Interview with Gladness Mkamba
Gladness Mkamba, Principal Beekeeping Officer for the Division of Policy & Planning in the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources & Tourism (MNRT) was interviewed by BfD’s Janet Lowore at the 2013 Apimondia Congress in Kiev, Ukraine. The Africa Pavilion showcased honey from Tanzania, as well as from Ethiopia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
JL: Tell us about your day to day work.
GM: I am responsible for monitoring the implementation of the National Beekeeping Policy (NBP) in the country and ensuring regulations are properly implemented. I need to review policy and regulations to ensure that they are fit for purpose. I make sure that the National Beekeeping Programme is on track and achieving its objectives.
JL: You mention the need to review the NBP: what has changed since it was developed?
GM: The formulation of the NBP in 1998 was a milestone for our sector. This Policy now needs reviewing and updating to take into account changes and developments. For example, we are now interested to explore the link between beekeeping and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). REDD is a United Nations initiative where efforts to reduce deforestation and conserve forests are rewarded with a financial return. REDD may offer us opportunities to develop bee reserves – which conserve both bees and trees, as well as mitigating against climate change. The current NBP does not adequately address the issue of bee reserves in relation to REDD despite this now being an important initiative. We want also to find ways to permit and formalise beekeeping activities in Forest and Game Reserves. Beekeeping is an environmentally positive activity and with the right structures in place, it is fully compatible with protected area status. However there are no guidelines for this in the current NBP.
JL: What sort of guidelines are needed to allow beekeeping in protected areas?
GM: We need to set out clear roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders, especially the beekeepers themselves. We must be confident that beekeepers know what is, and what is not allowed in a protected area: they need to know their responsibilities.
We need also to consider mechanisms such as use-agreements or fees.
JL: You started work for the MNRT in 1978. What has changed since then?
GM: In the past beekeeping was undertaken mainly by older people but now more young people are interested, who are attracted by the cash income that they can earn. The types of bee hives in use are also changing with the introduction of box hives in addition to local-style hives. Nowadays honey is packed well for sale in supermarkets, which was never seen in 1978. Decision makers are taking an increasing interest in beekeeping in recognition of the economic benefits that it brings.
JL: Can you mention some key areas for development?
GM: Quality is an issue. The honey in the hive is completely clean but quality can deteriorate as soon as a beekeeper or trader begins to handle it if they do not take proper care. Nowadays different types of containers are easier to find and people understand better the importance of using clean containers. In the past people were forced to use second-hand containers which were often unsuitable, but they had no choice. There is still much we can do to improve the standard of processing, packaging and labelling.
JL: How much honey is produced in Tanzania?
GM: We do not have accurate data. FAO have estimated a figure of 34,000 tonnes a year but I fear this is an overestimate. One way to work out how much honey we are producing is to calculate a figure by using the data we have about beeswax. We know that Tanzania exports approximately 625 tonnes of beeswax a year. If we assume that this represents half the annual production of beeswax (not all is processed and exported) and there is a ratio of 1 part beeswax to 15 parts honey, then we can calculate an annual honey production of about 19,000 tonnes of honey.
JL: In November 2014 you are holding the 1st Apimondia Symposium on African Bees and Beekeeping (see right). Tell us about this event.
GM: We want to hold an event that focusses specifically on African apiculture. It is important that we recognise that there are many experts, practitioners, trainers and researchers across Africa who have important knowledge and experience. The event will provide opportunities for this knowledge to be shared. Beekeeping is often not appreciated for its full contribution to economic development and ecosystem services, and we want to change that.
The Symposium will be a conference with opportunities for field visits. In addition to honey bees we want also to promote the importance of stingless bees in the country. Tanzania has a strong tradition of beekeeping and we recognise that bees, wildlife conservation and tourism are interrelated. We want to invite people from across Africa to attend this important event so that we can progress best practice and expertise throughout the continent.
JL: How is African beekeeping different from other parts of the world?
GM: Many beekeepers in Africa use fixed comb hives, as they have done for generations. This means that beekeepers do not handle their bees as much as in some other countries. Beekeepers are skilled in making hives, placing hives for maximum colonisation and recognising the signs which indicate when there is a surplus of honey ready for harvesting. Bee populations in Africa are healthy and, like many parts of the world, we also have the Varroa mite. It has been present in our bee colonies for many years but the honey bee colonies tolerate the mite and do not die.
JL: Do beekeepers use Varroa medication to keep the mite in check?
GM: No, there is no need to apply Varroa treatments to our colonies. The bees are able to resist and tolerate the mite. This means that the honey we produce is never contaminated with varroacides. Another difference experienced by beekeepers in Africa is that they do not feed bees. Beekeepers rely on natural forage and also leave enough honey for the bees.
JL: Do you have any closing comments?
GM: Which hive type is best? is a question I am often asked. The answer is simple: we always advocate beekeeping methods which are most appropriate for the context of the rural communities. Where there is a strong demand for beeswax we recognise that there is not always an advantage to extracting honey and re-using honey comb – harvesting whole comb is profitable.
We promote the use of local resources to make hives because this helps to ensure that beekeeping is both cheap and simple for the poorest people. We are concerned about sustainability and therefore encourage beekeepers to use materials which can be replenished easily - which is why we advise against the use of bark.
Box hives are used in Tanzania, but they are too expensive for many beekeepers. Tanzania is famous for its forest honey and we are proud of the expertise of beekeepers who practise forest beekeeping using appropriate hives.
JL: Thank you very much for your time.