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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Framework for sustainable beekeeping

Bees for Development's conceptual framework for sustainable beekeeping: an ecosystems approach

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are wild insects. They are not domesticated, and yet because they store honey and make wax humans have taken great interest in exploiting them for the benefit of people. This has lead to a close relationship between bees and people which began with honey hunting, evolved into keeping bees in hives and eventually the science and art of beekeeping developed. However, the relationship between bees and people goes beyond beekeeping. People have a huge influence on the habitat of the honey bee, people have moved the honey bee out of its natural range and have interfered with its genetics through selection, breeding and the moving of strains of bees around the world. The earliest beekeeping was carried out with the aim of harvesting honey and wax, nowadays with the advent of monocultures and damaged natural environments we also keep bees for pollination, whereas there would have been a time when bees living in the wild would have filled this role adequately.

The nature of this relationship is different in different parts of the world but we can consider the relationship in three dimensions. These dimensions of interaction may vary in their importance in achieving sustainability.

  1. People have an impact on honey bees through the way we manage the wider environment, their habitat for nesting and feeding.
  2. People have had an impact on the genetic diversity and natural distribution of the honey bee through moving bees outside their natural range, breeding, selection and queen importation.
  3. People have an impact on the welfare of bees at colony level through colony management and manipulation, hive technology and apiary management practices.

Sustainable beekeeping refers to the nature of this relationship and the outcome.

Beekeeping is sustainable when the interactions between humans and honey bees contribute positively to healthy populations of locally-adapted indigenous bees living in the wild and in the apiaries of beekeepers.




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