One of the primary goals of any developing country is poverty alleviation and empowering masses while creating economic opportunities. For that, Pakistan could not only turn to agriculture but also sub-sectors of the agro-processing industry. While food crop production has received most of the attention, the honey industry has largely been neglected at a high level, resulting in a massive untapped potential.
Honey has remarkable medicinal properties with a series of commercial uses across the health and food industries. Global honey production reached 1.88 million metric tons in 2020, with the market cap predicted to reach $25.8 billion by 2028 from nearly $9 billion in 2021. The US alone accounted for a 22% share of global honey exports in 2021, followed by Germany and Japan.
Pakistan has vast flora needed for producing top quality honey, but numbers portray a dull picture. Trend Economy data shows Pakistan imported $1.94 million worth of honey in 2021. Based on the 2017 output figure quoted above, Pakistan only contributes 0.8% (15,750 tons) to global honey production. According to a May 2022 report by the Pakistan Business Council (PBC), the country exports 24% of its annual honey production versus the global average of 40%.
There are only eight recognized honey bee species out of 20,000 known bee species globally. Four honey bee species are common in Pakistan but only two Apis mellifera (European Bee) and Apis cerana (Pahari Makhi) can be domesticated. There are 27,000 beekeepers in Pakistan, with official estimates showing that honey bee farming is concentrated in Northern Punjab (Rawalpindi, Jhelum and Chakwal) with a huge unexplored potential along the Western border.
“There is literally no government support for the honey beekeepers; our laboratories have the lowest standards and as the cherry on the top, we have tax policies to harm businesses,” said Hakeem Shamsullah, owner of Natural Bee Honey Karachi, a wholesale supplier that delivers across Pakistan and even abroad. “Our domestic honey has the best quality in the world but due to lack of government support, industry growth is stagnant.”
He confirmed that the honey business could be started with very low investment.
There are three unique varieties of honey being produced in Pakistan, according to the PBC report. Acacia has the most share of 53%, following by Sidr at 40%. Other varieties (Citrus, Russian Olive, Clover etc) account for 7% of domestic honey production. Sidr honey can sell for up to 8,000 Rs. per kg in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Most of the domestic wholesale trade takes place through the honey market in Turnab, Peshawar. There are small to medium-sized players in the market but no large-scale company solely focused on honey production.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the ‘Billion Tree Honey Initiative’ in December 2020, aiming to enhance the quality and quantity produced annually and provide a sustainable livelihood to beekeepers. The initiative was projected to increase national honey production to 70,000 tons from 15,000 tons and create more than 80,000 jobs
Constraints and Way Forward
Pakistan lacks a systematized value chain, with other challenges ranging from poor industry practices to inadequate training and certifications. The traditional methods mean our average honey yield per hive remains lower than the global tally.
There’s limited private sector participation, which could be key in helping foster growth in the honey industry. In addition, small and medium-sized business owners may not be up to date on latest marketing and pricing approaches and how to scale their business. Access to modern equipment could help increase yield and improve the quality of the product.
We can boost honey production ten times at minimum, stated Dr. Adnan Khan Niazi, Assistant Professor at the Centre of Agricultural Biochemistry and Biotechnology (CABB) at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. We have thousands of acres of barren land in Thal and other deserts in every province which are most suitable for beekeeping purposes. he added.
He explained that the high-quality farm honey comes from Jujube and Acacia trees and these can grow easily in these areas where no other crops grow anyway. Besides that, beekeeping is difficult to undertake in areas of conventional crops due to pesticide use.
Pakistan’s honey market is projected to top $450 million by 2027, but it would require a targeted strategy at the highest level to address the aforementioned constraints and unlock the industry true potential.