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Rethinking beekeeping development in East Africa

Dr Elliud Muli 1,3 Maryann Frazier 2 and Fiona Nelima Mumoki 1

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Nairobi, Kenya; 2 Penn State University, University Park, PA USA;

South Eastern Kenya University, Kitui, Kenya

Over 50 years of attempts to improve the livelihoods of smallscale landholders in East Africa through beekeeping development projects have had limited success. These efforts have mainly involved the introduction of equipment (moveable-comb frame hives) and management techniques designed for European honey bees in temperate climates. The techniques are based on economies of scale; practices now under scrutiny for their potential contribution to declining honey bee populations in the EU and USA (Potts, 2010; vanEngelsdorp & Meixner, 2010). Strong evidence suggests that this approach in East Africa has been largely unsuccessful because 95% of the honey produced in Kenya still comes from traditional, local-style hives (Raina, 2007). Attempts to introduce top-bar hives in the Baringo District have been unsuccessful, reportedly due to lack of training (Gichora 2003), and among beekeepers who have been introduced to Langstroth frame hives, the number they keep typically decreases over time in favour of log hives (personal communication E. Muli).

Beekeeping potentially holds significant promise for improving the lives of small-scale landholders and rural people without land (land ownership is not required), capital investment is low and there is an unmet demand for honey, beeswax and propolis. Honey, produced by honey bees and stingless bees, provides a direct source of income for small-scale landholders and as an energy dense food, provides an important source of calories and nutrients especially in times of drought (personal communication E. Muli). Honey also has cultural and medicinal value.

Kenya is a net importer of honey with over 10 metric tonnes reported in 2005 according to an ITC report and in recent interviews beekeepers confirmed that there is high demand for local honey. Honey bee populations provide critical pollination services, nutrition (Eilers et al 2011), and income for small-holder farmers and rural families (Raina et al 2011). In western Kenya, pollinators provide US$ 3.2 (€ 2.4) million in ecosystems services to eight crops: beans, butternuts, capsicum, cowpeas, monkey nut, passion fruit, sunflower and tomatoes (Kasina et al 2009).

Keeping honey bees in local-style log hives, employing minimal management practices may result in lower honey yields yet these practices have likely contributed to bee populations that are healthier than those in the developed world. Based on the results of a National Science Foundation-Basic Research to Enable Agriculture Development (NSF-BREAD) funded study, jointly conducted by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and Penn State University (USA), East African honey bees appear largely tolerant of recently introduced Varroa mites and some common pathogens (Muli et al 2014). An extension of this project conducted on the campus of the new South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU) is currently comparing local-style log hives, top-bar hives and frame hives for attractiveness to swarms, mite and disease prevalence, productivity, cost/benefit ratios and absconding rates.

In March 2014, SEKU hosted a beekeeping forum, sponsored by the BREAD-funded project. The goal of the forum was to share the results of the research and the experience of invited beekeeping specialists from other East African countries focusing on management and health of honey bees. Participants worked together to identify a future vision for beekeeping in East Africa, barriers to the vision, and the next best steps to achieve the vision.

The following individuals worked together to craft the outcomes below: Jared Arunga (HEART Africa), Grace Asiko (National Beekeeping Station, Kenya), Tilahun Gebey (Bees for Development-Ethiopia), Robert Kajobe, (National Agriculture Research Organization, Uganda), Alice Kasika (beekeeper, Kenya), Muo Kasina (Kenyan National Beekeeping Station and Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Joseph Kilonzo (ICIPE, Kenya), Mercy Kiyapyap (CABESI Project, Kenya), Simon Lugazo (Tanzania Forest Conservation Group), Daniel Masiga (ICIPE, Kenya), Maxwell Lumbasi (CEDP-DesertEdge, Kenya), Damaris Mulei (beekeeper, Kenya), Benjamin Muli (SEKU, Kenya), Elliud Muli (SEKU, Kenya), Mulwa Mbithi (beekeeper, Kenya), Fiona Nelima Mumoki, (ICIPE, Kenya), David Mutua (Mwingi District Beekeepers Group, Kenya), Benard Mweu (SEKU, Kenya), James Njuguna (Bees Abroad), and Suresh Raina (ICIPE, Kenya).

The vision for beekeeping in East Africa

East Africa has a profitable and sustainable beekeeping industry that produces globally competitive products and contributes maximally to ecosystem services while also protecting honey and stingless bees as a valuable natural resource.

Barriers to the vision

1. Inadequate knowledge and training of beekeepers and their educators in sustainable/profitable beekeeping practices.

2. Inadequate government support for the beekeeping sub-sector.

3. Promotion by government and NGOs that ‘improved beekeeping’ is synonymous with movable-frame hives.

4. Inadequate science-based information guiding beekeeping practices and decision-making particularly in the areas of bee management, health and ecology.

5. Lack of co-ordination along the entire value chain thus minimising the ability to establish and maintain a sustainable and profitable beekeeping industry.

6. Lack of standards for hive products (other than honey), and awareness by producers of existing honey standards.

7. Lack of marketing intelligence and market information by beekeepers.

8. Lack of knowledge among consumers concerning the quality of hive products such as the crystallisation of honey and the role of honey bees in ecosystem services.

9. Environmental degradation (deforestation, pesticides, alteration of wetlands) reducing habitat and forage for bees.

10. Inadequate regional co-ordination among East African countries in beekeeping policy making and information sharing.

Action plan

This plan is specific to Kenya. Other East African participants will share this document with the stakeholders in their countries and modify it accordingly.

The group requests that the following actions be taken:

1. The National Beekeeping Station strengthens beekeeping education and extension services at the county level by promoting networks and forums to share beekeeping information.

2. KARI and other agriculture research institutions invest in applied research to improve science-based practices and decision-making by beekeepers.

3. Promoting top-bar and frame hives as the ONLY way for beekeepers to make forward progress to be discontinued. There is now strong evidence that a range of hives including local-style log, basket or clay hives, top-bar hives and frame hives can be used to house honey bees and can be made profitable for the production of honey, wax and other products in East Africa. Choice of hive type should be based on the knowledge, skills and financial resources of the beekeeper and the environmental conditions where the bees are kept. Beekeepers should be made aware of all pros and cons and the full cost/benefit of each system.

4. The National Beekeeping Station co-ordinate and make available, to all interested stakeholders, documentation on all NGOs, companies, international organisations, government agencies working in the beekeeping sub-sector.

5. Kenyan Bureau of Standards effectively share with beekeepers and other stakeholders, all information related to honey and hive product standards.

6. The Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Ministry of Agriculture, include and protect bees as a key natural resource and integrate beekeepers into their training and other programmes.

7. Farmers and growers of bee-pollinated crops should be encouraged to protect pollinators from pesticides and to plant diverse flowering plants that bloom at various times throughout the season to attract a diversity of bees and provide suitable nesting habitat.

8. East African governments create a regional board to co-ordinate bee product standards, research results, and trade and policy frameworks across East Africa.

9. Recommendations resulting from this forum to be shared with all Kenyan counties and other stakeholders by the National Beekeeping Station.

This vision, barriers and actions plan will be shared as broadly as possible with East African stakeholders.

Participants at the South Eastern Kenya University Forum, March 2014
PHOTO © MARYANN FRAZIER

For references see www.beesfordevelopment.org/resources-for-beekeepers