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Promoting beekeeping projects as a source of livelihoods

There are many different entry points for projects to strengthen livelihoods with beekeeping, such as including trees for bees within planting schemes to improve pollination and increase crop harvests, assisting honey hunters through beekeeping or making and marketing honey wines or beeswax cosmetics. Beekeeping projects have been started in many developing countries and are frequently supported by international organizations, governments or NGOs. Beekeeping fits in well with other interventions and is often incorporated as one of a number implemented. Some minimum resources, however, should normally be available to people.

Natural resources: indigenous species

Beekeeping projects can improve the potential for beekeeping by planting melliferous vegetation. Indigenous honeybees have evolved and survived successfully under local conditions and will be better suited to them than introduced bees. The European honeybees introduced into many countries and African bees introduced into Central and South America currently form the basis of successful beekeeping industries.

Human resources: beekeeping skills, training and extension

Beekeeping is a widespread activity with a wealth of existing local knowledge and skills. The addition of a little technical information, however, can lead to greatly improved harvests of honey and beeswax. There are many ways to assist honey hunters or beekeepers to build on their resources to create more income by harvesting and processing honey more skilfully, and to obtain better prices by saving and selling beeswax and by making secondary products.

Beekeepers and trainers often lack appropriate training materials - most of the literature discusses keeping European bees in temperate zone conditions. Training is often theoretical rather than practical, placing emphasis on changing the type of hive used without providing practical guidance and follow up. New beekeepers need training in how to work with bees, how to maintain honey quality, how to separate honey from beeswax, how to render beeswax, how to manufacture secondary products and how to make beekeeping clothes and equipment.

FIGURE 28 Ethiopian beekeepers carrying their honey to market. Lack of access to transport and markets is usually the major constraint for beekeepers in remote places.

Physical resources: equipment and transport

Limited access to transport is the main reason why beekeepers in remote areas receive the lowest prices for their products. Projects can do much to alleviate this problem. Rural people can find it difficult to obtain equipment, containers and packaging. The answer is not merely to donate the items but to train local people to make their own equipment and find access to good containers and packaging, and credit with which to acquire them.

The equipment needed for beekeeping can be simple: the humble plastic bucket is one of the most essential items. Recommending good-quality, lidded, stackable plastic buckets may not bring great professional kudos to the beekeeping expert, but such buckets are useful for beekeepers living in remote places who need to keep their honey clean until they are able to sell it. Honey of excellent quality can be harvested as long as clean buckets are available, along with cotton or baskets for sieving honey and containers for melting wax and packaging the honey and other products.

The appropriate equipment for harvesting and processing honey and beeswax depends on the quantities to be processed and the type of product required. In some areas, beekeeping using traditional local hives is practised on a large scale and justifies the provision of relatively sophisticated, large-scale processing equipment capable of dealing with honey in bulk. Where a cooperative has established a honey-packing unit, a few specialized items often have to be imported, such as effective taps for use on honey containers, special gauze for filtering honey and refractometers to measure water content.

Financial resources: credit

In poor societies, lack of credit is a major constraint to everyone concerned with selling and buying honey. Beekeepers with honey to sell expect to receive cash from honey-collection centres or private-sector traders; otherwise they prefer to sell their honey in small quantities in markets to obtain an instant but low cash return. People buying honey need access to credit during the honey season. Lack of credit leads to insignificant volumes of honey being available for sale, no interest from traders and a stagnant industry.

Social resources: sector support and marketing

In poor countries, there are usually government officers responsible for training and extension in beekeeping. Often, however, they have little relevant training and lack access to transport and other resources. National policies are needed to promote apiculture and protect pollinators. A national NGO is a considerable advantage and able to represent the interests of beekeepers, establish communication between producers and traders and facilitate marketing.

In many developing countries, much can be done to increase retail honey sales, for example, by improving and diversifying packaging, especially for small volume markets. Marketing initiatives can involve promoting honey in the media, interacting with consumers and traders to increase honey consumption and sales, and creating links with packaging suppliers. Honey consumption increases according to living standards; people are keen to buy honey when it is well presented and they have more confidence in the product.

