Though honey exports offer potentially large opportunities, as demand and price for honey is growing internationally, certification has become a key barrier for export.
As Nepal produces large quantities of high quality uncontaminated honey which could fetch high prices, its certification to meet international standards will boost exports, said programme officer of UNDP Nabina Shrestha.
Despite being listed in the NTIS products list, in recent times, honey export has seen a plunge as according to Trade and Export Promotion Centre's (TEPC) data, the country had exported honey worth only Rs 5,000 in the eight months of the current fiscal year, against exports of Rs 215,000 in the same period of last fiscal year.
Organic Certification Nepal — in coordination with Micro Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP) — is helping with the production, collection, and processing of honey, whereas the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control has also sent a Residue Monitoring Plan to the European Commission for its approval.
"Organic Certification Nepal — a registered national company linked to international certification agencies through an alliance called the Certification Alliance — is subcontracted to provide organic certification," it said, adding that honey produced under the strict supervision of certified inspectors is further certified as organic honey.
Organic honey produced especially in the far western region, has a large potential in international niche markets and can be sold at relatively high prices, but quality certification is a must for importers, especially the European Union (EU), which has stringent regulations relating to the production and trade of honey. Currently, only 40 non-EU countries are eligible to export honey to the EU.
The main global standards that apply to the export of honey are the Codex Alimentarius, which defines what honey is, sets maximum levels for moisture content, sugar, and water soluble solids, lists contaminants, and defines hygiene and other standards.
Both the Codex Alimentarius and the EU have set strict limits on the residues of veterinary drugs, pesticides, and heavy metals in honey and demand that exporting countries have systems in place to monitor residues. The EU requires monitoring for the presence of residues throughout production, collection, and processing.
As much of the honey produced in Nepal is organic or almost organic by default because of the low use of inputs, certification will help promote its export, Shrestha added.
Suppliers who want to export organic honey to the international market need to have their products certified as meeting organic production standards. The main purpose of organic certification is to assure quality and prevent fraud. Most organic certification is carried out by third party certifying agencies.
According to a MEDEP report, Nepal produces 10,000 tonnes of honey annually. An estimated 125,000 beehives have been installed by farmers.
Nepali honey can beat other competitors in the international market due to its unique flavour because of the climatic conditions and flora. "It has also improved the socioeconomic conditions of poor farmers," said Shrestha, adding that their increasing income has helped improve their living standard too.
According to a micro entrepreneur of Aalital in Dadeldhura, Yagya Bahadur Bohara, his economic condition has changed due to beekeeping that he started some 12 years ago. "I earn Rs 200,000 to Rs 250,000 annually, which has brought significant changes in my lifestyle," he said, adding that the increased income — apart from agriculture — has helped him take care of the education and health needs of his children. "I have also provided employment to three people."
Definition of honey
Honey is defined and described by the inter-governmental body for global food standards — the Codex Alimentarius Commission — as the natural sweet substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store, and leave in the honey comb to ripen and mature. Honey consists essentially of different sugars, predominantly fructose and glucose as well as other substances such as organic acids, enzymes, and solid particles derived from honey collection. The colour of honey varies from nearly colourless to dark brown. The consistency can be fluid, viscous or partly to entirely crystallised. The flavour and aroma vary, but are derived from the plant origin. — (Source: CAC 2001)
Production over the years
Year — Tonne
2004 — 577
2005 — 600
2006 — 650
2007 — 650
2008 — 1,000
2009 — 850
2010 — 1,100(Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation 2012)