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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

The role of women and indigenous knowledge in Ethiopian beekeeping

  • Women in beekeeping
  • Adgaba N. Bekele W. & Ejigu K.
  • 2008
  • Article
  • text
  • English
  • Bees for Development 86 41763 Text on this website

Kerealem Ejigu Andassa Livestock Research Centre Bahir Dar; Nuru Adgaba Holeta Bee Research Centre and Wagayehu Bekele Department of Agricultural Economics Alemaya University EthiopiaBeekeeping is an important activity for many rural people - both men and women - and is carried out in home gardens and houses all over Ethiopia. Traditionally there are no cultural taboos that forbid the involvement of women in beekeeping. However women’s participation is often little or non-existent. Therefore the promotion of income-generating activities for women and their role in beekeeping raises interesting issues. When we explore the possibility of promoting beekeeping amongst Ethiopian women the first step is to discover the factors that limit them from keeping bees. In many parts of Ethiopia there are local beekeepers who are highly respected for their skills in handling honey bees. Though Ethiopian beekeepers have rich indigenous knowledge as Fichtl and Addi 1994 indicated skills and knowledge are transferred generation to generation and only improved by trial and error: biological knowledge is confined to immediate observations and repeated experience. 

Materials and methods This study was conducted in Enebse and Amaro. The town of the Enebse Mertule Mariam is 370 km northwest of Addis Ababa at an altitude of 2 400 m. The town of Amaro Kelle is 478 km south of Addis Ababa at an altitude of 1 850 m. Ninety beekeeper farmers were chosen by random sampling techniques. Both primary and secondary sources of data were used in this study. The primary data for the year 2003/04 were collected from sample respondents during October-November 2004 through a semi-structured questionnaire. This was designed to generate data on some social institutional and economic variables. Secondary data were obtained from various sources. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the data. The role of women in beekeeping According to this survey no women beekeepers were found in Amaro. In Enebse female beekeepers were interviewed but their numbers were limited. The results of this survey indicate that in Enebse 6.7% of the beekeepers are women. The reasons given for low or non-existence of the participation by women were: women are afraid of bees and wild animals; they cannot climb trees; beekeeping is considered a ‘man's occupation’. Moreover as with other economic activities the traditional ways of living restrict women to carrying out domestic activities close to the homestead and this hinders women from keeping bees. Even though men are mostly involved in beekeeping activities women commonly used the product of beekeeping in making secondary products. For example the important industry of ‘tej’ honey wine making in Ethiopia is run by women. Elsewhere in Africa it is often women who brew and sell honey beer Bradbear 2002. Women also play a role in the honey selling in Enebse but this was not common in Amaro. According to an Agri-Service Ethiopia Amaro Integrated Food Security Program ASE AIFSP 2002 base line survey in Amaro the selling of coffee food crops livestock and honey were predominantly carried out by men although in some cases there was consultation with their wives. Women’s decisions were limited to selling hens and eggs milk and butter and Ensete ventricosum products. The Ethiopian Government and NGOs encourage women’s participation in rural development. ASE provided material and technical assistance for a women’s group to be given training in basic beekeeping. They were encouraged to construct top-bar hives and to make beekeeping tools and veils. Some of the women undertake the beekeeping activities confidently. However a few women beekeepers interviewed in Enebse explained that they had become dependent on assistance from men for colony transfer queen catching and harvesting the crop. These management activities are also a problem for men who are beginner beekeepers. ASE and other developmental organisations could have been more successful if the women were given both theoretical and practical training in basic beekeeping methods and supplied with affordable and appropriate beekeeping technology in the form of top-bar hives with full accessories and protective clothing. This may be one step towards helping women to generate income in the rural areas. In addition the placement of hives suitable for women to use has to be developed and tested with users in local conditions. Women and women’s groups can be in good positions to carry out the processing of honey and beeswax to secondary products. Their excessive workload and childcare commitments require women to remain close to homesteads and to integrate livelihood activities with these commitments. Support to enable women to learn to process raw bee products into good quality secondary products that can be made in village settings may be an ideal opportunity for income generation. Beekeepers’ knowledge Indigenous beekeeping knowledge like other culture is transferred from generation to generation although some important improvements to this knowledge are made from time to time. Our survey revealed that beekeepers have the following indigenous knowledge: 1. Knowledge of plants utilised by bees their flowering times and plants poisonous to bees The beekeepers of the study areas have an intensive knowledge of herbs shrubs and trees growing in their surrounding. They identify most of the plants and give detailed descriptions of their use as bee plants. Based on this the beekeepers can differentiate the beekeeping calendars for their areas. 