The first aim of a marketing initiative should be import replacement, which means ensuring that local honey is packaged and presented as attractively as the imported brands. Only when the local need for honey is satisfied should export be planned, as inexpensive honey is readily available on the world market. In some countries, producers have benefited from having their honey or beeswax certified as organic or produced according to fair-trade criteria. This type of certification can help small-scale producers to find niche markets that pay premium prices. Honey export to the European Community requires expert knowledge of trade rules and import requirements (Brad-bear, 2001).

Project planning

· Establish the most effective entry point for a beekeeping intervention, for example, by providing assistance with technical aspects of beekeeping or product marketing.

· Ascertain that the planned intervention is appropriate for the people concerned.

· Recognize that beekeepers are often the poorest people in local society and may live in remote places; focus the intervention to reach them.

· Determine that the producer groups will have market access, if more honey and beeswax are harvested.

Project evaluation

Many beekeeping projects have involved the distribution of hives and equipment and the provision of technical training. Donors and local leaders might be satisfied with the outcome of such projects when shown convincing numbers of new hives installed in new apiaries. Closer examination, however, often reveals that hives of a newly introduced technology are not always used efficiently. Good training and follow up are essential. Beekeeping is a seasonal activity, and it cannot be learned in the classroom. The true test of success in any beekeeping development project should not be "How many hives were distributed?" but "Were people's livelihoods strengthened?"

FIGURE 29 Many beekeeping projects have introduced technology the use of which could not be sustained after the end of the project. Here, a storeroom full of unused equipment is all that remains from a project that depended on imported equipment and materials.

Small interventions such as beekeeping projects are not always popular with donors. In poor societies, however, large beekeeping projects with high capital input are frequently doomed to failure. In far too many beekeeping projects, a well-meaning donor has allocated a significant budget to a project, a large portion of which is inevitably intended for equipment. This has led to equipment being introduced that is not always appropriate to the resources available, such as imported woodworking machinery for making hives that may become unusable as soon as a spare part is needed. Training is sometimes irrelevant to local resources and knowledge.

Frame-hive equipment should not be used unless the infrastructure exists for manufacturing it locally. Frame-hive beekeeping is practised in all industrialized countries and many projects have tried to introduce this type of beekeeping in poor countries. It is essential that the a community have the physical, human, natural and financial assets to support this type of beekeeping, if such a project is to succeed.

Case studies

Case study of an individual bee farmer: Gladstone Solomon, Tobago

My grandfather was a self-employed cocoa farmer and agriculture always attracted me. But not having been prepared for cutlass-and-hoe farming, I had to find a less rigorous activity. Gazing at a honeybee landing on a dew-soaked flower early one morning awakened a sense of destiny within me. I knew then that I would eventually become a beekeeper.

A three-day introductory course at the Farmers' Training Centre in Trinidad gave me my first exposure to beekeeping. This was supported by practical sessions at the Apiaries Unit Tobago with two of the island's more experienced beekeepers. After this I started beekeeping with two nucleus hives.

I read anything on the subject and made contacts with as many beekeepers as possible. ABritish beekeeper who visited the island on several occasions was particularly helpful, not only to me but to the island beekeeping community, which was organized as a cohesive and vibrant group: The Tobago Apicultural Society.

My wife Sharon and I now manage approximately 70 colonies and market honey (extracted and chunk), beeswax, pollen and - the latest addition to our product line - handcrafted soaps with beeswax and honey. Our three sons earn pocket money by assisting in various aspects of the business.

July, 2001

FIGURE 31 The UWESO honey and beeswax collection centre at Lyantonde, Uganda.

Case study of a project for beekeepers in Uganda: Joy Mugisha, the UWESO UK Trust

Our first project was in the Luwero District, an area severely ravaged during the civil war. Beginning in 1995, participants were trained in the production of honey and beeswax, equipment was provided and a honey-processing centre was installed. The project is now self-sustaining.

Typically, a trained project officer from the NGO Uganda Women's Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO) provides training, advice and starter equipment to families supporting orphans and chosen by the local UWESO branch. The beekeepers develop the hives and gradually increase the number, so that after two or three years a family may be operating about 30 hives. Each hive should produce two crops of honey and wax each year, which can be taken to the UWESO collecting centre and sold to local companies for local and export markets. This can provide a return of perhaps US$1400 in a year - well above the average family income level in rural areas.

