PESHAWAR: Four decades ago, when war broke out in Afghanistan, Nazak Mir and his family left their home to seek safety in neighboring Pakistan and soon began a new life as refugees.
When they crossed the border from Garde in Paktia province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northwest Pakistan in 1981, Mir arrived empty-handed, but with a skill that, in exile, unexpectedly gave him a chance to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors as a beekeeper.
“Among other things, we left behind 54 boxes of hives that my eldest uncle had kept for years. It was a family business before the migration,” he told Arab News.
When UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, offered beekeeping training in the refugee camp where his family had taken refuge, he knew it would change his life.
“I was one of the first to enroll in beekeeping training in 1983,” he said. “Today I own 150 boxes.”
Besides launching his own business career, Mir also became a mentor to thousands of other refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The hilly province that borders Afghanistan is home to nearly 800,000 Afghans who have fled armed conflict in their country. They are now the main force behind beekeeping in Pakistan, a major honey exporter.
The South Asian nation currently produces around 30,000 to 35,000 tonnes of honey a year and exports more than a fifth of it to Gulf countries, after the industry rebounded from the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, according to All Pakistan Beekeepers, Exporters, and Honey Traders Association Secretary General Sher Zaman Mohmand.
He told Arab News that the number of people involved in the sector, including other productive activities besides beekeeping, was around 1.6 million, and 95% of them lived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the climate and terrain are conducive to the production of honey.
“Among them, more than 60 percent are Afghan refugees,” he said.
Some of them, like Mir, have already introduced their children to the trade.
“Now my son has started his own beekeeping business,” he said. But he expressed concerns about whether it would remain lucrative in the future.
Pakistan is one of the countries most affected by disasters caused by climate change and in recent years has experienced increased heat waves that have disrupted its natural ecosystems.
With the challenges of climate change and deforestation depriving bees of food, their populations have been decimated in recent years.
“Lack of food causes the bees to fight each other,” said Mir’s son, Farhadullah. “Hot and cold weather also affects their health and honey production.”
Erratic fluctuations in weather conditions have also altered harvest times.
“The honey production seasons are defined by different flowering seasons. Timely and sufficient rains often result in four or five seasons of honey production, while drought years reduce honey seasons to just two,” Mohmand said, adding that he believed the situation could be alleviated if the government introduced strict measures to curb deforestation.
Pakistan has attempted to reforest the country and launched an ambitious five-year tree-planting program, the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, to counter rising temperatures, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events in the country that scientists associate with climate change. .
While more than 330 million trees have already been planted under the initiative, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mohmand said the push is also expected to spread to other provinces, especially around sites in the Beijing-funded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the largest. investment project in the country’s infrastructure.
“The government could promote forestry, especially along the routes of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” Mohmand said. “Plants like Indian rosewood, acacia, and jujube can be grown in many areas, including arid lands across the country.”