Equal in the eyes of bees

A beekeeping couple in Senegal are working as a team and reaping the rewards of gender equality

Mamadiang Mballo and Fatoumata Kandé both work as beekeepers and are finding new ways of working together after attending a gender-sensitive, FAO farmer field school training. ©FAO/ Yacine Cissé


“The turning point came when my husband and I participated in the FAO training together. That’s where my motivation to become a beekeeper came from,” says Fatoumata Kandé, a farmer and mother from the village of Sare Bidji in the Kolda region of southern Senegal. “Beekeeping in Senegal has traditionally been considered a man’s job. The training helped me understand that I too can contribute and make a difference.”

As a member of the local cooperative, Coopérative Agroalimentaire de la Casamance – Miel (CAC/Miel), Fatoumata’s husband, 52-year-old Mamadiang Mballo, has practised beekeeping for over 15 years. Beekeeping fascinated Mamadiang from a young age, but he started this livelihood with one clear objective in mind: to ensure his children got an education.

Over the years, Mamadiang set off alone in the mornings to collect honey and return to sell it at the local market. But this changed after the couple attended a farmer field school together, organized as part of the FAO Strengthening Agricultural Adaptation (SAGA) project funded by the Government of Québec.

The farmer field school training is part of the CasaMiel initiative, which is led by implementing partner Société de coopération pour le développement international (SOCODEVI) in partnership with the CAC/Miel cooperative and local communities. The initiative is meant to increase the production of honey in Senegal while strengthening beekeepers’ resilience in the face of climate change and reducing gender inequality in the sector. Through the gender-sensitive, farmer field schools part of the initiative, Fatoumata got inspired to engage in beekeeping and received the tools to do so.

Between 2019 and 2020, FAO and its partners trained 72 women and 75 men in the production of honey through the Casa Miel initiative. ©FAO/ Yacine Cissé

Bees: vital allies in a changing world

Bees play a pivotal role in agriculture and are vital for the preservation of ecological balance and biodiversity in nature. Raising honeybees ensures better pollination of flowering plants. This means more food for ourselves and wildlife. 

However, in recent years, bees and the beekeeping sector have been hit hard by the impacts of climate change, which are seriously threatening these hardworking creatures who play a big part in the world’s crop production. Globally, three out of four crops producing fruits or seeds for human use as food depend, at least in part, on pollinators.

Mamadiang describes how climate change does not spare bees or the couple’s beekeeping activities: “At one point, all the bees left the hive because it got too hot, and they had no food or water nearby.”

This was one of the challenges FAO and its partners addressed through the CasaMiel initiative. “Through the training we received modern equipment including hives that do not retain heat and information on how to choose the type of hives and where to place them,” says Mamadiang.

Between 2019 and 2020, FAO collaborated with six groups of the CAC/Miel cooperative which each manage a processing unit and a honey packaging plant in the area. Through the Casa Miel initiative, 49 couples received technical support and attended training workshops in the local language, Peulh.

“We also got access to lighter portable hives that are easier to carry and move. All of this allowed us to adapt and even increase our beekeeping production,” he adds.

With these trainings, the CAC/Miel cooperative’s sale of honey increased from 2 816 litres in 2019 to 8 840 litres in 2021.

Honey from the Casamance area in the Kolda region of southern Senegal represents 70 percent of national production. In spite of this, approximately 50 percent of people in this region are affected by food insecurity and malnutrition. ©FAO/ Yacine Cissé

A farmer field school with a twist

The training also spread the understanding of the fundamental role that women play in agriculture and adaptation to climate change.

The gender equality components of the farmer field schools promoted discussion between the couples on themes such as self-esteem, leadership and communication. They were able to draw parallels between the inequalities discussed and their personal situations and thus initiate concrete changes within the household.

“The training has shown us how we can support each other as a couple. Before, I had to do everything in the household, now I share these tasks with my husband. We work as a team,” says Fatoumata.

“It’s like we are operating on a different level now,” explains Mamadiang. “All decisions are made as a family.” 

Fatoumata has started sharing the knowledge she gained through the training with other women in the community and beyond. She is already seeing results, “It’s encouraging to see more and more women involved in beekeeping. My group at the cooperative is composed mainly of women and the president is a woman too.”

Gender equality for climate adaptation

Mamadiang and Fatoumata demonstrate thatby challenging the views about gender and transforming power relations, they are now better equipped to fight climate change as a team.   

When women have the same access as men to productive resources and services, they can significantly increase the yields on their farms and adapt to a changing climate.  Tapping into the knowledge and capacity of women and having women at the table represent significant opportunities to develop new, effective climate change solutions for the benefit of all.

Fatoumata feels proud of their newfound balance. “I feel valued in my relationship and that makes me happy,” she says.

As a couple, they complement one another: “I bring the ability to adapt,” Mamadiang says. “I bring the quality of resilience,” Fatoumata adds. Adaptation and resilience, what better combination to tackle the challenges of today for a better tomorrow?

Learn more

5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 13. Climate action, 15. Life on land