The cost of such a project to the Trust is about US$140000 including the costs of the project officer, equipment and a collecting and processing centre. If 150 families can each increase their annual earnings by US$1 400 - the return on the single investment of US$140 000 is, amazingly, about US$210 000 each year! Even if some families underperform, the financial returns amply justify the investment.

July, 2001

FIGURE 31 The UWESO honey and beeswax collection centre at Lyantonde, Uganda.

FAO project example - Iraq: requirement for technical assistance

In 1995 the Iraq Beekeepers'Association approached the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for assistance. Members expressed their concern about the widespread deaths of honeybee colonies in Iraq.

During the 1970s and 1980s, beekeepers in Iraq practised sophisticated beekeeping, depending largely on imported equipment and stocks of honeybees. This ended following the enforcement of United Nations sanctions in 1991. Beekeepers were no longer able to import the beeswax foundation used in frame-hive beekeeping. Lack of beeswax and equipment to make foundation led to the use of contaminated material and a build-up of disease in honeybee populations. The isolation of Iraq meant that beekeepers were unaware of the rapidly changing status of bee disease and current methods of control, especially of the predatory mite Varroa.

FAO provided technical assistance to help identify and control honeybee diseases and mites, and to support local manufacture of clean stocks of beeswax foundation.

FIGURE 32 Making fresh beeswax foundation, Iraq.

FAO project example - St Vincent and the Grenadines: requirement for sector support

The St Vincent Ministry of Agriculture recognized the need for local farmers to diversify beyond banana production. In 1996, they requested FAO assistance to encourage farmers to take up beekeeping. This assistance would ensure adequate stocks of bees for pollination of alternative new fruit crops, and would enable some farmers to create income from beekeeping.

FAO assistance came in the form of capacity-building: training ministry staff in beekeeping, establishing demonstration apiaries for farmers, developing a training programme, encouraging local manufacturers to begin making beekeeping equipment and proposing policies for protecting the beekeeping industry. St Vincent currently enjoys the rare situation of disease-free stocks of bees.

FIGURE 33 Making beekeeping clothes in St Vincent.

FAO project example - Afghanistan: assistance for people living under stress

Beekeeping has traditionally always been a successful part of Afghan agriculture, with many fruit and oilseed crops requiring pollination by bees. The current war situation in Afghanistan has led to restrictions on movement and loss of resources and opportunities for livelihood creation. Despite the lack of resources, beekeeping remains a livelihood option, because bees are available and equipment can be made locally.

FAO provided training for women and men beekeepers. Since beekeeping can be practised in a home compound, beekeeping was regarded by the Taliban regime as an acceptable activity for women in Afghanistan. In addition to harvesting honey, a highly valued food under current circumstances, the women learned to make skin ointments and other secondary products useful for people living in harsh and isolated conditions. Men and women have been given training in making all the equipment needed for frame-hive beekeeping, so that they can continue without need for external inputs.

FIGURE 34 Training Afghan beekeepers: in the first part of the course trainees made their own veils.

Case study: disabled beekeepers - agro-industries development

Disabled people face particular difficulties in earning sufficient income. For much of their lives, they remain dependent on a caring family and the society around them. In poor communities where sufficient resources are never available, disabled people frequently become marginalized and forgotten, and they may lose confidence in themselves.

An NGO in Mauritius has shown that this need not be so. It has trained many disabled people in the country to become practical beekeepers and has set up a network of community producers. In 1997, Craft Aid of Rodrigues established a model apiary as part of its honey department. It provides the organizational skills training that supplies beekeepers with equipment, materials and information, and buys surplus honey and wax for processing and sale. The department has a staff of nine, more than half of whom are handicapped. They target the tourist trade and selected overseas retail markets to sell honey and other products that match the highest international standards. They have won medals at the prestigious National Honey Show held in London each November. Training, production and sales are profitable.

Craft Aid recently shared its experience with the publication of a booklet entitled Small enterprise development, which is available on the FAO website; for more information check out the Craft Aid website.

Paul Draper
Craft Aid
Port Mathurin
Rodrigues Island
[email protected]

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