Nausheen Barkat is a young female entrepreneur from Hunza. Her business ‘Asqurr’ is an organic honey brand with the focus on empowering women and contributing towards a balanced ecosystem through sustainable bee farming. Nausheen, a Masters in Plant Science (Botany), has always been interested in nature. “I wanted to make a platform for women beekeepers to learn and showcase their work on a national level. Utilising natural resources for uplifting women’s financial status was her other goal. Asqurr actually empowers and promotes women in unconventional businesses i.e. honey beekeeping. The training we execute for modern beekeeping help women to be financially independent and also to learn new skills,” says Nausheen Barkat.
“Asqurr was able to collaborate with the government of Gilgit Baltistan, the Agriculture Department and TIKA, a Turkish Agency for training in modern beekeeping. Asqurr has made the first-ever women beekeepers association which will work for the empowerment of women beekeepers,” she adds.
Nausheen is working to build first Honey Hub in Gilgit Baltistan. It would be linked with the Tourism department for tourists to experience live honey extraction and learn more about honey bees. This hub would be a modern training centre for beekeepers. A lab would be established so that the local beekeepers can test and learn more about the production of quality honey. In an exclusive interview with You! this dynamic lady shares the kind of work she is doing for the empowerment of women beekeepers. Read on…
You! What made you interested towards beekeeping?
Nausheen Barkat: The credit goes to my mother for her interest in beekeeping. My mother started beekeeping to provide pure honey to her family. I have seen her hard work and love for bees. When I studied the importance of bees in our environment, it made me fall in love with bees. I started beekeeping to help my mother and other women beekeepers associated with her.
You! For the interest of our readers can you tell us briefly what beekeeping is?
NB: Beekeeping is the maintenance of bee colonies, commonly in man-made beehives. Beekeepers (or apiarists) keep bees to collect honey and other products of the hive: beeswax, propolis, bee pollen, and royal jelly. Pollination of crops, raising queens, and production of package bees for sale are other sources of beekeeping income.
Bees are the biggest pollinators on this earth. 80 per cent of pollination is done by bees. It means they are mainly responsible for the vegetable and fruits that we eat.
You! When and how did you start your business?
NB: We properly started in 2020. I started this business after a traumatic phase of my life. It wouldn’t be wrong if I say I have turned the most challenging part of my life into an opportunity.
I lost my 6-day-old son and was then blessed with a special needs son. After being in a depressing phase, I thought of doing something positive for myself and the people around me. There came the idea of helping my mom in beekeeping and I eventually started my own business - ‘Asqurr’. This business does not require huge investment and it is also not labouring extensively. However, it does require knowledge and the ability to build a good bond with the honey bees in your safekeeping.
You! Can you tell us a bit about your venture - Asqurr?
NB: Asqurr is the first and only women led honey brand in Pakistan. It promotes and empowers women in unconventional businesses i.e. honey beekeeping. We have our own bee farms. For now, everything is online and we are planning to open outlets in different cities.
You! Being a woman, what kind of challenges did you face while setting up your venture?
NB: It was difficult in the beginning but with the support of family and friends, I was able to do it. I have met amazing women in my entrepreneurial journey who guided me.
You! If one wants to start a business in beekeeping, what skills are required to do that?
NB: Beekeeping requires a lot of skills and training. It requires patience and consistency. It’s a risky business because it depends on the weather conditions. If it rains, your honey production decreases.
You! Do you have any idea, how many women are involved in this business?
NB: There are very few women in this business and these women are only in Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Chitral. Up till now, I have never heard of women beekeepers in other areas. Beekeeping is considered to be an unconventional business for women so we need to educate them.
You! You have established first ever women’s beekeepers association, what are its aims and objectives?
NB: Yes, I am a proud president and founder of the first women’s beekeeper’s association. We plan to work with the government and NGOs to bring projects to GB for beekeepers and also create awareness regarding beekeeping and its benefits for the environment.
You! You are building the first honey hub in Gilgit Baltistan. How will you manage it from Karachi?
NB: We have already done a project with the Turkish Agency for cooperation and coordination, PARC and Agriculture department Gilgit Baltistan for beekeepers in Gilgit and Hunza. It was about modern techniques of beekeeping.
Our next project is the first honey hub in GB. It is to introduce international honey standards among beekeepers and also create awareness regarding different modern tools and techniques in beekeeping. It would be difficult initially to run from Karachi but I feel I will make a team which will run it and I will visit often to monitor too.
You! Please highlight some key points of the first honey hub?
