Action Against Desertification

World Bee Day - 20 May 2020: "Bee-engaged" with land restoration

Action Against Desertification’s work on apiculture value chains has supported restoring degraded lands, increasing biodiversity and improving incomes of local communities


Bees, trees and landscapes are interdependent. Bees depend on biodiverse habitats for forage, and at the same time bees provide important pollination services to many plants and trees, and are vital for the regeneration of healthy ecosystems. Beekeeping can enhance the pollination of wild and cultivated plants, increasing crop yields. Managing bees for honey production or other apiculture products can also provide rural people in particular with income, improved nutrition and incentivize the protection of landscapes and sustainable management of flowering trees, shrubs and grasses.

Because of this symbiotic relationship, FAO’s Action Against Desertification (AAD) Programme, an initiative conceived to implement restoration activities to combat biodiversity loss and desertification, is supporting beekeepers across African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. By supporting beekeepers to improve colony management and handling and marketing of honey, AAD hopes to build the resilience of rural communities. At the same time, its restoration activities focus on restoring degraded land, jointly with local communities, with key melliferous tree and shrub species such as Acacia mellifera, Acacia senegal, Acacia seyal, Balanites aegyptiaca, and Ziziphus mauritiana, among many others, which is not only supporting honey production and improving incomes, but also boosting biodiversity within landscapes.

Improving apiculture value chains and biodiversity in Grand’Anse, Haiti

Apiculture in a number of Communes in Grand’Anse, Haiti has long been practiced with traditional mud and grass hives. In 2016, AAD supported 60 local farmers and beekeepers in Bonbon and Cap-Haitien with training on bee diseases, the conservation of locally adapted colonies, raising high quality queen bees and hive management, with the support of modern yet locally-appropriate equipment.

“The application of good practices for treating varroa, a honeybee parasite, allowed me to significantly limit production losses. I also have a better understanding of how bee colonies are organized, which has allowed me to improve the production of queens, selecting cells that are more productive and efficient,” explains Hilarion Célestin, 44, a beekeeper and father of three.

“Previously, I would harvest about 190 liters per year. Now, I harvest about 1 500 litres per year, which amounts to 1 200 000 gourdes, or USD 13 300.” This income has allowed me to build my home, care for my family needs and purchase new land,” says Célestin.

Over just a few years, AAD transformed apiculture in the area into a more lucrative value chain. AAD farmers, including Hilarion, have together harvested over 15 000 litres of honey in the last three years. Some of these beekeepers have increased the number of hives and make at least two or three harvests per year.

With the support of AAD, Célestin and 29 other beekeepers have now formed an association to share costs and improve their marketing potential. They have established a permanent structure to handle, package and label their honey. Together they share the costs of equipment, packaging and labels. Their hope is to improve sales by selling their honey under a common label, which can enhance the traceability of their harvest and build consumer trust.

“By organizing ourselves, we have increased our visibility on the local and national honey market,” explains Hilarion.

AAD has simultaneously restored over 30 hectares of land surrounding the hives, particularly with melliferous plants, to support a favourable environment for apiculture in the region. A total of 11 600 hectares of degraded land have been restored in the entire Department of Grand-Anse, since AAD began interventions four years ago. 

The Bonbon Association of Beekeepers hopes to continue its work, in collaboration with other beekeeping groups in the Department, to support the development of a specific geographic label. This will help the beekeepers further commercialize honey from the region.

“The project truly improved my living conditions while improving the sustainable management of our natural resources. Land restoration has been the engine of this revival,” says Hilarion.

Restoring land and supporting livelihoods in Fiji

In Fiji, land degradation causes more than 50 tons of soil per hectare to erode annually, four times the average of tropical regions. AAD is working with 64 communities across the country to restore degraded land. This work goes hand in hand with improving local livelihoods and value chains, including apiculture.

With the support of AAD, the Ministry of Agriculture in Fiji has trained beekeepers in seven villages on best beekeeping practices and co-managing beehives through youth and women’s groups.

“The training is a win-win for villages and the environment because we can earn some good money for the community, and it is also a good incentive to protect and manage flowering plants,” says AAD’s National Coordinator in Fiji, Maika Daveta.

“Honey is an ideal product. It can be enjoyed for local consumption – and it is also healthier substitute for sugar – not to mention the ecological value that bees and pollination bring to these areas,” adds Daveta.

The training also covered honey enterprise development. Beekeepers were also supported with basic equipment such as hives, tools, protective gear and storage. The same communities were also engaged to carry out large-scale restoration of degraded lands by replanting suitable native species and nectar rich plants such as qumu (Acacia richii), tiri (Rhizophora mangle, or red mangrove), yasiyasi (Santalum yasi) and tamarind (Tamarindus indica). Since 2016, over 1 100 hectares of degraded lands have been planted by AAD in Fiji for restoration and increased productivity.   

A long-standing partner of the Great Green Wall which aims to combat climate change, biodiversity loss and desertification and help dryland people build resilience, Action Against Desertification is financially supported by the European Union. With its now road-tested methodologies in place, AAD is further expanding its operations in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific with interventions that balance restoration of landscapes with local, indigenous species coupled with value chain development for rural communities.