Livestock Research for Rural Development 25 (12) 2013 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Enhancing rural food security through improved beekeeping in Northern Tanzania

J Kimaro, S Liseki, W Mareale and C Mrisha

Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Box 661 Arusha Tanzania,


The study was conducted to assess the potential of improved honey bee production in addressing food security and poverty challenges at household level within some selected villages of Arumeru district in Northern Tanzania. Socio-economic interviews, field surveys and participant observations were used to collect required information from the study area.

It was revealed that majority of local people at Arumeru have already experienced food scarcity and the threat is likely to escalate if appropriate measures will not be addressed immediately. The main causes of this shortage have been reported to associate with poor institutional arrangements, low household income and climate change impacts. Adoption of beekeeping was realized to be appropriate adaptation measures following the fact that it improved livelihood of local people and enhanced sustainable conservation of the natural environment. However, this eco-technology was reported to be less exploited in Arumeru district despite of various existing potentials such as market availability, high abundance of bee forages and its compatibility with traditional farming systems. It was further noted that presence of many bee colonies at Arumeru could be useful to enhance food security through improved crop pollination and generation of extra household income from sales of bee products. The study also determined several factors that have been barriers to wider adoption of beekeeping at Arumeru. These include lack of appropriate beekeeping skills among local people, financial constraints and environmental factors. To promote and sustain beekeeping among rural communities at Arumeru, improvement of extension services, tree planting campaign and microfinance services have been suggested in this study.

Key words: agro-forestry, degradation, future, vulnerability


In recent decades, many communities within rural areas of developing countries have faced crises of poverty and food security (Foster1992). These are the result of complex interactions between environmental and socio-economic factors which have directly affected lives of millions of people. Agriculture is the main activity which has employed most of rural households for food production and generating their income (FAO 2004). However, following current uncertainties in rainfall patterns as results of global climatic changes and poor land management practices, farm yields have been declining over time and leaving many families without sufficient food or income to meet their basic household amenities (Niehof 2004) and hence lead to major shock due to their lack of ability to respond. According to Ellis (1988), communities in developing countries are more vulnerable to climate change impacts due to their high exposure to natural hazards, their direct dependence on climate sensitive resources such as plants, trees, animals, water and land, and their limited capacity to adapt to and cope with climate change impacts. Building the resilience of affected people so they can respond positively to these changes requires helping people to cope with current change, adapt their livelihoods, and improve governance systems and ecosystem health so they are better able to avoid problems in the future (DFID 2002). This means that vulnerable people need to be helped in various ways such as getting access to support programs and adaptive practices. As observed by Koirala and Thapa (1997), food security is not possible without income security.

Beekeeping is one of best practices that have been recognized to improve livelihood of poor farming communities without much investment cost (Baptist and Punchihewa1983). Apart from being consumed as food, bee products, especially honey, propolis and bee pollens, have long been used in traditional medicine. They provide many bioactivities, such as antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, free radical scavenging and ant proliferation activities amongst others (Atsalek and Chanpen 2011). ­Tanzania has been reported to hold large honeybee population and potential of honey production due to varied ecological and climatic conditions (De Pauw, 1984; Mongi at al., 1996; MNRT, 1998). High diversity of bee forages has been observed in different locations of the country (Chala et al 2012). To date, over 9.2 million bee colonies are estimated in the country with production potential of 138 000 tones of honey and 9200 tones of bee wax per annum worth US$ 345 and US$ 368 million respectively (MNRT, 1998). Arumeru District is one of potential beekeeping areas in Tanzania with an estimated production of 1500 tones of honey per year (URT, 1998). The area is one of prominent coffee growing areas in the country as well as several annual crops that provide honey flora throughout the year. However, the majority of beekeepers are still employing traditional production systems and also limited with poor technical skills (Mustapha, 2000; Mwakatobe, 200; Kihwele and Bradbear, 1989). Like many other parts of rural Tanzania, Arumeru district is still lacking sufficient scientific documentation that could be useful to guide sustainable beekeeping (Marcelian et al 2009), and therefore making its utility being unrealized. Based on this fact, we conducted this study at Arumeru district in northern Tanzania, to determine how improved beekeeping can be adopted as a competitive option in addressing food security challenges in rural areas.

Material and Method

Study area

Arumeru District is one of the six districts in the Region, Tanzania located at 03°08’S and 36°52’E. It is bordered to the north, west, and southwest by Monduli District and to the east by the Kilimanjaro Region. The District lies on the slopes of Mount Meru which is the second highest mountain in Tanzania after Kilimanjaro that rises up to 14,000ft/4,516m above the sea level. The dominant climate is tropical-savanna with clear rainy and dry seasons. The district has bimodal type of rainfall i.e. short rains which fall from November to January and long rains which fall between March and June that make the district to have two agricultural seasons that receive the annual rainfall ranging between 500m and 1,200 mm. The distribution of these rains is quite appropriate for agricultural activities and livestock rearing. The soils of Arumeru district are relatively fertile as they are of volcanic origin. They are well drained dark sandy loams with favorable moisture holding properties. However there is soil erosion in agro- pastoral areas especially in King’ori division.