NB: The first honey hub would also be a training institute for beekeeping. I am looking forward to connecting to the education department and reach out to school, college and university students so we can start awareness from the beginning. Through the hub, we would be able to work for reforestation and conservation of the bee flora, awareness of the importance of bees and exporting honey and its products too. It would also be a live honey extraction point for tourists.
You! What is the most exciting part of your work?
NB: I love working with bees when I am in the field at bee farms. I feel energetic being the first woman beekeeper to come this far in Pakistan. My passionate fellow women beekeepers motivate me to do more in this field.
You! What’s the greatest risk you have taken so far?
NB: Starting a honey business is itself a risky business.
You! What has been the most career defining moment that you are proud of?
NB: I did my first ever exhibition when my son was admitted to the hospital. There were so many thoughts and doubts while doing it but I managed it. I had amazing sales and networking.
It was a moment that I realised yes; I can do it despite any challenge.
You! What are the positive points of being economically independent?
NB: Your confidence, grace and glow is different when you are economically independent.
You share the responsibility for the family finances. So, the quality of life becomes better. You can take your decisions and they are taken seriously in the family and in your circle too.
You! What is the most important advice you can give to women?
NB: Always believe in yourself. Love yourself because people will treat us the way we treat ourselves.
You! Could you name a woman who inspired you the most?
NB: My mother, Shams-ul-Mulool. She is the strongest and kindest woman I have ever seen. She has raised five kids with so much patience and love. I have never seen her complaining about life but she is so optimistic and instilled the same values in us. My mother always speaks well about everyone. She is always ready to help people in need.
You! Any lessons learnt the hard way?
NB: Always look for the positive side during hard times. I believe these times in life make you strong. After being through many challenges, I feel this is now the best version of myself.
No one has a smooth life. Everyone is fighting with their own challenges. So, take the challenges as an opportunity to learn and go forward.
You! In what category you got the Shell Tameer Award?
NB: Shell Tameer Awards is a nationwide competition, to recognise, celebrate and reward young talent making significant contribution in the national entrepreneurship space. The programme strengthens local economies across the globe by promoting entrepreneurship and developing entrepreneurs. The programme offers trainings on enterprise skills and starting a business; mentoring, legal consultancy, networking with expert organisations to develop business plans and to secure start up finance.
My category in Shell Tameer was ‘Women Empowerment’. Overall, it was an amazing experience of learning and networking.
You! Is general mind-set of our society changing with regard to working women?
NB: Yes, people have started accepting and respecting working women, but still there is a long way to go.
You! What does a typical day look like for you?
NB: It is full of challenges and surprises, too. I have to manage work, myself and my family.
People only see our success but they never see the hardships we go through. Every day is a battle with yourselves. I try to do something new and better each day.
You! Your philosophy of life:
NB: When we start accepting things that are not in our control, life becomes easy for us and we are able to work more on the things that are in our control. I am a person who always tries to live in the present. I try to do things that I enjoy without thinking log kia kaheingey. I believe in myself and love myself. This philosophy has enabled me to love people around me.
You! What is your most treasured possession?
NB: My family. I have a very strong bond with my siblings and parents. My sister is my best friend. We both share a very beautiful bond. My parents have given me confidence, support and strength at every level of my life. My in-laws and husband are amazing. Whatever I am today is all because of my family.
You! What did you like to read when you were a little girl?
NB: I used to read fiction at an early age and I still remember buying Umro Ayaar’s books. I would hide in a corner of the house to read these books. Then, I started reading motivational books when I was in my teens.
You! What is the biggest relationship lesson you have learnt so far?
NB: We often take relationships for granted, which is very wrong. The more we show respect and love, the more fondness grows in a relationship. Giving space is also important in every relationship.
You! How do you keep a balance between family life and work?
NB: Keeping a balance is the biggest challenge but I feel time management and setting priorities in life makes it easy.
You! What are your future plans in terms of expansion of your work?
NB: I wish to be the first name when it comes to honey business in Pakistan and a global icon too. I am planning to start organic kids’ food with honey, and oils from Gilgit Baltistan. Starting a different range of by-products such as candles, bee wax, pollen, and royal jelly is also on my list. I also wish to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies in making herbal medicines with different herbs and honey available in Gilgit Baltistan.
I also plan to bring urban beekeeping to other areas of Pakistan and make an inclusive team by adding transgender and differently-abled persons to my team. This will enable them to earn and become financially independent in a sustainable business.
Erum Noor Muzaffar is the editor of You! magazine.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org