Livestock Research for Rural Development 30 (7) 2018 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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The role of women in beekeeping activities and the contribution of bee-wax and honey production for livelihood improvement

Tariku Olana and Zerihun Demrew1

Hawassa University, College of Agriculture, P O B 05, Hawassa, Ethiopia, Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources, Hawassa University, Ethiopia
1 College of Agriculture, Hawassa University, Ethiopia


The study was conducted in Arsi Negelle District of Oromia Regional State, Ethiopia, to assess the role of women in beekeeping activities and the contribution of honey production for household livelihood improvement. Using a purposive sampling technique, 90 households were included in the survey. A combination of RRA tools (key informant interview, in-depth semi-structured interview, group discussion and observation) were employed to collect primary data from beekeepers and peasant associations.

The result revealed that the main purpose of keeping honey bees were for both income generation and household consumption. The amount of bee hives/colony owned by the bee-keepers in traditional, transitional and modern beehives was 81.7%, 12.3% and 6.01%, respectively. This indicated that majority of the farmers in the study area depends on traditional methods of honey production systems. The average honey yield per year/colony was 6.09±0.35, 12.7 ±0.62 and 19.7±0.67kg for traditional, transitional and moveable frame hives, respectively. Even though, women participation in beekeeping activities was low (34.6%) as compared to men (65.4%), it was promising. Absconding, pesticides and herbicides application, honey-bee pests (ants, wax moth (Galleria mellonena), lizard), high cost of modern beehives, shortage of improved bee forage, lack of beekeeping equipment, dependence on traditional production system and lack of credit access were the main constraints in beekeeping development in the area. Among the beekeeping constraints and/or threats in the study area absconding, pesticides and herbicides application and shortage of bee forages during the dry seasons were the most pertinent factors accounting for 19%, 11% and 9% of the sample respondents, respectively.

Key words: beehives, extension, gender, honey-bee, livelihood


Livelihoods strategies in rural areas of developing countries typically depend on agriculture and are often vulnerable to food insecurity (Lietaer 2007). Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world where 85% of its 86 million populations live in rural areas and engaged in subsistence farming system (Tedege 2007). Agriculture, which is dominated by smallholders is the major economic activity accounting for 47% of GDP and 85% of employment (CSA 2008; MoARD 2009). The average landholdings size in Ethiopia is 0.9 ha, which is less than the minimum area required to meet the minimum food requirement (EEA 2002). The Agricultural system of the country is currently facing challenges, ranging from those induced by environmental crises to those caused by demographic and socio-economic constraints which adversely affect peoples` production system

The promotion of rural income generating activities continues to gain widespread support among development agencies and rural development experts (Matshe and Young 2004). The increased support is based on the belief that farm households in the rural areas rarely rely solely on agriculture for their livelihood survival, but often combine farming with other non-farm activities (Ellis 1998). For the rural households of Ethiopia, beekeeping is a promising off-farm activity and contributes to the income of the farmers and economy of the nation (ARSD 2000; Gezahegn 2001). Owing to varied climatic and ecological conditions, Ethiopia is characterized by one of the most diverse plant and animal community in Africa. Its forests and woodlands comprise a variety of plant species that provide surplus nectar and pollen to numerous types of wild honey-bees (Deffar 1998).

The tradition for beekeeping in Ethiopia stretches back into the millennia of the country's early history (Deffar 1988), making beekeeping to one of the oldest farming practices in the country. Moreover, beekeeping is an appropriate and well-accepted farming technology and it is best suited to an extensive range of ecosystems in Ethiopia and other countries of tropical Africa (Kassaye 2001). For the rural households of Ethiopia, beekeeping is a promising off-farm activity and contributes to the income of the farmers and economy of the nation (ARSD 2000; Gezahegn 2001). Beekeeping is traditionally a well established household activity in almost all parts of Ethiopia. In the country, it is estimated that around one million farmer households participated in beekeeping activities (Tadesse et al 2007). Honey is produced mainly as a cash crop, which is serving as a source of additional income for hundreds of thousands of farmer beekeepers.

The country has the highest number of bee colonies and surplus honey sources of flora. This makes the country the leading producer of honey and beeswax in Africa (Gidey and Mekonen 2010). The total crude honey production is estimated to about 45,300 metric tons per year, which accounts for 23.5% and 2.35% of the total honey production in Africa and world, respectively. This makes the country number one honey producer in Africa and ninth in the world (FAO 2010). Like in other African countries traditional beekeeping has basically been an activity for men. Many cultural taboos and the methods of beekeeping used have been prohibitive to the involvement of women in beekeeping activities (Karunde 2011). Partly, this has contributed to the slow development of the beekeeping industry considering that women contribute about 80% to the households' food in most African families (Karunde 2011). The psychological stigma created on women, that handling of bees is a man's activity has further kept the potentially useful women labour out of apiculture. The recent approach to beekeeping development in rural part of Ethiopia encourages involvement of women in the process of production and marketing of bee products.

