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RukaJuu Beekeeping in Tanzania: Lessons learned in a pilot project

Anne H Outwater, Head of Department of Community Health Nursing, Muhimbili University of Health & Allied Sciences, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Stephen Msemo, Senior Beekeeping Officer, Ministry of Natural Resources & Tourism, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In Tanzania people appreciate honey as both a food and a medicine. There is a long history of beekeeping, and a baobab tree hung with several local-style log hives is not an uncommon sight. Honeys from stingless bees and honey bees are produced and sold 1,2 . Since relatively few pesticides are used in agriculture in Tanzania, the country is still free of genetically modified crops, endemic forests still stand, and the honey is usually of high quality. Very often, the origin of honey for sale can be traced to specific forests, and even to specific tree species. The market for Tanzanian honey is not yet satiated. During his term in office (2008–2015) Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda promoted honey production, especially by young people and women. Beekeeping comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Natural Resources & Tourism; within the Ministry, policy issues are co-ordinated through the Division of Forestry & Beekeeping, and all operational aspects are implemented by the Tanzania Forest Services Agency, where there is a beekeeping section, which guides development of the industry.

Dar es Salaam is the largest city in Tanzania with a port on the Indian Ocean. Its population has grown from less than one million to more than four million in the last two decades. Much of this growth has resulted from the emigration of young men from rural areas. Research shows that many are poorly educated and unskilled, and thus have difficulty finding jobs2. In fact, less than 5% of the population is formally employed, and few of the employed are young men. These young men must have money for food and drinking water. In addition, in Tanzanian culture, men are expected to take care of their extended families; as a consequence of the HIV/ AIDS epidemic, which took the lives of many parents, the majority of these young men are responsible for raising their younger siblings. Young men work as day labourers or in other transitory, low-skilled jobs. Others are self-employed, in tiny ephemeral businesses such as selling tomatoes on the side of the road. When these fail (as they invariably do) to get money for food and to meet their household responsibilities, the young men resort to stealing items that can be quickly resold such as purses, cell phones and meat animals.

The presence of large numbers of low-skilled young men with onerous family responsibilities has turned Dar es Salaam into one of the most theft-beleaguered cities in Africa 3 . Because police are few and poor communities must defend themselves, someone caught stealing will in many cases be killed by angry mobs. Addressing the lack of employment is crucial. As most of the unemployed are also uneducated and unskilled the question arises: what can the jobless young men of Dar es Salaam do?

One possible answer is beekeeping. A project to get inmates involved in beekeeping at Rye Hill Prison in England, was reported in Bees for Development Journal 117 4 and has been the source of ideas and inspiration for a similar project in Tanzania. The two projects are related in that the target groups are similar: men who for various reasons are on or near the wrong side of the law. The English and Tanzanian projects also share the objective of general societal well-being. In the project in Tanzania the objectives are to keep young men from ending up as prison inmates or the fatal victims of mob violence, through engagement with beekeeping and the development of entrepreneurial skills. In England, when the Natural Beekeeping Trust was awaiting formal permission to bring hives to Rye Hill Prison, the Trust was asked by the governing committee, “Where is the evidence that caring for bee is of therapeutic value?” In Tanzania, the question is more specific: “Can beekeeping generate enough income to draw young men away from crime?”

Mr Liana, retired beekeeping officer and trainer for the RukaJuu Beekeeping Project, gives a thumbs-up to the youth of one of the camps and the hives they have just assembled from pre-cut pieces
Photo © Anne Outwater unless stated otherwise

We began a pilot intervention study to explore this question in measurable ways. This study was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Jack Josephson Fund. It was called RukaJuu Beekeeping, which translates to “JumpUp Beekeeping”; the “JumpUp” refers to the entrepreneurship and health components of the intervention.

In Dar es Salaam unemployed and underemployed young men gather in hundreds of self-organised groups or camps called vijiweni 5 . These camps have fixed meeting places, which we mapped in several areas of the city. For our intervention, we chose camps based on size (about 15 members) and the expression of interest by camp members.

