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Let It Bee

Ethiopian beekeeper Siriphato Otiso fires up smoke leaves to calm his bees before entering their hives. Siriphato produces 661 pounds of honey from 127 hives each year.
Ethiopian beekeeper Siriphato Otiso fires up smoke leaves to calm his bees before entering their hives. Siriphato produces 661 pounds of honey from 127 hives each year.
March 4, 2013
Beekeeping Creates Buzz for Ethiopian Honey Farmers

Four Hundred and thirty-five miles north of Addis Ababa, the route climbs into a harsh, mountainous landscape where ancient rock-hewn churches appear out of nowhere. This area is known as Lallibela.

Some of Ethiopia’s best honey producers can be found in Lallibela where high-altitude bees whip up a prized white honey that can only be made from the flowers which blossom on this region’s most vertiginous peaks. The bees and their keepers are part of an ancient honey-making tradition that dates back to medieval times.

The History of Honey in Ethiopia

 

King Lallibela, who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, was given his name - which in Agew means 'the bees acknowledge his supremacy' - due to a swarm of bees said to have surrounded him at his birth. His mother took it as a sign of his future reign as Emperor of Ethiopia, and the holy town was consequently named after him.

Considered to be Ethiopia’s ‘liquid gold’, honey may have been carried by the Queen of Sheba when she travelled north on her historic journey to visit King Solomon. Honey is also used in Ethiopian hospitals to cure ailments and help mend wounds.

Thus, Beekeeping is an important economic activity in Ethiopia that employs millions of people. Ethiopia is Africa’s largest producer of honey, the fourth largest producer of beeswax, and the tenth largest honey producer in the world.

Black, red, and prized white honey that is thicker and sweeter than the yellow variety, is sold to the locals in Lallibela and tej bet–coffee bars which serve the traditional Ethiopian honey wine known as tej. The remaining inventory is then sold to merchants who deliver the honey to Addis Ababa and other cities.

For generations the traditional beekeeping practices have remained the same with 99% of bees kept in traditional hives. The outdated methods mean the yield and quality of the honey is low and relatively little is exported due to lack of means and accessibility.

Modern Bee Management Systems Generate Extra Income

 

Beekeepers in Lallibela believe that more income can be generated from the honey if organic certification is achieved and are participating in a Plan project to expand local honey production through the promotion of best practices and the introduction of modern bee management systems.

Box hives have been introduced to increase production, with colony management using different technologies. Equipment including veils, smokers, frame hives, bees wax, honey extractors, and traditional mud hive construction moulds have been distributed to groups and individual farmers to allow bees to continue to produce honey the traditional way.

Plan’s project has trained 297 beekeepers in an eight-day course. However, each of the 297 beekeepers went on to train and support nine farmers. Thus, a total of 2,700 beekeepers have been trained.

As a result of these efforts, 318 new colonies have been developed. Each colony is worth $55 dollars at the local market. In an area where local incomes barely reach one dollar each day, such profits are more than welcome.

Farmers are also learning how to combine beekeeping with other sustainable farming activities such as raising livestock, growing cereal and fruit crops, and participating in forestry projects to plant and cultivate trees, plants, and wildflowers. It is, the beekeepers believe, a match made in heaven!

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