Arsi Negelle district is among the honey and bee wax production potential areas found in south part of the country (Arse et al 2010). Apiculture provides an opportunity for impoverished or low-income people to supplement their earnings by the sale of harvested bee products such as honey and beewax at a suitable market. Hence, this study examined the role of women in beekeeping activities and the contribution of bee-wax and honey production for household livelihood improvement in Arsi Negelle District of Oromia Regional State, Ethiopia.

Materials and methods

Study area

The study was conducted in Arsi Negelle district of west Arsi zone, Oromia Regional State located about 225 km south of the capital, Addis Ababa. Geographically, it is situated in the Ethiopian central rift valley system of 70 09’-70 41’ N and 380 25’-380 54’ E. The topography is slightly undulating especially in the highlands and almost flat in the lowlands. The area has relatively fair agricultural potential, which is reflected in the diversity of crops and animal resources. Some part of the highlands in the study area is still covered by natural forest, bush and shrub. Rain-fed agriculture mainly cereal cropping along with livestock raring are the major sources of food and income for maintaining the livelihoods.

Sampling techniques and sample size

Based on accessibility and tangible potential in honey production, five peasant associations were selected from the district. Purposive random sampling techniques were carried out, in which 18 bee keepers selected from each peasant association. Accordingly, a total of 90 beekeeper households were taken as a sample population in the study area.

Data collection methods

A review of most relevant available literature is done to capture the state of honey production and bee management in Ethiopia in general and in the study area in particular. Based on the information obtained from secondary data and informal survey, semi and structured questionnaires were developed and pre-tested for its consistency and applicability according to the proposed objectives of the study. Socio-economic characteristics of the farmers, role of women in beekeeping activity, productivity of the different beehives i.e. Traditional, Transitional and Modern (Figure 1), and major honey flora in the area is assessed. For better outcomes of the result, both primary and secondary data were collected from appropriate sources using a combination of different RRA (Rapid Rural Appraisal) tools, such as key informant interviews, in-depth interview, group discussion and direct observation.

Figure 1. Beehives in the study area: a) Traditional, b) Transitional and c) Modern type
Data analysis

The collected data were analyzed both statistically and logically. Statistical package for social sciences (SPSS) and Microsoft-Excel spread sheet were used to systematically record and analyze the empirical data and to calculate percentage, frequencies, as well as to record the results properly.

Both qualitative and quantitative data collected through RRA tools were analyzed through logical reasoning, explanation, comparison and interpretation of management interactions. The results from various methods were equated to check reliability of the collected data.


Socio-economic characteristics of beekeepers

Majority of the farmers in the study area with age in between 23 and 70 years old, employed in beekeeping activities along other farming activities. The study revealed that farmers who are in the most productive age are actively engage in beekeeping activities with an average experience of 12.3 years (Figure 2).

The mean ages of the beekeepers were 38.1 years and the mean land holding of per beekeeper household was 1.95 ha. Generally, the differences in the land holdings of the farmers were insignificant, but the average was slightly higher than that of national record of 1.02-1.45 ha (ASE AIFSP 2002). The average livestock and family size in the study area was 14.1, and 6.89, respectively. It is evident from the data that there is significant difference between male and female in beekeeping (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Characteristics of beekeepers
Honey production systems in Arsi-Negelle

Three honey production systems (traditional, transitional and modern) were practised in the study area, but majority of the farmers with different years of experience depend on traditional honey production system. The amount of bee colony owned by the bee-keepers under traditional, transitional and modern beehives was 81.7%, 12.3% and 6.01%, respectively (Figure 3). The present investigation revealed that most of the farmers kept their bee hives under the roof of their home or hanging on the tree in their homestead.

Figure 3. Beekeeping strategies in Arsi- Negelle district
Honey and bee wax production and contribution for household income

The average honey yield per year/colony in the study area was 6.09±0.35, 12.7 ±0.62 and19.7±0.67 kg for traditional, transitional and modern hives, respectively. The result of the study revealed that honey production contributed on average 6.67% of household’s income. The respondents ranked the income from honey production in 4th places in relation to other income generation activities such as crop (1st), livestock (2 nd) and vegetable production (3rd). Most of the honey is sold in the local market immediately after the harvesting season. The money obtained from sell of honey is used to cover family expenses like for purchase off clothes, school fees and others. Even though, there is variation in the productivity of traditional and modern beehives, lack of knowledge and skills in bee wax production were observed in the study area. Lack of skill to manage their bees and bee products are the major impediment and the farmers need training and follow up from the concerned stalk holders for better productivity of the hives. Most of the beekeepers cannot afford to invest in inputs, process, packaging, and transport their products to market to maximize profit. They produce low quality product that force them to sell locally to wholesale buyers at prices much lower than in domestic commercial markets.

The beekeepers in the district observe different signs to recognize honey-harvesting seasons. Honey smelling, aggressiveness of worker bees, bee accumulation around the entrance of hives and flowering time of plants are some of the major indicators for farmers to know honey production time. The farmers used to produce honey twice a year, which they are called major and minor honey producing time. According to the interviewed beekeepers, November and December are the major honey production months while May and June are the minor ones.

