When he was little, A. Parthiban would play fetch with bees on the way to school, surrounded by palm trees, tamarinds and bananas. An exuberant vegetation typical of the state of Tamil Nadu, located in southern India. These little insects that he had seen in his biology books and loved so much were flying everywhere. He explored under the rocks and looked up to the sky to find them among the flowers that hung from the trees. This happened more than three decades ago.
Today, A. Parthiban is 43 years old, he is a bus driver and father of a family. But something has not changed: his interest in small pollinators. He works twelve hours, three days a week on the line that runs from his village, Gobychettipalayam, to the city of Madurai. The remaining days are dedicated to beekeeping. A passion that has achieved unexpected results.
In his fields of tamarind he has carried out an investigation about the concrete benefits of pollination on his crops and the care of biodiversity. “How does the work of the bees affect the productivity of my trees?” He wondered. While searching for the answers, his experiments have received the support of the Hindu government and he now collaborates with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), as a trainer. In this way, he tries to return the green and buzzing sounds of his childhood to the surrounding landscape.
"India is experiencing a process of loss of its pollinators," says Parthib Basu, a professor at the University of Kolkata. "We do not have a database that can certify it but from the Center for Pollinator Studies we are carrying out research in the Tripura area, on the edge of Bangladesh" continues Basu. "The two main contributing factors are the loss of natural habitat and pesticides."
India is the world's second largest producer of fruit and vegetables after China and 99% of its large harvest is destined for domestic consumption. "In our country, of the 160 million hectares cultivated, 55 million depend on bees for pollination" explains Professor Shashidhar Viraktamath, from the University of Bangalore, "this means that more than a third of our food is due to these services ”.
Although far from universities, A. Parthiban is doing research along the same lines. On his days off, he takes his motorcycle and drives to his tamarind fields. Where now he has four hundred and fifty hives, all built by him.
After several years of research, he was able to verify that the harvests of his two hundred and fifty trees went from 1,000 kgs to 4,350 kgs, in this last year, thanks to the contribution of bees. For his tireless dedication he became famous throughout the state and now provides training to his neighbors on how to increase productivity and, consequently, improve their diet. “I want to protect bees for the lives of future generations,” says Parthiban, showing the awards he has received for his work.
The consequences of the decline of bees in India could weigh heavily on people's pockets. "We have evaluated the effect of pollination on five different vegetable crops and the annual loss can be estimated at around 726 million dollars" explains Professor Basu. “You would not only be losing money. This reduction could affect the family food basket. It's about loss of food, hunger basically ”.