Small-scale beeswax processing in remote western Nepal
Naomi M. Saville
Jumla is a remote high -hill district of western Nepal (28-29 ºN, 81- 82 ºE, area 254,364 hectares). It is isolated from motor roads by a 3--5 -days walk. The district centre, Jumla (Kalanga) bazaar, lies at an altitude of 2500 m and has an air-strip used for passenger flights and to bring in food and supplies. ItJumla is the administrativezonal centre for the Karnali zone (the area of Nepal with the lowest Human Development Index) and is developing as a centre of trade and services. The population of the district approximates 75,964 (1991 statistics), comprising mainly Brahmin, Thakuri, Chettri, Kami, and Tibetan (Bhote) castes thatwhich form a strongly traditional society. Much of the district lies above the local rice-growing threshold of 2600 m;, where potatoes and barley form the staple diet. Here, wild flowers are abundant on the uncultivated slopes and forest, and thus honey and beeswax haves traditionally been an important source of income for Jumla families, especially for those at high altitudes.
Beeswax is an important product of beekeeping (Brown, 1981;, Krell, 1996) thatwhich is often neglected as a source of added income or as a resource to be utilised within the household. In the district of Jumla in remote western Nepal, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in collaboration with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) called Surya Social Service Society (or "4S, Jumla") haves been promoting the use of beeswax. Manufacture of beeswax candles and herbal salves /creams can be a source of income -generation and livelihood improvement for the local people. The isolation of Jumla and other remote mountain areas means that high -value, low -weight -to -volume products are most suitable for export from the area. Honey and beeswax fit well into this category. With rapidly rising air cargo costs, value-added products need to be produced in the remote area itself in order to make sufficient profits.
Traditional markets and uses for beeswax
Traditional uses of beeswax in Jumla are:: lost -wax casting for making '"kaso'" (high -quality brass) cooking pots, bells, and religious statues, and silver bracelets; mending water vessels; shoe-making and mending (i.e. waxing thread and polishing or reconditioning leather shoes); for waxing kite threads; and to a much lesser extent, for making candles and skin creams.
Of 302 farmers questioned in 1997, most did not sell or use their beeswax, but at least 126 of them traded ittheir wax in a barter system with "low" -caste ("Kami" and "Sunar") people who use it for work lost-wax casting ofwith iron and gold respectively. This tradition has arisen since lost wax casting work requires beeswax. The usual 'price' is 1:1 weight for weight with metal items, often pots and pans. The metal varies: 89 farmers said that they exchanged it for unspecified metal pots; six exchanged for6 "kaso"; two for2 copper; and 20 for iron. Many farmers appear to keep the wax at home and trade it with visiting "Kami's, but some farmers (16 of those interviewed) carried it with them on trading trips (e.g. to Nepalgung and Surkhet) into the lower altitudes (for example, Nepalgung and Surkhet) where they deal with the metal-workers there. Only five5 farmers claimed to use the wax themselves and only eight8 quoted a wax price in rupees. This varied from 40 to 200 Rs/kg with an average of Rs 118 (SE of mean 20.9) (US$ 1 = Rs 62.5).
When the Jumla Beekeeping Project started, a few traditional beekeepers were already making candles using the high -altitude bamboo (locally called nigalo) as a mould, and others were making (mustard) oil and wax ointments for the hands and face. Seeing these indigenous methods and realising the value of them the project has worked to promote the use of beeswax in these two particular ways.
Importance of beeswax when honey crops fail
As Thai Sac Brood Virus (TSBV) and European Foul Brood (EFB) has have decimated the population of Apis cerana in Jumla since at least 1994, promotion of the use of beeswax has been particularly important as a means of encouraging beekeepers not to give- up on beekeeping. It is hoped that such efforts may contribute to the preservation of the now relatively rarei.e. Apis cerana ssp. cerana local to the area (Verma, 1998). When colonies abscond or die, they leave combs behind thatwhich need to be removed for disease -control purposes. Processing of these combs to make pure beeswax not only sanitises the wax and removes a source of re-infection, but also provides at least a small incomeprofit from the lost colony. With the failure of honey harvests, exploration of a market for beeswax products is an attempt to improve the economical value of beekeeping until the local bee population evolvesgenerates adequateenough resistance to withstand these diseases and honey harvests can increase again.
