6 minute read

Sustainable Beekeeping Development


by Werner Lohr, API-Promo GTZ, Germany

The objective of this study was to create higher awareness in those who are engaged in the planning and implementation of beekeeping projects in developing countries regarding the transfer of beekeeping technology and know-how from the North to the South; and the integration of local micro enterprises (the so-called “informal sector”) for the production of inputs for beekeeping, in order to assure sustainability of projects.


API-Promo GTZ analysed 35 beekeeping projects, beekeeping activities, and beekeeping components as part of integrated projects carried out by different aid organisations during the past 20 years in Africa, Latin America and Asia. This analysis was carried out by studying project documents and literature, interviewing people involved, and visiting projects.


About 75% of the evaluated projects had very low impact on the local beekeeping industry. 35% failed totally to have any impact. Most projects worked well as long as the consultants or volunteers looked after the implementation. In most cases this changed immediately after their departure or when projects were phased out. 

Among the many reasons identified for the failure of projects, the following are of special interest:

- Sector policies at national level: in most countries governments showed, and still show, only a little interest in supporting the beekeeping industry;

- Feasibility studies: traditional beekeeping systems and their importance in the rural economy, and social value were not profoundly analysed;

- Project planning: bees and beekeeping techniques were the main focal! points rather than the people: their sex, age, socio-economic status, potentials, capabilities and interests in beekeeping.

- Economic viability: income people might earn through beekeeping was highly over-estimated. Natural resources and the absorbing capacity of markets were not properly analysed.

- Time horizons of projects and backstopping: the time of implementation was too short, and monitoring and follow-up were not actioned correctly.

- Professionality of supporting agencies: in most cases extensionists are not practical beekeepers, but solely theoreticians and modernists. This results in low confidence among rural people and ineffective extension services.

- Technology and know-how transfer: most projects concluded right at the beginning that existing traditional systems were not apt to develop the industry, and concentrated on changing these in short time and in big steps. The degree of applied appropriate technologies was very low.

- Factor cost: the inputs used to develop the industry were too expensive, non-appropriate and not available at village level. 

Most project conceptionalists are convinced that the top-bar hive solves most of the problems related to traditional beekeeping and honey hunting, for all groups and individuals, in all developing countries. For them the top-bar hive is simple in design (low-technology) and in handling, the hive has almost all the advantages necessary for good management and sustainable beekeeping and the costs of the hive, are, in their eyes, low. As consequence most projects promoted top-bar hive technology. 

But, the reality is different. In most cases they overlook that honey hunters and traditional beekeepers:

- are not interested in intensive management of hives;

- are not able to handle top-bar hives;

- want just bees, honey and money in combination with a minimum of work and risk; 

- avoid spending money for any kind of inputs, they prefer to make their own hives or barter;

- are individualists and risk minimisers who do not like to depend on others;

- do not like to expose their hives to the public;

- are afraid of thieves and vandalism if hives are not hung in trees or carefully watched; 

- know that bees might become very aggressive and dangerous;

- depend very much on social acceptance of what they do concerning beekeeping. 

When top-bar hive projects started it was very soon recognised in most cases that the production of top-bar hives was only possible by carpenters with plenty of equipment. To profit from cost reduction when producing large numbers of hives, the manufacturing of hives was given to bigger companies normally in towns. To provide beekeepers with the necessary inputs, a ‘hive tourism’ and credit system had to be started: as most farmers have no means of buying and transporting hives, most hives are taken by project vehicles from the manufacturers to the beekeepers. 

When project was phased out credits were not repaid, revolving funds stopped working, new hives were not bought, and broken ones not repaired. In many cases termites put an end to the hives!


To avoid project failure due to high input costs and non-appropriate technologies, and to guarantee high sustainability:

-traditional beekeeping systems and the technical skills of the people should be studied more profoundly before project starts;

- different resource persons, familiar with the rural and social-economic conditions, and development aspects should be consulted;

- beekeepers, honey hunters and newcomers to beekeeping need different levels of training and equipment according to their problems, capabilities and resources;

- as soon as possible local people have to be trained as trainers and project conductors and the project must become their own project. People from implementation agencies should only act in the background as facilitators;

- the integration of the rural micro industries in producing inputs is must in case beekeeping equipment cannot be produced by beekeepers. Training of carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, and potters should be part of any project;

-  simple and easy to handle technology with a minimum of maintenance should dominate;

- locally available materials, also modern material liked by people as well as by bees (for example cement, plastic, metal, iron sheets), and suitable honey containers (recycled bottles, jars, plastic bags) should be integrated if input costs allow this;

- hives must be installed where the bee pasture is best and where the bees like to live to guarantee high occupation rates, high yields and minimum of absconding; 

- hive products (comb honey, bottle honey, wax, pollen) should first be used to satisfy the local market before other markets are addressed.

If these points are respected before and during project implementation, quite a significant number of people may be encouraged to start beekeeping. In the beginning it is very important that people own bees and experience success in producing and selling honey. If they are convinced that beekeeping fits them, by and by they will become beekeepers and further redevelopment of techniques, management methods and the integration of environmental aspects will automatically follow.