2. Knowledge about bees Beekeepers in both Amaro and Enebse agreed that there are different races of bees used in local beekeeping. Their description of each variety was categorised in two groups and this result agrees with other studies Hoyle 1993. These are red or yellow coloured bees known locally as 'wanzie' or 'shimbrie' and black or dark-coloured bees known as ‘shanko’ or ‘tikurie'. It is very difficult to consider the varieties of bees according to their colours because it is common to get both yellow and black coloured varieties in the same colony that are reared from a single queen. However based on recent work the geographical races or subspecies of honey bees in Enebse and Amaro are Apis mellifera bandasii and Apis mellifera scutellata respectively Amssalu et al 2004. 3. Handling of swarms The experienced beekeeper in the study areas will try to catch a swarm and put it on to the ground where he can carefully look for the queens. For trapping swarms using a bait hive the beekeepers commonly use swarm attractant materials mostly plants. A few beekeepers reported that they used the method of cutting part of the wing of the queen to reduce absconding. They also know different methods to control swarming to avoid successive division of the colony. For instance beekeepers in Enebse used the removal of queen cells or smoking of incense and ‘wegert’ a shrub used also as smoking materials for milk containers to prevent a colony from undergoing reproductive swarming hence it becomes strong and productive during that season. Their opinion is that: “the smoke makes the colony sterile” that is it cannot construct new queen cells. 4. Methods of controlling diseases and predators This involves the use of smoking cotton cloth or Otostegia integrifola. In Enebse it is forbidden to inspect or disturb the colony at the end of the rainy seasons because ‘worms’ will be created and damage the colony. They also control pests and predators from attacking their colony using different methods. In Amaro for instance by fastening corrugated iron or animal fats on the bark of the trees containing honey bee colonies the beekeepers discourage the honey badger from attacking their colonies. 5. Considerable indigenous knowledge concerning local materials for hive making smoking and placement of hivesSee references for more details 6. Knowledge of honey harvest and how to use honey in medicine and social contexts People believe that honey harvested at ‘Tikmit Estifanos’ 17 October in the Ethiopian calendar has a high medicinal value and it will fetch a higher price. The following points may be considered as local innovations:
  1. In Amaro beekeepers select trees that bear flowers to attract wild swarms. That means they know what plants can be used for attracting wild bees to bait hives. They also know well how to climb up and fix hives in the upper branches of tall smooth trees to prevent predators from getting access to the hive. Also some innovative beekeepers construct an opening at one side of the log hives that is used for harvesting honey without disturbing much of the colony and then it is likely to survive for the next season.
  2. In Enebse modifications are made to top-bar hives for convenience of smoking with the local smoker. Most farmers adapted the initial hive design to suit their own purposes revealing the way they were integrating the new type of hives into their existing practices.
  Acknowledgements We would like to thank the enumerators for their technical assistance and the beekeeper farmers who co-operated with us in supplying relevant information. Also Agri-Service Ethiopia for financial technical and material support during the study. 
References AMSSALU B; ADGABA N.; RADLOFF S.E.; HEPBURN H.R. 2004. Multivariate morphometric analysis of honeybees Apis mellifera L in the Ethiopian region. Apidologie 35: 71-84. ASE AIFSP 2002 Baseline Survey Report. Amaro Special Wereda Project Office Kelle Ethiopia. pp.1-59. BRADBEAR N. 2002 Beekeeping and sustainable livelihoods. In: Strengthening livelihoods: exploring the role of beekeeping in development. Bees for Development Monmouth UK. FICHTL R.; ADDI A. 1994 Honeybee flora of Ethiopia. Margraf Verlag Weikersheim Germany. HOYLE E. 1993. Beekeeping in Welaita North Omo. Farmers’ Research Project Technical Pamphlet No 4. Farm Africa Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Further reading Bee products in Ethiopia Bees for Development Journal 82 Chalk brood in Ethiopia Bees for Development Journal 78 Spotlight on Ethiopia Bees for Development Journal 73 Selling honey bee colonies as a source of income for subsistence beekeepers Bees for Development Journal 64 Zoom in on Ethiopia Bees for Development Journal 40 First published in Bees for Development Journal #86

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