A local-style hive hangs from a baobab tree: a common sight in rural Tanzania
Photo © Andrew Kapaya

The intervention had four arms: (a) health sessions only, (b) entrepreneurship and health, (c) beekeeping and health, and (d) all sessions (beekeeping, entrepreneurship and health). Each camp was randomly assigned to one intervention arm. In total, there were ten intervention sessions: health (2), entrepreneurship (4), and beekeeping (4).

Lessons learned from the pilot study

The purpose of a pilot study is to learn if an idea merits further exploration, and if so, how to implement it economically and efficiently.

The respondents showed enthusiasm about the idea of beekeeping and expressed strong interest in learning more about entrepreneurship. These findings were supported by high attendance rates: all sessions averaged 85-90% attendance.

Lesson: Beekeeping and entrepreneurial skills are of interest to at-risk young men.

Only one respondent was lost (a man from Group 1 was killed for stealing a handbag).

Lesson: The target group we were aiming for are members of the camps.

Implementation of the ten-session intervention took one year longer than was planned due to two factors: first a national election occurred the same year as the study and the incumbent government considered it politically unwise to admit the young men into government forests. Second, the bees did not co-operate as planned – the hives had a low occupancy rate.

Lesson: The young men remained engaged and bees cannot be told what to do.

Hives were placed in the Kongowe Government Forest, about 25 km from where the young men lived. In practice, they did not have easy access to “their” hives in the forest. It was expensive and time consuming for them to get there. Furthermore, because it is a government forest, people cannot enter it freely.

A group member poses for a photo beneath a hive that has just been hung in the Kongowe Government Forest
Photo © Andrew Kapaya

Lesson: Beekeeping will be more sustainable for groups that live beside the forest or have their own land.

The young men received instruction in how to make frame hives, but building the hives turned out to be beyond the capacity of the potential beekeepers. To make them, they would need specialised woodworking skills and tools. The materials to make the hives were also too expensive for them to buy.

Lesson: It is important to use hives that can be made with inexpensive local materials.

To make hive building simpler and less expensive, the young men were taught how to cut down endemic lianas (woody vines) and weave them into a frame. The next step would be to cover them with clay mud, but the lianas dried out and collapsed before that could be done. We realised that it would be easier to cover the liana frames with mud in the rainy season or in a place where there was a lot of clay, water, and dung.

Lesson: Season and location are crucial to successfully building low-cost local-style hives.

A long tree trunk was brought in for the young men to try making a local-style log hive.” The log was sliced lengthwise. The next steps would have been to scoop out the soft inner core, then tie the two parts together for hanging in a tree, but we never reached the scoopingout step.

Lesson: Perhaps because the trainer believed that higher profits and greater market control would result from using frame hives, interest in other types of hives may have been reduced.

Seven hives were sited in November 2015. By July 2016, they were still empty. In two hives, there were signs that bees had entered and then left. The zonal beekeeper confirmed that this was unusual. It was thought that perhaps the hives had been made with green wood, or wood that had been treated with insecticide. Also, the forest where the hives were placed was more like scrubland, and was being replanted with eucalyptus and pine (which are not endemic to Africa), so possibly the forage was not what the local bees need.

Some of the young men take a break during a classroom session

Lesson: Bees must be tempted to co-operate with proper housing and forage.

Group 2, (entrepreneurship group) decided to build a business around importing honey from their home area of Singida.

Lesson: Tending hives directly is not the only way to be involved with beekeeping and entrepreneurship. Perhaps self-selected rural-urban partnerships can be supported and developed.


Much has been learned from this pilot project, and a way forward seems clear: We will focus on rural-urban partnerships. The rural partners will be supported to develop production and the urban members will be supported with entrepreneurship training. Emphasis will be on the quality of the honey, and the affordability and sustainability of the process from flower to market.


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