Kerealem Ejigu, Andassa Livestock Research Centre, Bahir Dar; Nuru Adgaba, Holeta Bee Research Centre and Wagayehu Bekele, Department of Agricultural Economics, Alemaya University, Ethiopia
Beekeeping 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.
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 hives(See 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:
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.
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.
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First published in Bees for Development Journal #86