By Nuru Adgaba, Holetta Bee Research Centre, West Shoa, Ethiopia
Bee husbandry is a major activity of Ethiopian farming communities. It seems as ancient as the history of the country, and forms an integral part of the life style. For many farmers beekeeping is good business providing a high proportion of their annual income. Particularly in northern parts of the country local beekeeping methods are well developed. In this area a fascinating aspect of traditional beekeeping is the practice of selling honeybee colonies like other domestic animals in the local market place.
Some beekeepers carry colonies on their heads to market: the journeys may take up to two days, over distances of 60 km. During the peak selling season at Inticho, about 300 honeybee colonies are offered for sale on one market day. The price of a well-established colony in a local hive ranges from 250-300 Birr (US$ 30-35) nearly equivalent to the price of one head of cattle. The Municipality collects a tax of one Birr per colony sold in the market.
The beekeeper opens one end of the hive to show the population strength of the colony to potential buyers. The bees are quite gentle and remain calm for hours in their hives without attacking the crowd. In areas where honey production is not attractive, beekeepers specialise in multiplication and selling of honeybees by keeping their colonies in small, local hives to induce reproductive swarming by means of over-crowding. During swarming periods, beekeepers and their families keep continuous watch for the emerging new swarms. Multiplication and selling of bee colonies is a good source of income for these beekeepers and it was observed that many young people are very attracted to and involved in this activity. The money from colony selling is utilised by beekeepers to purchase food, clothes, and other family needs. Some beekeepers use the money to pay government land tax.
Factors contributing to the development of honeybee marketing in the area could be the scarcity of natural forests and wild colonies, and the low swarming tendency of bees in the area. It has been reported that some colonies may live for 10–15 years without reproductive swarming. Even if swarming does occur, the chance of escaping from the hands of the owners and going to someone else’s bait hive is very low. As a result, catching swarms with bait hives is unlikely, which makes it difficult to get started in beekeeping or to expand existing stock. All this creates a high demand and a good price for honeybee colonies, and this is a useful, alternative source of income for beekeepers living at subsistence level.
[Bees for Development Journal #64]