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In conversation with Nonagenarian Dr Kamalakar Kshirsagar, a living legend of Honeybee Research in India

By Dr TP Rajendran


Dr Kamalakar Krishna Kshirsagar is well known in our country as an eminent Honeybee researcher. His multi-faceted professional life and career have been of immense influence on the youth of his times and even now too.

Dr Kamalakar Krishna Kshirsagar

Born on 17th September 1931 in Saswad village, Pune district, Maharashtra, his early education was in various rural Primary Schools. His higher secondary and college education were in Pune. He is a Zoology postgraduate and successfully received his Doctoral Degree on ‘Comparative studies of Indian Honeybees’ from Pune University. He began his career as District Plant Protection Officer at Dhanbad, Bihar. He served as Professor & Head, Biology Department at Solapur College., Maharashtra. This bee researcher continues to pursue his interest in honeybee research as well as in the popularisation of science and history.

Dr TP Rajendran (TPR): Tell me, Dr Kshirsagar, about your early career and the circumstance to join CBRTI, Pune.

Dr Kamalakar Krishna Kshirsagar (KKK): My strong interest to pursue research career enabled me to join as Research Assistant in the Sericulture Re­search Laboratory at Panchgani, Maharashtra. Right from the British Era, it was declared that Maharash­tra is unsuitable for Sericulture. However, our team could achieve successful establishment of silk worms and mulberry plants there. The silk yield was substan­tial and of very good quality, comparable to that of Karnataka silk. My contribution on Silk in the Ency­clopaedia of Textiles is widely read and recognised.

I joined as Senior Scientific Officer, the Central Bee Research & Training Institute (CBRTI) -­der Khadi & Village Industries, Pune. Over a period, I became the Head of Bee Pathology Division as well as the Head, Bee Entomology Division at CBRTI.


TPR: Why you got interested in honeybees as crop pol­linators?

KKK: India has been traditionally agrarian in its culture. Our country has multitude of food, fodder and fibre crops in addition to a host of forest flora. Honeybees amongst all pollinators held a major share in pollina­tion of these crops to enable farmers for rich harvest and consumers in villages and towns to get nutrition­ally-rich, quality commodities. Apiculture became an organised anthropogenic enterprise and I wished to address contextual issues in commercial apiculture that was growing in leaps and bounds in the country. I believed in the words of Nobel prize winner Scientist Karal Von Frisch (1973) observed that the world of honeybees is a rich and inspiring source of informa­tion. He states “the life of bees is like a magic well, the more you draw from it, the more there is to draw”.


TPR: How did you ideate the concepts of bee research at CBRTI?

KKK: Bee Pathology & Bee Entomology divisions were my managerial contributions. Honeybee health was a ma­jor hurdle faced by the beekeeping industry in India. Around 1950’s new bee diseases were reported from many parts of India. Diseases which included brood and adult bee diseases. I mainly reported the occur­rence of European Foul Brood and Thai Sac Brood diseases accompanied by the introduction of Italian bee species. In all, nine diseases that were unknown in India, were reported. Remedial measures to main­tain bee colonies very healthy were standardized to avoid loss of colonies and honey production. Similar­ly, bee health problems related to malnutrition were also considered to lead to disease susceptibility. better management practices of hived bees.

‘Natural bee enemies’ problem was also studied and their control measures were evolved. Among the dev­astative enemies the depredation by predatory wasps was very important one to debilitate captive honeybee colonies. I designed wasp traps, which can be placed in the apiaries and got my design standardized from Bureau of Indian Standards. Their seasonal use in the field was found very effective to protect bees in colo­nies.

I was fully supported by the CBRTI by way of pro­viding all research facilities. I was permitted to carry out research work as a part of my duty and responsi­bility.


TPR: What are your research achievements in your research career?

KKK: My comparative work in the field of biometry could provide a tool to establish interrelationship among different bee species. Planned inter-ecotype queen breeding of Apis cerana may help in improving hon­ey production and pollination efficiency in future. I also participated in genetic research projects on Indi­an honeybees, helping establishment of species wise Chromosome numbers. This led to establish a theory of origin and spread of honeybee species of the world, under the eminent leader ship of Dr G.B. Deodikar. Indian sub-continent was hypothesised to be the geo­graphical place of origin of this honeybee species. This seems to be accepted worldwide.

I could publish over 50 research papers, 32 books on various science subjects and over 500 popular articles in various periodicals. His science fictions are very popular and two of them won awards too. I was Edi­tor of Indian Bee Journal for many years and for four years, I edited the Hindi quarterly Journal, Bharati­ya Madvi Palan. CBRTI was a recognised centre by Pune University for PG students and I guided many PG students.

TPR: Kindly elaborate the research outcome in terms of increase of given crop commodity production in the country.

KKK: Though the CBRTI group of researchers proved con­siderable increase in agri-horticultural crop yield in numerous crops, the data of national increase in the yield is not collected. The methods of management of bee hives for crop pollination were made available to agricultural researchers and the farmers through Technical Bulletins of CBRTI. Planned seasonal mi­gration to orchards prove to be beneficial both for bees and the fruit crops.