Beekeeping for beeswax instead of honey alone
In tests of appropriate technology in beekeeping in Jumla, farmers favour top-bar hives thatwhich are adapted from traditional log hives. When extracting honey from thesetop-bar hives, combs are usually totally cut and squeezed rather than the honey being extracted by centrifugal action and the combs being re-used. Hence, beeswax becomes an important product of beekeeping rather than a byside-product. Value -added products of beeswax are thus arehave potential as sources of extra income for Jumla people.
Development of a beeswax collection and processing centre
In December 1996 a beeswax collection and processing centre was established in Jumla for the promotion of beeswax processing and marketing. This centre buys raw and dirty beeswax from the local farmers at a locally negotiated rate of 150 Rs / kg (equivalent to approx. $2.4) for relatively clean, processed beeswax and Rs 80-90 Rs/kg (c. $1.3) for dirty wax. This wax is collected during field visits by the farmer-trainers of the Jumla Himalayan Beekeepers' Association (HIBA) and by the two staff employed by 4S Jumla to run the beeswax centre, during their field visits to beekeeping communities. Wax is also collected from thenot only Jumla, but also neighbouring districts of Mugu and Kalikot.
Before the wax can be made into value -added products, it has to be repeatedly cleaned and filtered to remove dirt and soot particles. Solar wax -extractors (Tomlinson, 1991) can be used in Jumla to extract wax from old combs during, but only in the warmest months of the year (May and June), because of the generally low temperature, and cloud cover in the monsoon. Black soot is a major problem in quality control in any food or cosmetic products from Jumla. Pine firewood, which is very high in resin and produces copious soot, is the normal means of cooking and lighting in Jumla. Soot -contaminated candles, although perhaps darker in colour than pure beeswax, are not significantly different from candles made with cleaner wax, but soot -contaminated creams have a smoky smell that iswhich as disliked by most potential customers outside Jumla. Hence the centre has been seeking means of heating wax without fire.
Kerosene, the common alternative to firewood for cooking in the plains of Nepal, is only available in Jumla bazaar (not in rural areas) and is very expensive owingdue to being carried rather than flown in. Electricity supplies however, although unavailable in most villages throughout the district, are generated by a small hydro-electric power plant thatwhich serves Jumla bazaar for much (at least half) of the time. This electricity, although much slower at generating heat to melt beeswax, is a more forest -friendly means of doing so. Despite low and severely fluctuating voltages in the power supply, an electrically powered wax-melting /candle-dipping tank has been constructed and is under test. It wasThis is made as follows. A tank made out of A black polythene water tankcontainer wasis cut open to make a large (c. 175 litre) water -bath. It wasThis is fitted with a thermostatically-controlled an electrical heating rod fitted with a thermostat which heats the water in the bath. Two aluminium rectangular boxes for holding wax are then placed in the water bath, close to but not touching the heating rod. If The temperature of the rod is adjusted to about 80* °C, so that the wax in the containers melts. and can be used for making medicinal creams and for dipping candles. The water bath is insulated with wood shavings enclosed in a wooden box.
An alternative to the use of electricity is the use of solar panels. To date this is effectiveuseful for small volumes of wax using a 12 -Vvolt solar panel thatwhich charges a small 12-V gel battery. This is connected to a ceramic resistor thatwhich heats- up slowly and is put in direct contact with the beeswax in an plastic insulated "Thermos" flask with a secure (insulated) lid. Wax will melt in about 30 minutes when battery charge is high, enough but no more than about a litre of wax can be melted at onea time. Such technology allows wax processing activities to be done regularly even when there is no electricity or firewood, but the equipment is too expensive for village-level production and is not yet developed for large quantities of beeswax.
