Beekeeping in Zambia: biodiversity in action!



By Katherine Carey

Bees pollinate between eighty-five to ninety percent of all food plants. Without bees, people would not be able to grow many of the foods we love to eat. So beekeeping is an integral part of food security! Sustainable beekeeping also protects forests and promotes biodiversity.

Greenpop’s beekeeping project is a key part of the Zambia Festival of Action and our Zambia project. In order to carry out this project, Greenpop works with Cliff Maunze from Environment Africa who conducts beekeeper training, monitoring and mentoring.

Cliff recently visited the farmers and we caught up with him to see how they were faring. He went with the goal of monitoring their progress and mentoring them through the challenges of starting up hives and caring for their bees.

What he found when arrived amazed him. “I had planned on only mentoring the twenty farmers who we trained in July 2016, but when I arrived there were another forty-two farmers who wanted the training as well!” Furthermore, four of the farmers who wished to participate were women.

Building beehives in Livingstone, Zambia

“Beekeeping is traditionally men’s work in Zambia.”

This is an exciting development. “Beekeeping is traditionally men’s work in Zambia,” he explained. “But the hives we use are gender sensitive and don’t need to sit so high up in the trees like traditional hives. These ones instead sit lower to the ground, only about 1m above the ground.” Having women involved with the beekeeping training means providing them with an empowering economic opportunity.

The beekeeping training took place during the Zambia Festival of Action. It consisted of two days of training with farmers from Sons of Thunder, a farming co-op near Livingstone. Topics in the workshop included how to build a hive using only locally available materials and the biology and behaviour of bees. Farmers also learned how to care for bees and how and when to extract honey. Over the two training days in 2016, the farmers built nineteen hives. The hives were then baited with propolis and beeswax, two products that bees naturally make in order to attract wild bees to colonise the hives. When Cliff returned, two of the hives were already colonized with bees. The rest of the hives were baited again and are still waiting for wild bees to settle into them.

The hives economically empower the Livingstone farmers, providing many products that they can sell. Honey is something that does well in the local markets around Livingstone. “I call it liquid gold.” Cliff says, “People are buying it like hotcakes!” But honey is not the only product that the hives provide. Royal Jelly, a honey bee secretion, is another product from beekeeping and is sold as a health supplement. Farmers can also extract beeswax and pollen from their hives. A fourth product called propolis, a resinous substance that honey bees produce to fill in unwanted cracks in the hives. Propolis, beeswax and pollen all have commercial value for Livingstone farmers.

The environmental impacts of bees are far reaching: from improving biodiversity to food security. But beekeeping in Zambia also has the benefit of protecting forests and wild bees.  Poaching honey is a big problem in Zambia. People will find a wild hive and attempt to extract the honey from it. But it’s not always easy. Wild hives are often located high in trees and are hard to reach. Poachers often resort to either cutting down the tree to reach the hive or lighting fires at the base of the tree to smoke out the bees. But this is a practice that Cliff sees local farmers starting to change. The farmers say they “have learned to respect bees. When we respect them and make hives we get even more honey!”

Interested in learning more about beekeeping in Zambia? Check out the Zambia Festival of Action.

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