The humble and oft-ignored honeybee is one of the most crucial links in natural food production and vegetation growth. So while most know bees as the source of honey, a healthy bee population actually indicates the overall health and fertility of the natural habitat or ecosystem.
But apiarists or bee farmers are not always considered in the same class as farmers that produce grains and crops. This is seen in challenges such as pests and predators, climate change, lack of credit for the beekeeping sector, costly beekeeping equipment, water shortage, and lack of skilled labour.
At the same time, the demand for honey is going through the roof, especially as natural and healthy alternatives come into focus amid the pandemic crisis. Honey has emerged as the best alternative for sugar and other artificial sweeteners. According to market research company IMARC Group, the honey market in India is growing at a CAGR of 10%, and is expected to reach a value of INR 28 Bn by 2024.
But at the same time, Indian bee farmers could be extracting more value from the global market as well and this is where technology is playing a role, especially with the progress in IoT or Internet of Things that are helping farmers analyse data from beekeeping.
Chennai-based agritech startup Gobuzzr has claimed to have developed a state-of-the-art IoT solution that keeps a check on beehives in apiaries, by monitoring weight of the hive, internal humidity, temperature and sounds to determine the health of the hive in real-time. Farmers can get this data through a web portal or mobile app.
Founded in 2019 by G Kapildev, Gobuzzr emerged as an idea when the founder visited Zimbabwe in a previous professional role to execute a project for a client named Prophet W Magaya, who is the founder of PHD Ministries. Magaya, who is also a producer and exporter of honey, owns close to 30K apiaries in the southern African country. During the visit to one such bee farm, Kapildev noticed how farmers struggled to extract honey and how the hive’s health was being monitored by guesswork and intuition rather than data. Some of the practices were also cruel to the bee population, which Kapildev particularly wanted to change.
“Gobuzzr will not only put an end to the choking of thousands of innocent bees in the process, but also reduce transportation cost and cut down manual labour cost. Most importantly, this will show the health condition of the bees and beehives, remotely and in real-time, thereby increasing the productivity of honey and agri-farming,” Kapildev G told Inc42.
The agritech startup claims to be the first in India to be working in beekeeping, but it has some competition in the global arena. Some of the buzzworthy startups in the apiary monitoring space include ApisProtect, BuzzBox, Bee Smart Technologies, BeeHero, The Bee Corp among others.
How Gobuzzr Leverages IoT
Gobuzzr’s tech platform is built around the IoT device called ‘Beehive Monitor,’ which is fixed at the bottom of each beehive. Embedded with a GPS sensor, this device further helps farmers identify where the hive is located and sensors also monitor the weight of the beehive in real-time. The device sends the data to the cloud periodically, which is then transmitted to the mobile application. The IoT device also monitors temperature, humidity of the hive, and health condition of the beehive.
“The queen bees often communicate with its army in a particular frequency, and we are currently working on a sensor which captures this frequency in real-time, thereby indicating the health condition of the beehive,” explained Kapil, on how they access the health of apiaries.
Leveraging the power of big data and machine learning, Gobuzzr said that it gathers information from multiple data sources, including the healthy and diseased hives, reports from various inspections from different hives across the globe. These predictions and data, when put through its algorithms, give farmers actionable insights to keep the hive healthy, increase productivity and prevent loss of bees.
The system can also detect threats such as fire, movement of hives, sudden changes in temperatures, which may indicate natural calamities and external factors. The IoT system is said to be 95% accurate in terms of the prediction of health.
“We have researched in-house and worked with multiple farmers for about a year to get this number,” said Kapildev. While the product is still in the development stage, the company is working to make it affordable and geography agnostic.
Buzzing Around Bee Data
Gobuzzr said that it is currently working with Zimbabwe’s Magaya and a few individual farmers in the UK to test their products and are studying the behaviour of bees and beehives. “We have been getting a lot of queries from Indian farmers, but we are not there yet as we are upgrading our prototypes to accommodate beehives as per India’s climate,” said Kapildev.
In terms of cost, the pricing for the international consumers would come up to $160 per apiary, per user, which they are currently working to reduce to $80 for both Indian as well as global market.
This includes the IoT device along with the apiary installation and the app, and extras like solar power solution. “We are currently working towards deploying close to 5000 devices for free to the Indian farmers, where we will also be partnering with agriculture colleges to monitor and study the condition of bees and beehives,” the founder said.
“Once the mass adoption happens and we have the data, we will be charging users on a subscription basis per apiary,” said Kapildev. The company said that it is building solutions focused on bee hobbyists, small and large scale farmers.
Currently, running its business in a bootstrapped mode, Kapildev said he has invested close to INR 25 Lakh – INR 40 Lakh to develop the product. In the coming months, it looks to raise funding and collaborate with apiary farmers who are looking to produce honey on a large scale.
“This kind of product needs a little bit of push from the government as well as private players in terms of investments, which helps us create more volume, analysing data and setting up of different models,” said Kapildev.