The founding team of Tenacious Bee Collective, working in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, talk of their quest for raw Himalayan honey and where it has taken them.
After onboarding quite a handful—yes, handful, but we mean that in the best sense—of producer partners who work with hives and honey, we’re thrilled to have welcomed Tenacious Bee Collective into this fold. Co-founders Kunal Singh and Malini Kochupillai describe their organisation, spread across Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, as one that focuses on beekeeping advocacy.
Living side by side with resilient farmers and dedicated beekeepers has given them a deep understanding of the profound effects of climate change, say the duo.
The founders met at an exhibition of Malini’s community art project in late 2017, where conversation quickly veered to Himachal Pradesh, where Kunal hails from, and to raw Himalayan honey. Their subsequent quest for raw honey led to the discovery of interlinked concerns around beekeeping and farming practices in the mountains, dwindling bee populations, and the exploitative honey industrial complex. Tenacious Bee Collective was conceptualised to address these with a multifaceted approach to complex problem solving, with Anup Pai—an old friend of Malini’s who believed in the duo’s dream—jumping on the bandwagon. Each of the three friends brings diverse experiences and world views to the project.
Read an interview with the co-founders of Tenacious Bee Collective:
You promote cultivation of herbs and other plants among the farmers in your fold. What plants are these, and how has it impacted the bee population in the regions they are grown in? What kind of bees do you work with?
Currently, we work with a few local farmers, and on our own leased farmland, to produce a native cousin of the tulsi called bhabhri. This herb is indigenous to specific altitudes in the western Himalaya, and grows in the monsoon. In addition, we grow pollinator-friendly plants like marigold, sunflowers, geranium, turmeric, garlic, and native species of rice and barley. We have been encouraging local farmers to adopt natural beekeeping practices and grow a diversity of crops, including herbs and flowers. In the long run, these practices will help local bee populations. Changing long-held farming practices, however, is a slow process, and only time will show tangible effects on local biodiversity and pollinator populations.
In the village, we help maintain dhalooni, and a few bee-boxes, all with Apis Cerana bees, native to South Asia. Our beekeepers, who practise migratory beekeeping, keep Apis Mellifera bees, introduced in Himachal Pradesh in the 1960s, as these colonies are more industrious and commercially viable. We avoid bringing commercial bees to our village as this would cause a conflict for native bees and insects around food sources.
What is the cultural significance of dhalooni? What does it mean in terms of sustainable practices, and the generation of livelihoods in the region?
Dhalooni is the local term for wall hives that have been an intrinsic part of the vernacular mud and stone architecture of mountain communities across the Western Himalayas. Dhaloonis have been maintained for centuries in the homes of rural mountain people, used not only to harvest honey in small quantities for personal use, but also instrumental in facilitating pollination in these primarily agrarian communities.
Within the cosy confines of a wall hive, it is necessary to regularly make space for the bee colony to continue growing and thriving. So beekeepers remove a few ‘rotis’ of sealed honeycomb, especially during the nectar flow seasons, to make room for new broods and larvae. In this way, bees get a safe warm home in precarious mountain ecologies in exchange for a little honey. The practice is one of mutual exchange, and sustainable, so long as it is not exploited for commercial production.
One of your sustainable practices is to ensure that not all the honey is harvested. What else makes for ethical beekeeping?
At Tenacious Bee Collective, ethical beekeeping goes beyond just leaving some honey for the bees. It prioritises the well-being of the bees, the preservation of their natural habitats, and the promotion of sustainable practices.
Our bees thrive in pristine mountain ecologies, where natural farming is the norm, and the air is untouched by pollutants. And although a majority of the beekeepers in our network harvest commercially from Apis Mellifera hives, we are gradually switching to native species. We support indigenous beehives, promote natural mating processes, and avoid practices that may contribute to the homogenisation of bee genetics. We practise responsible hive management techniques outlined by the FAO under good beekeeping practices.
Fostering collaboration among beekeepers to encourage best practices and continuous learning is also where we pitch in. This includes sharing information, providing training and support, and facilitating connections between beekeepers and experts in the field.
Does the agrarian community around you reach out to you for bee-related concerns?
Despite being relatively new to the world of beekeeping, our extensive interdisciplinary network grants us access to a wealth of knowledge and practical insights. One of our favourite activities is beehive relocation: it brings us in contact with bees. Our team assists in relocating hives—especially when they nest in wardrobes, on balconies, or walls—to more suitable habitats. People from our village and around regularly reach out to us for help with this.
We also help with maintaining healthy native habitats, challenges related to queen bees—such as poor egg-laying or aggressive behaviour—honing honey harvesting and processing techniques.
Your offerings include a range of honeys. Any bestsellers?
Currently, we have two standout products in our lineup: the Kangra forest honey and our honey sampler box. These products showcase the exquisite taste and quality of our honey collection, offering customers a glimpse of the pristine mountain ecologies and floras they are harvested from.
Founders’ favourites—tell us about your favourite honeys, what you like about them, and in what form you enjoy them.
We each have a favourite, but bharmaur forest honey is the one that takes the prize. The delicate floral aftertaste is rare, and comes from the Indian borage flower that is in bloom during the harvest. We use honey for the first drink in the morning, and as a facepack before sleeping. We like spoonfuls on buttered toast, or parathas! We also love to add it to salad dressings, or as a delicious sweetener for summer sorbets and drinks.
To read more about Tenacious Bee Collective and their practices and efforts, check out our producer page here. This is a paid partnership with Tenacious Bee Collective. We strive to keep the practices of a producer transparent and honest across all forms of partnerships.
This is a paid partnership with Tenacious Bee Collective. We strive to keep the practices of a producer transparent and honest across all forms of partnerships.