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The Inzerki Apiary: the world’s largest collection of local-style bee hives

Kwame Aidoo, Bees for Development Ghana

The world’s largest collection of local-style bee hives is in the village of Argana, 80 km from the southern city of Agadir, Morocco, within the huge Argan Biosphere Reserve (2.5 million hectares). Is this the world’s largest and oldest apiary? This magnificent heritage is known to the local Berber people as Taddart Inzerki and dates back to the 1850s although oral tradition confirms that beekeeping on this site is far older.

The permanent location of the Inzerki Apiary was chosen and developed by family beekeepers operating in the area. The first factor used in selecting the site was the abundance of good bee forage plants including lavender, rosemary, thistle, thyme, and other honey plants including trees such as almond, argan, date and other palm species. Additional advantages are a sunny south slope, and a relatively stable climate over the whole season.

The isolation of the area from urban centres facilitated the ease of monitoring the site. It is known that the Berber tribes of Souss practised migratory beekeeping where hives were moved according to the blooming of bee plants and to the occurrence of rains, droughts and altitude.

The 2.5 million-hectare Argan Biosphere Reserve, near Agadir, Morocco
Photos © Kwame Aidoo

The building of the collective apiary enabled beekeepers to keep their colonies at a permanent site and there was no longer a need to move hives around. A guard constantly monitored the whole apiary and was paid by the community. At one time there were 80 families owning the set of monumental buildings built in adobe and spread over several levels with compartments formed of boxes in stands of four. Compartments can consist of several boxes which look like pigeon holes, each divided into three equal-sized floors, with a free space above.

The location of the collective apiary of Inzerki. The hilly landscape and vegetation are rich in bee forage plants

The collective apiary showing the compartments where honey bee colonies are kept in basket hives

The staggered arrangement of hives in the compartments 

A hive covered with sacks to protect the colony from excess cold during winter (right)
Two wooden plates of palm stem are used as cover for the ends of the hives 
The front plate is sealed with clay and provided with one entrance hole for the bees 

The spaces below and above are used for ventilation and drainage of rain water. Bee colonies are kept in woven basket hives smeared with a thin layer of dung. The hive ends are closed by a circular piece of palm stem and sealed with clay or dung. A small entrance hole is provided for the bees.

Only one hive is placed per floor, staggered to avoid drifting of foraging bees. Therefore, three hives are placed in each set of boxes.

During harvesting, beekeepers open the front of the hive and remove the first few combs giving space for the development of new comb. According to local beekeepers each colony produced between 6 – 8 kg of honey per season. In an active season, there could be as many as 4,000 colonies working in this collective apiary.

Local beekeepers claim that there are two distinct types of bees (the black bee and the Saharan bee) in the region of Souss. These produce a hybrid bee specific to the region which is prolific, resistant to diseases and much less defensive than the black bee.

In 1990 and again in 1996, unusual storms, with heavy floods, damaged the apiary and many boxes collapsed. Also, continuous drought has degraded the area and has reduced the forage resources to the extent that many beekeepers have abandoned the site. Despite attempts to rehabilitate the site with support from foreign donor organisations, the apiary has not yet recovered its past glory and only eight families use it. The Taddart Inzerki Association for Development and Co-operation is working hard to restore and protect the site for posterity.

A beekeeper explains how basket hives are made and installed

Kwame Aidoo, Director of Bees for Development Ghana attended EDUCTOUR 2017 in Agadir, Morocco. The event in October 2017 combined three workshops – pollination, climate and crowd funding – with a tour of the Honey Road circuit in the Argan Biosphere Reserve.