Data collection

Data were collected from three villages namely: Poli, Ng’yane and Kimundu, in which 30 households from each village participated. We conducted Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) at the beginning of this exercise to get an overview of the study area and to modify our study questions. PRA tools included wealth ranking, and pair wise and preference ranking. Systematic sampling was adopted so as to include people of different age, gender, and wealth categories, as reflected from PRA results. The second phase involved structured and semi-structured questionnaire administration. In the first place, a total of 90 households using sampling intensity of 5% were interviewed. The later involved use of semi -structured questionnaires to interview key informants who were: district natural resources officers, honey dealers and village leaders. Our third phase of data collection involved field surveys which aimed at identifying suitable forage species, types of hives and common locations preferred by farmers to hang the hives. Lastly, participant observation was considered important to gather information that could not be well explained by respondents during interviews. Secondary information, village demographic data and previous reports were collected from village registries, district library, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Tanzania Forest Services and various previous reports conducted in the study area.

Data analysis

Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to analyze socio-economic data. Qualitative data were analyzed using content analysis (Kajembe, 1994), whereas quantitative data were analyzed with the aid of Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 16 and Excel Spread Sheet 2003. Analyzed data were presented in descriptive statistics, charts and tables.

Results and discussion

Food security challenges at Arumeru

The study revealed that decreasing size of arable land, poor adoption of technical knowledge and low coffee prices at international markets were the major factors contributing to food insecurity at Arumeru (Table 1). This indicates that the majority of people in the study areas are engaged in economic activities directly depending on land resources. As reported by Kimaro (2013), 85% of local people at Arumeru are depending on agricultural activities such as livestock keeping, horticulture production and coffee farming for food production and income generation.

It has been widely reported that decrease in size of arable land and loss of soil fertility due to poor land management have implication on farm yields and community wellbeing (Ogbodo et al 2012; Ferencz and Balog 2010).However, being close to Arusha City, the main tourist circuit in East Africa (Goldman, 2011), there is increasing proportion of people from Arumeru being engaged into tourism industry. This would be important opportunity for local people to diversify and increase their household incomes.

The unstable price of Arabica Coffee in the global market has been experienced in Tanzania for over past ten years, and has already impacted household economic status. As responded by the District Development Officers, average household income at Arumeru is US $ 187 per month. This amount is relatively low compared to actual cost required for an ordinary household to meet their daily basic demands and/or expanding their investment capital.

Table 1. Identified major causes of food insecurity at Arumeru District
Cause Responses, %
Decreasing size of arable land following population growth 30
Natural resources degradation 16
Unreliable rainfall 11
 fluctuation of Arabica coffee in export markets 20
Low adoption of technical knowledge 23
Total 100
Own survey 2013

According to Sommeijer (1996), low income households are constrained with poor welfare and failure to meet the optimal level of their basic expenditures such as food, clothing, school fees, domestic energy and shelter. It is has been realized that income security is an essential ingredient of food security (FAO 2009; Almatan et al 2009):, in that regard, food security carries more meaning rather than its availability (Foster, 1992). According to Tsing (2003) food security is nowadays defined as “access” by all people at all time to enough food for an active healthy life. Considering this fact, member countries who attended the 1996 World Food Summit committed to reduce chronically undernourished people by half by the year 2015 (FAO, 2009).

Surprisingly, we noted that fluctuation of rainfall pattern was not a serious concern among many respondents as it has been experienced elsewhere (Palmer and Sender, 2006). The reason behind this may be due to easy accessibility of irrigation water from natural springs and perennial rivers flowing from Mount Meru slopes. However, Arumeru may face serious water shortage in the next few years following uncontrolled deforestation along the mountain slopes and catchment areas.

As reported by Evans (2009), poor land management activities accelerate the impacts of climate change and weaken community resilience to unpredictable shocks. All these challenges are contributing directly or indirectly to four major dimensions of food security which are: availability, accessibility, stability and utilization (Tim el at 2012).

Available opportunities for beekeeping at Arumeru
Social-economic factors

Socio economic characteristics relating to beekeeping at Arumeru are indicated in Table 1 and 2. It was realized that that most villagers were less than 45 years of age. Being at this age, there is advantage for majority of villagers to be actively involved in beekeeping activities which demand sufficient physical energy to perform activities like fabrication of hives, climbing tall trees to hang hives, harvesting and processing bee products. Similarly, being at young age has an added advantage whereby individuals will have ample time to accumulate new beekeeping skills and experiences (Chala et al 2003) and creates a future generation which is more food resilient and economically stable regardless of unpredictable changes.

Table 2. Age -Sex distribution of respondents
Age Female Male Total %
20 - 45 24 30 54 61
41 - 60 8 14 22 24
60+ 6 8 14 15
Source: Survey 2013

Income generation activities at Arumeru indicated that honey production is still less important economic option (Table 3). During our field survey, we could not find any local shop or market selling honey or other beekeeping products in all three villages. Notably, very few households (15%) from interviewed sample population possessed few log hives (2-5 beehives) hanged within their farm plots or along river banks.