Beeswax products using local resources
In addition to candles made using moulds of high altitude bamboo, medicinal beeswax preparations are also manufacturedhave many applications. Although the beeswax centre has bought in coconut, mustard and essential oils from the plains for making creams in large quantities, Jumla has comparative advantage in the production of certain unusual natural oils. These include hemp-seed (Cannabis sativa), dhatelo (Prinsepia utilis), tilkuro (Perilla occimoides), walnut (Juglans regia), apricot kemal (Prunus persicaria and Prunus spp.), 'devdar' (Cedrus deodora), and jantamansi (Valeriana jantamansi). The latter two are '"essential oils'" with medicinal application and the others have excellent skin -conditioning properties. Hemp -seed oil is traditionally used as a massage oil for painful joints and muscles. ItThis is now being made into a massage ointment for application like a "'deep-hbeat'," rub and is has been found to be highly effective. Others are made into various skin creams. Means of increasing the production and helping to remove the drudgery in producing these oils are needed. Currently they are produced by labour-intensive and time-consuming hand-pressing. Research into the many medicinal healing herbs of the area is also underway to discover which are suitable for formulationcombination into the creams and in what quantity. To date turmeric (Curcuma longa) is being used in antiseptic creams to very good effect. Paris polyphylla and Picrorhiza kurrooa will also be used in the future.
Beeswax products as a means to improving livelihoods
Aside from its value in income-generation, beeswax can also help improve the livelihood of Jumla people. Beeswax candles give off a bright light and non-toxic sweet-smelling fumes. Lighting for most Jumla families comprises '"jharro'", sticks of resin-rich pine wood thatwhich give off a thick black sooty smoke. JharroThis is harvested at great cost to the forest since it is usually cut from living trees (near the roots). Hence Candles can contribute both to improved family health and lower levels of forest destruction. Studying School children can read and write by their light of candles, which is not possible withfrom "jharro".
The climate of Jumla is harsh with cold, drying winds thatwhich chap the lips and skin. Women's hands in particular suffer from heavy manual work within the soil, cutting firewood, scrubbing pots within ash, mud and ice-cold water, plastering the floor and walls of their houses with mud and cow-dung, and so on. Many people work in the fields and forests without shoes, often incurring minor wounds to the feet and most suffering from cracked heels and soleswith splitting feet from the cold. Medicinal skin preparations made fromof the oils thatwhich the villagers make themselves or buy in for cooking, combined with beeswax and sometimes also local healing herbs are helping to relieve the suffering of chapped skin, lips and feet. Theyand can alsohelp heal wounds that might otherwise go untreated. In remote areas with minimal health services such applications of local resources are very valuable.
- Brown, R. (1981). Beeswax Bee Books: New and Old.
- Krell,. R. (1996). Value-added Products from Beekeeping.^AO
- Tomlinson, R.C. (1991). Make a solar wax extractor. Beekeeping and Development 18:^ p 5.
- Verma (1998). Key note paper of the 4th^ AAA Conference Kathmandu 25--- 27 March 1998.
The author would like to thank the following for their assistance: Mr. George du Pont-Roc of Shell Solar who donated solar panels and related equipment and devised the wax melting apparatus; the Intermediate Technology Development Group (TTDG Nepal) for donation of materials for the electrical beeswax melter (dipping tank) and Kabindra Pradhan for advice in manufacture of the same; Narayan Acharaya and other staff of Surya Social Service Society (4S Jumla - NGO) for implementing entrepreneurial beeswax initiatives; Austroprojekt (Austrian Agency for Technical Cooperation) for funding; ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) for management and logistical assistance; the principal and staff of Kamali Technical School, Jumla for use of their premises; the beekeepers of Jumla for sharing their knowledge and welcoming her into their communities.