Hives in the Horn of Africa

The rejuvenated hillsides of the Tuliguled district, Ethiopia, have become a fertile ground for bee activity. Growth in biomass has allowed farmers like Ibrahim Abdi Yusuf to enthusiastically take up beekeeping as an alternative (and lucrative) livelihood.

The Resilient Food Systems (RFS) programme provided training on beekeeping to 50 Ethiopian households in the Duguna Fango district in Ethiopia. Located in the Wolaita zone in the Great Rift Valley, this is one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in Ethiopia. Decades of large-scale deforestation left the land barren, threatened groundwater reserves, and caused severe erosion.

Through its country projects, RFS aims to help farmers establish agricultural systems that use land and water in sustainable ways, and simultaneously bring about food security and improved livelihoods.

Beekeeping is a farming activity that creates a virtuous agricultural cycle. It preserves the natural flora and, as pollinators, bees play a vital role in tree-growing, which in turn aids reforestation efforts. Holistically, beekeeping contributes to a healthy ecosystem, helps maintain biodiversity and speeds up land restoration. Marrying the environmental and social benefits of beekeeping is a welcome friend to RFS which has seen many successes in its beekeeping projects, including moving income sources away from charcoal to honey and advancing benefits for women in project sites.

Led by UNDP and implemented by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) of Ethiopia, the RFS Ethiopia project provided extensive training in all aspects of beekeeping and establishing bee colonies: how to build apiaries using wax foundation sheets for the frames; colony manipulation to increase the standard of beehives; and how to transfer bees to different hives.

New beekeepers were also taught about the end markets and pricing for harvested honey and beeswax – both sought-after products with significant earnings potential.

A crucial part of the training was explaining the link between bees, plants, and trees to community members. Beneficiaries learned that bees exist where and when plants are available. Many beekeepers rely on forests for the health of their colonies, and in turn, have become custodians of these forests.

The beekeeping work has thus led to the rejuvenation of degraded hillsides – not only in Duguna Fango but also in the Tuliguled district in the Somali regional state of Ethiopia. A year into these interventions, there has been considerable improvement in the biomass of trees and plants, essential sources for successful beekeeping.

One model bee farmer who is using the regenerated hillside to his advantage is Ibrahim Abdi Yusuf from the Tuliguled district.

“I have an intense interest in nature, especially bees. People know I am working as a guardian for the forest in our watershed locality (sic).”

Photo of Ibrahim Abdi Yusuf; by Mohammed Ibrahim, Senior Public relations Expert, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission, Ethiopia
Photo of Ibrahim Abdi Yusuf; by Mohammed Ibrahim, Senior Public relations Expert, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission, Ethiopia

The project managers identified Ibrahim as a model farmer because of his enthusiasm and interest; he now transfers his experience and skills to other prospective beekeepers in his community. He works with a target group, training them in the aspects of modern bee farming.

“There were more than 13 farmers and the training covered how to care for bees and their life cycle, how to improve the harvest of honey and beeswax – and how to make beekeeping (protective) clothing when we visit the hives.”

The newly trained farmers have since built more than 15 hives in addition to the 25 modern hives they received as part of the project.

Ibrahim has managed to harvest honey twice in the past three years. In 2020 alone, his hives yielded 236 kg of honey, which earned him 94 000 Ethiopian Birr ($2 069). This year, he has produced 375 kg of honey at 400 Ethiopian Birr per kilogram. “This means a lot to me,” Ibrahim says.

The beneficiaries learned that one of the many advantages of beekeeping is that – unlike many other agricultural activities - the practice does not compete for resources. On the contrary, it can be integrated with other farming practices, as bees help increase the outputs of crops. Farmers are now actively planting trees that produce flowers to attract bees. The tree-planting in turn aids the reforestation and land rehabilitation efforts.

Photo; by Dereje Dea, Project Coordinator, IAP and FS Project Dugna fango woreda, SNNPR region, Ethiopia.
Photo; by Dereje Dea, Project Coordinator, IAP and FS Project Dugna fango woreda, SNNPR region, Ethiopia.

Ibrahim says beekeeping as a business has started to take flight among the people in his community. "These days it is common to hear people say: 'Work hard like bees to produce sweet honey. Protect your hive in a group like a bee colony.' "

The conservation efforts in his district have also caught on. “People are now much more concerned about protecting the forest because they know they get their income from the forest.”

Beekeeping is a sweet deal for everyone concerned, from the buyers of the honey to the farmers and their communities, to the agricultural sector, and to the environment. Nature’s most industrious insects are working hard to deliver a golden future for Ethiopians.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive updates on stories directly from the field across all our projects, upcoming events, new resources, and more.