollination, the less utility you get from an extra bee colony. 

Increasing beehives may increase insect pain. Especially the industrial production of venom raises ethical questions.

The invasive European honeybees often used in India harm native pollinators. 

One concern is that beekeeping, while economically valuable, is not going to be distributed across the country to benefit the crops optimally. Repairing ecosystems or limiting pesticides would provide a self-sustaining solution, alternatively subsidizing beekeeping only if it's sufficiently distant from other beekeepers or next to crops where it will provide ecosystem services/beneficial externalities.

Increasing industrial beekeeping can be fixing the symptom instead of the problem; adding water to broken glass. That can postpone finding more sustainable solutions to the main problems that cause pollinator loss in the first hand: habitat destruction and pesticide toxicity. It’s usually much cheaper and more possible to preserve nature than try to fix it afterwards. 

Increasing honeybees in India doesn't seem very neglected. This study warns that in Southern Asia lack of pollination may cause 1.7 billion people to face crop losses. One strategy would be to apply the best practices from India to the neighboring countries.

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