How Ashish found his solution to job security in his own backyard

“Shuru majboori me karna pada tha, par ab maja aane laga hai”. And so begins the tale of Ashish. He started off as a tutor of Mathematics and Physics for grades 9-12, and now runs a sustainable honey business from his hometown, Tanakpur, in Champawat district of Uttarakhand.

Ashish with jars of his homemade honey

Ashish’s hometown is also the source of inspiration for his new venture. He has grown up around people who have traditionally practised bee-keeping. “People in the area have been bee-keeping since before Independence,” says Ashish. The milder and smaller variety of bee called Indica has been living in mud walls of empty homes, and people have been domesticating it in logs, empty cupboards and boxes. Ashish himself loved eating honey and in 2008, a bee colony started staying in his family’s farm. His family sustained the bees, and though they weren’t actively practising bee-keeping or selling the honey, they would get 7-8 kgs that they would harvest two times a year

Ashish’s knowledge of bees and producing native and ecologically friendly products

Ashish holds interest in the varieties of indigenous bees, which, as he tells us, are mainly Dorsata that lives in jungles and was often found in old water tanks, Indica, or a small bee colloquially called Mau, and a third species called Mellifera which is transported by beekeepers. Indica is the most mild bee which doesn’t bite and lives in peoples homes in wooden walls orold mud walls. Dorsata cannot be domesticated so he procures the wild honey from local gatherers.

Bee boxes placed in the forest

For Ashish, bees are not just honey producers but also integral components of the ecosystem. Bees play a crucial role in pollinating various crops, including mustard and litchi, thereby increasing crop yields. When Covid-19 hit, Ashish decided to move back home and build his farm. “I knew the product was good, and that’s all I knew when I started”.

He named his business Et Aevum, which, as he explains, is a phrase from a relatively newer philosophy of science that sees the universe as cyclical and repetitive. The name reflects his belief in the cyclical and sustainable practices of the natural world. “There is a natural propagation of bees, they keep repopulating. It is environmental conservation – if you are taking care of nature, nature will give you back.

He sourced his bees from the locals who visited forests to collect fodder for animals. When they find bee hives, they wrap it in a fabric and bring it to him in the late evening. They also bring him honey from the wild Dorsata. He tells us that wild bee honey has a different unique taste because the concentration of enzymes is different, although it has a mild smell. There are also traditional methods for transportation of queen bees, Ashish says. Bee keepers would sprinkle water in these cracks because of which the wings of the bees would become heavy and they would settle nearby, making it easier to catch and relocate the queen bee.

While some of the community had also been selling honey to markets via middle-men, their product would be unprocessed and often absorb moisture and ferment into mead. They also would not get their payment timely, and receive much lower than government market rates.

Inspecting the honeycomb

The Margshala Swarozgar Fellowship

He knew he had a good product, but he didn’t know how to sell it. Ashish joined Margshala on the recommendation of a friend. He says us that if it wasn’t for Margshala (a fellowship for rural entrepreneurs), he would probably have changed his job or had an unstable business model. “These

days there is a lot of money that an entrepreneur can spend to make his business grow. The issue is, knowing where to spend it.” Margshala helped change his perspective, and “taught me to think about making money instead of spending it. He realised that his family’s home-grown honey was suitable and could develop into a full fledged business.

Harvesting honey

What he liked best about Margshala was that nobody would force him to do anything specific, and had his best interest in mind. “If i wanted to climb a mountain they would teach me to do that.. You can’t teach a fish how to fly. In the middle of his fellowship, he lost motivation as well as touch with his mentors. His mentors reached out to him asking him how he was doing, and he found that to be really helpful.

Lots of people from outside Tanakpur have been requesting him for honey and his business has scaled up at least 2.5 times since joining Margshala, and he is planning to hire a social-media person. He is also planning to add beeswax which is softer and better for the body, and is expanding to include wild berries or Jamun as part of Et Aevum.

Specially Written for Vikalp Sangam by Tanya Singh