Kazakh Herders Turned Beekeepers
Black Honeybees Sweeten Kazakh Herders Lives in Xinjiang.
In far northwestern China, in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the grasslands are turning green and wildflowers are bursting forth and blossoming in Nilka County. Most of the population here is ethnic Kazakh.
This is the start of the busy season for 39-year-old Kurman Toibratti, a Kazakh woman who is as busy as a Queen Bee. She has 132 beehives that raise millions of Xinjiang black honeybees. This is a special breed of bee that boasts superior honey, thanks to the blend of a pleasant climate and an abundance of nectar-producing plants in this county.
A 2:15-minute video shows some reasons why herdsmen are becoming beekeepers:
Zhang Haifeng leads the county’s bee breeding farm. He explains that the Xinjiang black honeybee is strong, large and productive, and that its honey is rich in nutrients and minerals.
Following years of research and development, the Xinjiang black honeybee community has expanded and is upgrading as they draw more and more locals to join the buzzing bee business.
Before she became a beekeeper, Kurman Toibratti raised sheep, horses and cattle. She took two months of beekeeping training in 2012. At first it was a rocky road, she got stung all over her hands and face. But soon she started to see financial gains, which made the bee stings less painful.
Her first 40 hives resulted in about 40,000 yuan (about US$5,660) in net profit. Since then she has continued to build a solid beekeeping business in the past few years and finds other herdsmen to tend to her livestock during busy bee season.
Kurman Toibratti has become a success story and an inspiration, especially to women. In the meantime, 14 families are raising bees in her village alone, and she provides technical support to 2 previously poor local families. She says beekeeping is a natural choice to replace herding, since it is less tiresome, more profitable and more environmentally friendly.
Roughly 320 families are now raising bees in Nilka county. Over half of these new beekeepers were previously impoverished. In 2020 it is expected that another 500 herdsmen will reinvent themselves as beekeepers.
The local government is spotlighting beekeeping as an emerging industry. They are leveraging the combined strengths of different market players because they see how this buzzing industry can transform their economy and the lives of their people. The annual output of raw black honeybee honey exceeds 500 tons annually and the per capita net income for beekeepers in the county was 32,000 yuan in 2019.
Here the Kazakh honey is presented in London in a 1:57-minute video:
As the reputation and fame of the Xinjiang black honeybee grows, other bee-sector industries will expand. Bee-related tourism is also booming in Nilka. A manor was built to host workshops about bee and honey-gathering knowledge.
Kurman Toibratti has two children and they help with beekeeping after school. Her 16-year old daughter uses the popular social media platform WeChat to promote their honey. This draws customers from across Xinjiang and farther away.
This enterprising woman is also thinking about opening a shop or restaurant where she can sell honey, horse milk and other local specialties. Her philosophy is that the more tourists there are, the more customers there will be.
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