5 minute read

Learning curve for beekeepers in Kajo Keji

This email exchange (July 2013 to November 2014) between Chris Douglas, of Lone Star - Africa Works and Bees for Development tells the experiences of supporting beekeepers in South Sudan.

Chris Douglas

This year we launched a beekeeping programme in Central Equatoria State. We organised training on building top-bar hives, and delivered a ‘starter’ kit including bee suits and strainers. I believe beekeeping is vitally important for developing an ecologically and economically-sustainable agriculture sector in South Sudan; and a good way for communities (primarily in the “Green Belt” areas) to earn income. How can we share information and explore ways to advance beekeeping here?


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Lone Star – Africa Works assists beekeepers in Kajo Keji, South Sudan

Chris Douglas

The outbreak of violence in South Sudan is very worrying. Fortunately our beekeeper friends in Kajo Keji are unharmed, although scared, and the unrest has made things highly expensive in the markets and disrupted cell phone communication. We want to move ahead with our beekeeping work in the area, especially now when people need to see that good news and good works are still possible, even with violence in other parts of the country.

I have two questions. First, the moisture in the honey harvested by our beekeepers tested higher than I expected: 19 and 20%. Any ideas? Secondly, I spoke with the State Minister of Agriculture who said he is interested in adding regulations/ laws concerning bees and beekeeping. Are there chemicals or practices they should prohibit or regulate, besides banning import of bees from other countries?


HONEY Is there any chance that unripe honey has been harvested with the ripe honey? This will raise the moisture content. If there is crushed brood mixed with the honey this will affect moisture content. Honey of 19% and 20% will not ferment readily but if exposed to more moisture will do so. If honey is stored in containers that are not air or water tight, moisture is absorbed from the air. Different honeys have different ‘normal’ moisture contents. The content you measured may be normal for local forage sources and sugar compositions.

REGULATIONS should be introduced only to resolve problems so it is important to fully understand the threat you are facing. For example, if beekeepers do not use veterinary medicines for their bees, regulations concerning these are irrelevant. Banning the importation of bees, and of second hand equipment, would be useful to prevent the introduction of non-local genotypes, diseases and problems. Another concern would be enforcement of regulations. Where resources are scarce, establishing a regulatory authority for beekeeping might not be a priority: other issues – education, market-related problems, promotion and training - might be more important.

Moisture content of honey varies according to forage sources and humidity

Chris Douglas

Thank you again for the help. Until we can get more airtight buckets, we are covering the mouths of the jerry cans with plastic sheeting in addition to the screw-on cap, for an extra seal. Honey harvest in Kajo Keji begins in March and ends in May.

The hardships of the conflict in December 2013 and the disruption of unusually heavy rain last summer caused delays, and beekeepers did not build as many hives as they wanted to. Does it make sense to build more hives now (January), or is it unlikely that they will be colonised and yield honey by harvest season? Woven basket hives are straightforward: however it takes over two weeks to get the materials for new top-bar hives, and every day counts as we get closer to the honey harvest and crop planting season.


BASKET OR TOP-BAR HIVES? One of the reasons why beekeeping is good for supporting livelihoods of people living in difficult environments is that special equipment is not needed. Look at the woven hives as an opportunity - a strength in local systems which affords resilience to beekeeping as a livelihood in hard times - do not think of them as a stop-gap because other equipment is hard to get. If it is possible and easy to make woven hives - do so!

TIMING Consult local knowledge. Are bees still swarming? Is it possible that there might be some late swarms around? If so, use every opportunity you can to boost the chance of a honey yield (and much needed income) in the coming season. If the forage is available swarms can build up and create a good store of honey within a few months.

Basket hives woven from bamboo which grows abundantly in Kajo Keji

Chris Douglas

I encourage the beekeepers to use woven basket hives as much as possible. Bamboo is abundant and costs only time. A top-bar hive can cost SDG250 (US$80; €70). This has meant undoing some of the damage done by the creeping donordependency culture, and some of it reminding people that just because something is “new” or “Western” does not mean it is always better. I will talk to the beekeepers about swarming. It has been harder than usual to reach my main contacts in Kajo Keji because of the disrupted phone networks. Bees are incredible creatures and I have stopped being surprised to hear what they are capable of, especially the ones in South Sudan that seem so healthy and active.


We are always frustrated by inappropriate beekeeping projects (they do more harm than good) when the same money could be put to better use. If a poor farmer takes out a loan to buy an expensive hive and the bees abscond or never enter (which happens often) they are left burdened by a loan and with no productive means by which to repay. Such projects make the poor poorer. Some projects fail to understand that it is bees that produce honey and not hives!

In the absence of airtight buckets, containers must be air and water tight so that moisture is not absorbed from the air. Jerry cans are sealed with plastic sheeting in addition to the screw-on cap

Lone Star – Africa Works is an American non-profit company supporting rural businesses, conservation, education, farming and science in South Sudan. In partnership with the American Honey Bee Protection Agency, the beekeepers of River Nile International and Lulu Works Women’s Shea Cooperative, Africa Works is enabling honey and shea butter to be South Sudan’s first exports to the USA (expected April 2015). See www.lonestarafrica.com