#5 Dr. Dharmesh Vadher
(Names have not been changed in this summary)
Dr. Dharmesh Vadher lives in Veraval, Gir Somnath District, Gujarat with his wife and kids, his mother and his siblings. Dharmesh is a qualified Ayurvedic doctor and trained beekeeper. He founded and runs a beekeeping and honey retailing business. One of their products is a brand of indigenous, raw honey. On the advice of their family panditji, Dharmesh started the business in the name of his mother. He runs it with the help of his mother, brother, and sister. Dharmesh employees 24 people, and the annual turnover of his business is 1.5 crore rupees.
The thing about bees is, they have to be moved from one location to another from time to time. Otherwise bees lose their strength and begin to die. During the lockdown, moving the bees has become almost impossible. To begin with, bees need to be moved at night, because as soon as the sun rises, they begin to leave their nests. The police in Gujarat do not know much about beekeeping anyway, and in the current circumstances, they are extremely reluctant to let vehicles pass un-checked, that too in the middle of the night. Dharmesh’s problems are compounded by the very justifiable fear in villages that anyone coming from outside might bring the virus with them. In normal circumstances villagers agree to bees being brought and kept for some time in their fields. Because of the pandemic, villagers now refuse, or ask for only the bees to be left in fields, insisting that their human caretakers cannot stay. Bees that don’t get fresh flowers to collect nectar and pollen from every month or so begin to lose their strength and die. In the 9 days since the lockdown began, Dharmesh has already lost bees worth 24 lakh rupees. The bees that survive do not produce as much honey as otherwise, but that is not a problem. Dharmesh is pained about the bees he couldn’t save. He only hopes the rest survive.
Bees before and after the lockdown
His brand Indigenous Honey, which sells raw honey made by bees native to India, hasn’t been able to fulfil a single order since the lockdown began. To get his product to the consumer, Dharmesh is dependent on local courier companies and Amazon’s delivery service. All courier companies in his area are currently closed and Amazon’s delivery executives aren’t coming to the pick-up point at the moment. In the meanwhile, more than 1,000 orders have piled up. But these are not his biggest concerns. Most of the labourers who take care of the bees come from UP and Bihar. Their families are understandably worried, and the labourers are keen to go back home as soon as the lockdown is over. When that happens, almost no one will be around to care for the bees. That’s when Dharmesh will really feel the pinch.
At the moment he is able to pay all his employees. Dharmesh reckons that if the current state of 0 revenue continues, the business will be able to sustain for another 2 months or so. He has heard that the government has announced some relief measures for the economy and businesses, but he doesn’t know the details. He stays away from the news because it is too negative. But there is some talk of EMIs being relaxed and reduced rates of interest. Dharmesh had planned to expand and ramp up export operations. He has even paid the advance amount for a plot of land, but now the lockdown has made everything uncertain. He is not sure about future revenue or the terms on which he will get a loan from the bank. In his judgement, he foresees that things are going to be difficult for some time to come.
Two people have tested positive for covid-19 in Veraval. They had both come from outside. They live in an area several kms away from where Dharmesh stays. That area has been sealed, but there is a sense of fear across town. After the cases were found people are avoiding going outside or into public spaces even more than before. He does not know whether doctors are wearing masks and gloves in Veraval while examining patients, nor what medical facilities have been put in place to tackle the ongoing pandemic. In the market in Veraval, people are standing within chalk circles drawn more than 2 mts apart. Several NGOs and individuals are taking initiatives to feed the homeless and poor.
In 2009 when Dharmesh first ventured into bee keeping, he bought 40 boxes. In each bee box there are tens of thousands of bees. For two years he made mistakes and learnt. In the early days of the business Dharmesh salesman ki tareh ghume, logon se mile. At that time the annual turnover of his business must’ve been some 10,000 – 15,000 rupees. Things began to look up in 2014. With time he moved onto online platforms like India Mart and then Amazon and Flipkart. Until a month ago, Dharmesh had a clear vision for his business. Now there is uncertainty. A recession is widely predicted post this pandemic. Fear will also linger for a while, so villagers will not be eager to have outsiders coming into their fields. Regularly moving the bees might continue to be a problem.
Honestly, for his industry, if the government begins to strictly enforce FSSAI guidelines on purity, beekeepers from the grassroots selling pure honey will be able to recuperate from the current crisis quickly. Modiji’s government has already done a lot of good work for beekeeping by making subsidies, funds, and training widely accessible. There are some problems with execution though. Nevertheless, in the context of the current crisis, har jagah par ye ho raha hai, government kahaan par kitnon ko support karegi? For Dharmesh, it is enough if the government fixes pre-existing, structural problems plaguing the production and retail of honey in India.
During this lockdown one positive is that Dharmesh gets to spend time with his family. When business was as usual, even when he’d be home, he’d be thinking about all the work he needs to get done. But now, he’s home all the time, and really spending time with his family. Dharmesh still worries about the bees and his business. But his young child, he smiles, is ecstatic to have him home.
PC: Dr. Dharmesh Vadher, Indigenous Honey
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