Table 3. Distribution of respondents according to income generation sources
Activity Average monthly income,
Number of responses
Vegetables 92.5 60
Milk 110 80
Banana 61 85
Coffee 140 35
Honey 216 2
Source: survey 2013

As responded by District Forest Officer, the major reasons for low adoption of modern beekeeping at Arumeru is contributed by poor access to beekeeping extension services either from government authorities or private firms. It was further mentioned that, beekeeping is practiced as a traditional activity that has been inherited over generation using unimproved technologies. As observed by Lemesa (2007), application of poor beekeeping equipments affects both quantity and quality of honey and other beekeeping products regardless of existing potentials.

Favorable ecological conditions

During our survey, we identified various melliferous plant species from native trees, herbaceous plants and cultivated crops (Table 4), which offer sufficient fodder to honey bees throughout the year. Areas with high diversity and richness of melliferous plants can hold and sustain large colonies of honey bees and enhance food availability through improved crops pollination (Kinati et al 2012).

Table 4. List of Melliferous plants in the study area
Common name Botanical name
Maize Zea mays
Sun flower Helianthus annuus
Tomato Solanum lycopersicum
Banana Musa paradisca
Coffee Coffee arabica
African tulip Spathodea campanulata
Silky Oak Grevillea robusta
Mruka Afzelia quanzensis
Mango Mangifera indica
Avacado Persea americana
Source: survey, 2013
Compatibility with existing traditional farming system

Ninety of household respondents revealed to practice the Chaga homegarden farming system. This type of traditional agro-forestry practice involve growing of various food crops mixed together with and higher trees within one farm plot (Wiersum1997). Taking an advantage of trees’ heights, farmers can suspend several beehives within a small farm plot provided that there are sufficient forages to bees. As observed by Verma (1998) in India, a small size farm plot can hold up to 50 hives using modern technologies without affecting other farm production activities. Similarly, Wiersum (1997) documented that, beekeeping is the best practice in small to medium farm plots like homegardens since it enhance productivity through improved pollination and reduce competition on land resources. The current ownership of land at Arumeru is estimated to be 0.8 ha/person which lower than the national average household land holding of 1.0 to 1.5 ha (URT, 1998). Since human population is growing faster at Arumeru, it is likely that access to arable land will be more competitive in the near future, a situation that will have an implication on food production among other challenges.

Challenges in beekeeping

It was revealed that lack of appropriate beekeeping knowledge (42%) and financial constraints (38%) were the most challenging obstacles to beekeeping at Arumeru (Figure1). As responded by village leaders, they have not been visited by beekeeping extension officers or being invited to any short course training for the past five years. According to Kumar (2010), beekeeping has potential to improve economic, social and health status of rural people if theoretical and practical training will be well conducted. In general, Tanzania has a fairly advanced policy and institutional framework guiding development of beekeeping and forest management (Milledge et al 2007). But in reality, there is poor implementation of extension services especially on beekeeping services from most districts councils in the country which contribute significantly to under development of this sector.

Likewise, low household income among many villagers was known to limit villagers’ capacity to purchase modern beekeeping equipments such as modern hives, harvesting gears and processing equipments. 95% of interviewed population mentioned that they are still using traditional hives made from logs because they are relatively cheaper.

Figure 1. Major beekeeping challenges at Arumeru

Similarly, environmental factors particularly deforestation, bee enemies and agro-pollution was also identified to impact beekeeping at Arumeru. Ants, wax moth, spiders were mentioned by District Beekeeping Officer to be the most harmful bee pests in the study area. Further to this, use of agricultural chemicals especially herbicides which are highly used in horticultural production, were suspected by farmers to associate with death or absconding of honey bees from their hives due to unpleasant chemical smell. Selling horticultural products is becoming a lucrative business among local people at Arumeru following increasing their demand from nearby tourist hotels and lodges. A well managed apiary should be regularly attended to observe risks and threats that may affect development of bee colonies as well as quality and quantity of honey (Taylor, 2002).

Conclusion and recommendation

Poor access to arable land, lack of technical knowledge and drop of Arabica coffee price have been known to affect directly availability, access and utilization of food at Arumeru. Addressing this challenge in the right approach is important response to avoid further implications which are likely to raise following prevailing climate change impacts. This study determined that adoption of modern beekeeping at Arumeru would be appropriate solution if available opportunities such as presence of bee plants, water sources and compatibility with traditional farming system would be well utilized. Improving socio-economic conditions of the households, government commitment to extension services and sustaining home garden agroforestry production system is highly recommended to achieve food resilient community at Arumeru. This initiative will break the circle of extreme challenges brought by poverty, ignorance and climate change and lead community to viable production systems towards sustainable livelihood in the coming future. Promoting tree plantation exercise in deforested and non-forest area should be encouraged to increase the tree cover in order to meet community demand for fuel wood and timber without affecting availability of bee fodder. Further to this, local people are also advised to make use of microfinance services e.g. “VIKOBA“which are already operating in their villages to obtain soft loans that can be used as a starting capital to beekeeping projects.


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Received 8 August 2013; Accepted 19 November 2013; Published 1 December 2013

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