National Agricultural mission under the chairman­ship of Dr M.S. Swaminathan visited the CBRTI and collected information on the status of Beekeeping industry in India, especially in relation to the provi­sion of bee pollination service. I must mention about the establishment by Indian Council of Agriculture Research of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farm­ers Welfare of the All India Coordinated Project on Honeybee Research and Training at CBRTI, Pune in 1980-81. It was moved to Haryana Agriculture Uni­versity, Hisar in 1987.

TPR: Sir, can you kindly elaborate on the significance of Apiculture as promoter of rural enterprises and agri-business of the country?

KKK: Crop pollination service by bees is not the only one aspect of beekeeping industry. It has a vast potential to provide jobs to the rural as well as urban popula­tion. All members including children in a rural family could be profitably engaged all the year round.

Hon’ble Prime Minister, Narendra Modi realized this and has floated various promotional plans, to develop this industry in a big way. Honest implementation is the real problem. There is tremendous scope for de­velopment of apiculture industry. The national mis­sion to enhance production and productivity of high quality farm commodities can be better achieved with the infusion of interest in the multitude of young farm­ers to cultivate various introduced fruit and vegetable crops, huge export potential to tap international mar­kets is significant. CBRTI can be one of its centres.

As in the case of farming, small apiculturists do not have access to various government schemes and plans particularly for credit, agri-insurance and other finan­cial support systems to promote the national bee in­dustry. Our national pride of managing and sustaining the huge bee fauna should be similar to the support for livestock management of small and marginal farms. The Corporate contract apiculture system with NBB support gains hugely although their interest in the larger goal of enhanced farm production is low priority. In fact, NBB could bring these big players to participate with the small & medium apiculture indi­viduals in the logistics for management of migratory bee keeping.

TPR: How National Bee Board is catalysed in the pro­motion of apiculture?

KKK: Presently, the task of managing CBRTI is given to the KVIC under Ministry of Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises, but a separate Beekeeping department of the government is needed to achieve the goal of unified research and development in the country. The National Bee Board under Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare is expected to catalyse the promo­tion of apicultural development, but in my opinion, it is not quite adequate. There appears to be lack of syn­chrony between these agencies of research and policy in the States and Union Territories.

TPR: Sir, would you comment on the futurism of pol­linator research?

KKK: Indian research system needs to launch various na­tional NETWORK projects in order to focus on crop productivity enhancement of various crops through ecological management. The young research sci­entists should be given challenge research projects through adequate financial grants. The research out­come shall be immensely useful for enhanced growth of rural economy through employment and commod­ity production along with high wellness quotient.

TPR: What is your view on national data on apiculture impact on economic quantification of farm com­modity production and ecological service in India?

KKK: This is very important to carve out appropriate farm policies by Indian states and Union Territories to en­hance rural commerce and economics. National Bee Board shall fund ICAR to build up such data banks in collaboration with CBRTI and create data bank. Huge numbers of agencies in the non-governmental sector needs to be also collaborated with. The CSR funds of major private and public companies that focus on agri-products can be pooled into the government funding through appropriate dialogue with them by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.

I am not officially associated with the National Bee Board (NBB). An Expert Advisory Committee for Crop Pollinators for Indian Agriculture is the need of the hour for this Board. Prime Minister’s Office should get to-and-fro technical support for planning and implementation of rural skill development, em­ployment generation, farm productivity growth, and rural wellness. A component funding by the NBB along with KVIC for intensive pollinator research is required for healthy growth of the Indian apiculture industry that delivers several crore Indian Rupee-worth honey, propolis, pollen and wax in addition to a host of industrial products and byproducts from them.

TPR: Tell me Sir, about your three decade-strong activi­ties on the compilation of history and vernacular popularisation of science amongst the masses.

KKK: I evinced interest in History, particularly of Maha­rashtra state. I was made an active member of AKH­ILBHARATIYA ITIHAS SANKALAN SAMITI. Many shows in TELEVISION, and Radio Talks on Scientif­ic topics endeared a number of people. As a Founder Member of ‘Vidnan Bharati’ from 1991 onwards I uti­lised my time for popularisation of science amongst students and masses for over 25 years. I have been an ardent practitioner of science popularisation, sci­ence writing, science fictions and science talk. Such efforts gave me several awards. My research outcome on Honeybees was recognised through the Basawant Madhu Kranti Award in 2019.

I concluded this interview for the Indian Entomolo­gist of the Entomological Society of India, profusely thanking him for his everlasting zeal and inspirational views in this Session.


Dr. T.P. Rajendran,

Former ADG (Plant Protection), Indian Council of Agriculture Research, New Delhi

Founder Director, ICAR-National Institute for Biotic Stress Management, Raipur (CG)

Project Coordinator, ICAR-All India Coordinated Research Project for COTTON


Disclaimer: The contents, style, language, plagiarism, references, mention of any products if any, etc., are the sole responsibility of the authors.

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