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corner for bees

Advice for development agencies promoting

beekeeping in Africa

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There are many organisations who wish to promote beekeeping and with good cause. Beekeeping is a good income generating activity for resource poor people. The activity is completely environmentally friendly and sustainable with no outside resources required. In all countries there is a ready market for honey.

One of the problems however is that the same mistakes are repeated over and over again by different organisations promoting bees. Lessons are not shared among implementing agencies. Some of the common problems are outlined below.

1. Who are the target group being trained in beekeeping?

Has the idea to keep bees come from them or has it come from outside? An obvious criteria for selection of the target group is if they are already practicing beekeeping of some description. If the project is willing to work with starters in beekeeping this is good too however these people will require much more help and technical backup. The project must be clear who it is working with and what are the special needs of that group so that these can be addressed. For example women beekeepers may be the target group - in some cultures it is taboo for women to wear a bee suit or handle bees - check it out before hand!

2. Promoting beekeeping in unfavorable areas

Ishere a realistic possibility of producing honey in the area - is it too dry/ari td etc Are there existing traditional beekeepers or honey hunters?

3. Promotion of 'Modern' hive designs without sufficient backup and training

The table below is a good lesson for those of us who promote 'improved' hive designs. In the table the log hive comes out the best with the KTBH second and the basket hive last. If the KTBH hive is not managed to gain the advantages it has due to its moveable combs then it will be outperformed by the log hive. A KTBH (or Langstroth) which is not managed, producing crude honey is actually worse than a log hive because of its higher cost to purchase.


Table: Beekeeper's preference for different types of hives around Kakamega forest:





Quantity harvested




Ease of Harvest




Heat Properties




Least Cost




Resistance to Rain












3=best , 2= second best, 1= last

Frequently projects distribute free top bar hives to people in the belief that the hive itself is going to provide benefit to producers. The top bar and frame hives will not give any benefit above local traditional hives without intensive follow-up and training practically at beehives and not in the classroom! Allot of projects fail to give this practical backup and support.

4. Introducing modern hives but failing to introduce other vital equipment such as smokers and beesuits.

Beekeepers in this case will continue to harvest their bees in the same way as before, harvesting at night using fire/excess smoke. No management of the bees will take place giving little/no overall benefit to the beekeepers above their traditional systems.

5. Failing to get hives occupied

After promoting the 'modern' hive many projects fail to assist beekeepers to get them occupied. Hives remain empty producing nothing and beekeepers become disillusioned.

Traditional systems are adapted to the local environment and are low cost. They have merits. Traditional systems should be built on and modifications/improvements suggested. Excellent honey can be harvested from traditional hives and wild bee colonies provided care is given in harvesting and handling honey. After 30 years of beekeeping development in Kenya for example most of the honey produced in the country (>90%) comes from traditional beekeeping systems.

6. Cost sharing

A project should aim to cost share on the provision of expensive items (eg beesuits) This gives beneficiaries a feeling of involvement and demonstrates commitment to the aims of the project.

7. Poor marketing

Many projects train on harvesting quality honey and beeswax urging farmers to produce higher quality produce. This is of little use if the beekeeper takes the honey to the same market as before and receives the same price as his previous low quality honey from traditional hives. The same applies to training people on the value of beeswax and propolis and not assisting them to use these products or find markets for them.

In general in beekeeping the greatest constraints to development are related to the lack of knowledge and skills of the beekeeper. A beekeeping project has to transfer these skills practically and in a hands on fashion. Provision of 'modern' equipment only is easy, looks good but will have little long term impact. Continuous hands on training and capacity building must be provided not only on technical beekeeping issues but also on business skills such as record keeping and accounts, costing and pricing, marketing etc.


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