Involvement of women in beekeeping activities

In the study area women involved in many aspects of beekeeping activities. The present investigation confirmed that women account 34.6% of the total beekeepers in the study area (Figure 2). Mostly women participated in transitional and modern beekeeping activities but their participation in traditional honey production system was less because of the cultural barrier in which women are unable to climb the trees to hang the beehives. The women participated in beekeeping activities like clearing the nearby spaces of the hives, cleaning of the hives with steam and marketing of the harvested honey. The survey showed that after the introduction of transitional and modern beehives, the women involvement have been increasing from year after year. The practice creates additional job opportunity and source of income. The recent approach to beekeeping development in rural areas encourages involvement of women in the process of production and marketing of bee products.

Major honey-bee flora in the study area

The availability of bee forage is a vital indicator for the existence and survival of honey-bees. The honey-bees depend on many types of flowering plants to produce honey and bee-wax. Production of honey and other products depend on the availability and attractiveness of floral resources. In the current research area not only the household head beekeepers but whole family members has a great and inspiring knowledge in identification of honey-bee forage and their flowering times. This reflects that beekeeping is not the activity of one person in the family but the activity of whole family members including women. It is observed that availability of adequate quantities and quality of bee forages, in the study area is tone of the critical factors that drive apiculture development .In addition, the farmers’ knowledge in bee forage identification is a vital feature in beekeeping practice. The list of major bee forage plants identified in the study area is presented in Table 1

Table 1. Some of the major honey-bee flora identified by sample respondents



Local name
(Afaan oromo)

Life form /
plant type


Croton macrostachys




Cordia Africana




Syzgium guineense




Eucalyptus spp




Acacia sibirana




Maytenus obscura




Schefflera abyssinica




Dovalis abyssinica




Duranta repens




Hypoestes forskali




Prunus Africana




Hypoestes forskali




Guizotia scabra



Challenges in beekeeping sector

The survey result revealed that 59% of the beekeepers have never got any formal training from the government or any other organizations in beekeeping technologies. Thus, the majority of them depend on their own traditional knowledge and clearly, there is lack of technical knowledge and skills particularly in practicing modern beekeeping activities. The main problems related to beekeeping development in the study area were Absconding and swarming, Pesticides and herbicides application and lack of forage in dry season (Figure 4).

Figure 4. The main challenges in beekeeping sector in the current study

The low level of farmer skills in transitional and modern beehives management and the lack of beekeeping equipment resulted in poor dissemination of the technologies. The prevailing production constraints in the beekeeping development of the country are complex and to a large extent vary between agro-ecological zones and production systems.


The present investigation should that beekeeping practice in the study area is generally dominated by males. It was in line with the traditional beliefs of the area that beekeeping activities are men’s job due to physical and cultural reasons, which actually might not hold true if females get equal opportunity. Chala et al (2013) reported less involvement of women (13 out of 180) in beekeeping activities in South west Ethiopia. The reason is that males can climb easily on the trees for hanging of traditional hives while it is considered as a taboo for females. Tessema (2017) studied the contribution of beekeeping activity to climate change and food security in Eastern Amhara region, Ethiopia. He reported that out of the total households interviewed 54.1 % of the families were in between productive age group (15-60 years old) with an average family size of 6.61 individuals per household.

The honey production system in the study area were in agreement with the study conducted in the northern, south-western and central parts of Ethiopia that revealed traditional beekeeping is predominantly practiced in Ethiopia (Kebede and Lema 2007; Nuru 2007; Ejigu et al 2009). The large majority of beekeepers in the country are still producing honey using traditional hives (MoARD 2003). In Central rift valley of Ethiopia only 2% of the beekeepers owned modern hive (Kebede and Lema 2007). The knowledge and skill of honey production; and honey and beeswax extraction of Ethiopian farmers is still very traditional (MoARD 2006). The wax is mostly left or thrown away because beekeepers do not bother to collect it since it has little practical value for beekeepers (Fichtl and Admasu 1994) and the people do not know the local beeswax is generating attractive money. JAICAF (2009) briefly described that traditional beekeeping is still practiced in many parts of the world. . Low productivity and poor quality of bee products are the major economic impediments for rural beekeepers (Nuru 1999).

Honey production season of the study area was in agreement with the reports in the literature (CSA 2007; Tesfaye and Tesfaye 2007). Based on the periodicity of the pollen and nectar flow, two honey harvesting periods were reported in a year (Amssalu 2000; Mathewos et al 2004). The crude honey harvested in the November and December is larger than that of May and June because of high flow of pollen and nectar in the district.

Seid and Solomon (2015) reported that drought, pests, predators, pesticide poisoning, low hive occupation rate, absconding, lack of modern beekeeping equipment and materials, honey bee diseases, lack of honey storage facilities, poor extension service, non-existence or low involvement of women in beekeeping development and lack of knowledge of appropriate methods of beekeeping as a major challenge of beekeepers in rural areas of Ethiopia, which is also observed in the present investigation. Variations of production constraints also extend to socio-economic conditions, cultural practices, climate and behaviours of the bees (Ejigu et al 2009).



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Received 19 December 2017; Accepted 25 May 2018; Published 3 July 2018

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