Mosaddeq Hossain of Dinajpur Sadar upazila, a botany graduate, joined Saradeshwari Girls' High School in Dinajpur as an assistant teacher in 2019. When the school closed due to Covid-19, he shifted his focus to beekeeping.
He saw great potential in honey production in the district due to the huge yield of mustard and litchi on its fertile land. According to him, honey worth Tk1,000 crore can be produced per year from mustard and litchi flowers in this district.
At one stage, he discovered that a huge amount of honey was being wasted due to inefficient methods of collecting honey. That's when an idea struck him: Why not involve more people, especially unemployed youth, in beekeeping so they can be self-employed?
With this in mind, he formed the Alor Pothe Jago Jubok, and has since trained more than 150 youths by spending 10% of his income.
He said initially farmers were not interested in beekeeping, but later they realised that bees cause pollination, which increases crop production.
This year, Mosaddeq has aimed at producing three to four tonnes of honey worth Tk15-20 lakh in the retail market.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Dinajpur, most of the honey is extracted from litchi flowers. Beekeepers estimate that honey worth at least Tk150-200 crore can be fetched from the litchi orchards every year from the district.
Officials of the DAE said mustard has been planted in 16,100 hectares of land in the district this year. At least 350 kg of honey can be collected from one acre of mustard field. As such, over 1.39 crore kg of honey can be collected from mustard fields in the district.
In the wholesale market, its value is at least Tk210 crore which is double in the retail market.
Mosaddeq Hossain has inspired and trained many youths and some of them have already started beekeeping on their own.
For example, Md Ifaduzzaman started beekeeping after passing a diploma in civil engineering. At present, he has four bee boxes and earns Tk15,000 per month. He aims to double his business within a year.
"I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, I received training from Mosaddeq and started beekeeping. However, I need some more training and patronisation from the government," he added.
Another beekeeper, Rakib Hasan Rifat, started bee farming after passing HSC. He has been in the profession for four months.
"I can bear my education and living costs by what I earn from beekeeping. I sent Tk5,000 home last month. I want to be a big entrepreneur and help youths interested in this profession," said Rakib.
Jewel Hasda is another story of success. He started his journey with three bee boxes and at present has seven boxes. He is happy with what he earns.
From one box, one can get 80 kilograms of honey worth Tk32,000-Tk40,000. So, if someone has 50 boxes, he can earn up to Tk20 lakh a year, he added.
Abdur Rashid, vice president of the North Bengal Beekeepers Association comprising 16 districts, said 375 farms in Dinajpur and Thakurgaon produce honey, mainly during the litchi season. Of these, 325 farms are in Dinajpur.
At least two tonnes of honey is collected in each farm. As such, 700 tonnes of honey is collected from Dinajpur. Each tonne of honey is sold at Tk3 lakh.
He said there is no honey processing plant in North Bengal. Establishing such a plant can help meet the local demand for honey as well as can be exported.
At present, various companies export honey but farmers cannot sell directly to consumers, so as a result they are deprived of fair prices.
A honey plant can ensure fair prices for farmers.
"In many countries, honey farmers are given subsidies. We do not want subsidies, we want technological support from the government so that young beekeepers can sell their products directly to the retail customers or export abroad," he added.
Dr Anwar Hossain Chowdhury, who researches honey and bees in the USAID, said only five-day hands-on training can boost the skills and income of beekeepers. He said besides producing honey and wax, beekeeping increases crop production by 30% due to pollination.
"We are trying to train young people on how to produce more honey in less time and at less cost. We are also working on bringing a new variety through cross-breeding," he added.