The Benefits of Beekeeping
In 2018 Bees for Development is celebrating 25 years of explaining the value of beekeeping for development, and helping vulnerable communities in poor countries to utilise it towards achieving self-sufficiency. Beekeeping is beneficial in many ways though some of these benefits are hard to measure. Indeed, this is why beekeeping is so often overlooked.
In this article we present an overview of some of Bees for Development’s recent work and reflect upon how we are measuring our achievements.
Janet Lowore and Nicola Bradbear
Bees for Development has been working with Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch (CAMGEW) since 2016. CAMGEW, based in Oku in north west Cameroon, supports forest-based enterprise development, and especially beekeeping, near to Kilim-Ijim Forest. Their aim is to help local people build successful livelihoods and at the same time avoid forest loss. Recognising beekeepers’ need for good market access, CAMGEW decided to establish their own Honey Shop in Bamenda, and to run the shop as a self-sustaining social enterprise.
Bees for Development Ethiopia (BfDE) was established in 2012 and works to help the most vulnerable people to start beekeeping. In March 2018 BfDE completed a threeyear Project helping the poorest people to benefit from the natural wealth provided by bees. To achieve the overall goal of reducing poverty in two districts of Amhara, BfDE informed honey traders about how to maintain honey quality, trained government extension agents in beekeeping, helped landless youth establish micro-enterprises making top-bars and bee veils, and provided a comprehensive beekeeping training programme to over 800 people.
Here our work is focussed in the cashew-growing areas of the country. With our partner Bees for Development Ghana we are enabling cashew growers to integrate honey bees with cashew nut growing, and in a related project we are helping to set-up beekeeping clubs in primary schools. Central to both these projects is the process of training and supporting a cohort of Master Beekeepers who spearhead beekeeping activities in the cashew area. Not all cashew growers want to become beekeepers, yet all want the benefit of bee pollination in their orchards. Master Beekeepers locate their own hives in cashew orchards belonging to other people, and agree to share the honey harvest in exchange.
Reflections on measuring achievements
All our work is driven by our aim to reduce poverty and to enhance biodiversity. In Cameroon the overall goal is poverty reduction and forest conservation. With CAMGEW we have been measuring the number of people keeping bees, the quantities of honey and beeswax traded, and the numbers of tree seedlings raised and planted. CAMGEW recognise that in addition to these recordings, it is essential to monitor also the establishment rate of planted trees and whether they survive and grow. To do this work the CAMGEW team conduct forest regeneration follow-up visits twice each month. They record also the incidence and impact of forest fires. Interestingly CAMGEW have noticed that fires are more likely to spread out of control on public holidays, when there are fewer people nearby, able and ready to extinguish accidental fires. In 2016, 825 ha of Oku Forest suffered a severe forest fire which resulted in the loss of 1,124 bee hives with bees, 624 empty bee hives and several thousand newly planted Prunus africana trees. Fortunately, no such damaging fires occurred in 2017 or 2018, which might be due to the increased vigilance by local people, especially beekeepers.
We have been measuring progress in gaining beekeeping skills, quantities of honey harvested and sold, changes in overall household incomes and in food security status. This has been achieved by Annual Data Collection activities interviewing a sample number of beneficiaries each year. These interviews provide project participants with a chance to give feedback and say how our interventions could be improved or changed. We ask people how confident they are in skills such as hive making, housing swarms and harvesting honey. This is important because while it is standard to record the number of people who attend a training course, this is not a Project output. People must learn, and apply what they learn, before we can be sure the Project is achieving its aims. During indepth interviews new beekeepers tell us more about how they use the income they get from honey, and we are thinking of ways we can more systematically document these changes.
We are measuring progress by recording numbers of hives occupied, honey yields and sales, and the increase in cashew harvest achieved through better pollination. We want to monitor the impact of this new and additional income on people’s lives and well-being. We are developing a Beekeeping Changes Lives App for this purpose, for use with a smartphone, and we will be developing some simple yet measurable indicators for changes in well-being. We know that people in Ghana often spend any additional income on children’s schooling and we will be looking at ways to quantify the link between beekeeping income and the ability of a family to cope with the financial burden of school books, uniforms, transport, college fees and accommodation.