How the sweet sound of buzzing bees changed the tune of one Uzbek woman’s life

Modern equipment and training ensure traditional livelihoods can provide for rural households

Once afraid of bees, Gulhayo Khaydarova is now an expert beekeeper, known locally for the quality honey she extracts. ©FAO/Guzal Fayzieva


Morning breaks in the village Durmon, a quiet hamlet in the Bukhara region of southern Uzbekistan. There is no bustle of a big city. The only sounds are of chirping of birds and the humming of peaceful nature.

This is the setting for an ordinary day in the life of Gulhayo Khaydarova, a 35-year-old native of Durmon. She begins her work even before the sun rises, like her grandmothers and great-grandmothers used to do before her.

Sweep the yard; milk the cow; feed the chickens: this is Gulhayo’s to-do list for the morning. She then cooks breakfast and sends the children, two boys, off to school.

After the children leave, it's time to turn to her other job. Though she would never have guessed it before, Gulhayo has been in beekeeping for many years now, and the natural honey she produces is famous throughout the village.

In the Khaydarov family, the traditions and secrets of beekeeping are passed down from generation to generation. Her father-in-law, Ravshan, knows this business inside and out.

It used to be that Gulhayo would watch from a safe distance while her father-in-law and her husband worked. She was too afraid to even approach the bees. Then one day, interest arose. She smiles remembering how her head spun with excitement the first time she put on a protective suit and opened the bee box on her own.

Today Gulhayo is an experienced beekeeper. She first cleans the hives and then inspects them for any symptoms of diseases or pest infestations. In this field, it is important to check the hives regularly because early detection improves the chances of keeping the bees healthy.

When examining bee colonies, she can see with a naked eye the presence and state of a queen in the hive. She can tell whether the transplanted queen has been accepted by the bees or whether the colony is at risk of illness. She knows if there is enough food in the frame and whether the bees are healthy. Gulhayo has been following this daily routine for 14 years.

One day like any other, employees of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) came to Gulhayo's house, accompanied by government representatives. After a socioeconomic survey conducted by the project team, the Khaydarov family was selected to participate in the FAO project, Central Asian Desert Initiative (CADI­).

FAO provided the Khaydarovs and other smallholder families with new hives and modern beekeeping equipment to help increase their production. ©FAO/Guzal Fayzieva

Last winter the Khaydarovs suffered great losses — a significant part of the bee colonies could not endure the severe weather conditions and died from the cold.  Winter is always a risk for bees. Even the most experienced beekeepers can lose dozens of hives over the winter.

To compensate for their losses over the winter, FAO provided the family with modern beekeeping equipment, such as honey extractors, and 20 new hives.

With this support, the Khaydarov family has been able to expand their apiary and create about 40 new bee colonies. In addition to the increased production, this modern equipment has accelerated the process of obtaining honey and the additional honey extractors mean that three people can work at once. Increased production means better income and providing a more sustainable livelihood for the household.

Gulhayo is glad that she can contribute to the family budget. With the first profits, she bought new school supplies and school clothes for her children. Her additional free time meant she also had moments to help her sons with their homework.

At Farmer Field Schools, Gulhayo learned modern practices for producing honey and other bee products, helping to increase her family’s income from beekeeping. ©FAO/Guzal Fayzieva

The CADI project conserves and ensures the sustainable use of temperate deserts, like those in Uzbekistan, which are unique ecosystems of global importance. Funded by the German government, the project was implemented by FAO, the University of Greifswald and the Michael Succow Foundation in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The same equipment that the Khaydarov family received was also given to other households in the area. And along with beekeeping equipment, local households received other livelihood support, such as sewing machines, lockers, wool processing equipment, milk separators, as well as seeds and seedlings of drought-resistant crops.

In addition, during its implementation, the CADI project organized an extensive training programme on growing crops, developing various crafts, creating nurseries in greenhouses, processing milk and other animal products and developing beekeeping.

At these Farmer Field Schools, Gulhayo learned best practices of effective modern processes for the production of honey and other bee products. Longtime beekeepers now combine traditional methods of honey production with modern expertise, and increased apiculture production provides households with additional sustainable income. Most importantly, the project ensures that both women and men equally benefit from the training and equipment.

It is dinner time and Gulhayo’s family gathers to dine at one large table. Among the dishes on the table, honey takes a special place. Ecological, natural, obtained by their own labor. Gulhayo pours tea in traditional Uzbek cups called piala and hands them out to her family members.

Tomorrow will be a new day, full of chores. But for now, Gulhayo rests with her mug of tea in her cozy world, a rural life surrounded by the beauty of nature and the sweet sound of bees.

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2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth