Livestock Research for Rural Development 29 (5) 2017 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Beekeeping, climate change and food security: the case of Eastern Amhara Region, Ethiopia

Tessema Aynalem

Bahir Dar University, CAES, Animal production and Technology Department


Beekeeping is long standing and deep rooted household activity in Ethiopia and honeybees play a critical economical role in agricultural productivity through pollination of agricultural crops to improve in quality and amount. The study was conducted in Estern Amhara Region of Ethiopia with the objectives of identifying major emerging constraints limiting beekeeping activities related to climate change and to suggest possible solutions; exploring the level of agrochemical application and its consequence on food security as well as understanding and documenting the existing beekeeping system of the area. Purposive sampling technique was employed to identify the sample respondents. About 260 beekeepers were selected and the data were collected using structured and semi-structured questionnaires and individual interviews. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistical procedure of SPSS Version 12 software. Percentage ranking revealed that honeybee pests and enemies, shortage of bee forage, agro-chemicals application, absconding of honeybee colonies, honeybee disease and lack of beekeeping skill were found to be the major challenges in decreasing order of importance.

From the study, about 57.1% of respondents have encountered the incidence of honeybee poisoning by different causes. The major causes of honeybee poisoning (about 96.85%) were pesticides, insecticides and herbicides applied on crops to prevent emerging pests and weeds. These major causes were due to climate change effects and insects as well as on some human health vectors like mosquito and flea in the houses. Because of lack of awareness on agrochemicals usage and different bee enemies, the beekeeper households have not been sufficiently benefiting from beekeeping to ensure food security. However, there are still enormous potentials to boost in the area. Hence, it is recommended that beekeeping research and extension activities should be enhanced on developing protection methods of honeybee enemies, management of agrochemical application and bee forage development.

Key words: agrochemicals, disease, poisoning, pollination


Agriculture is the major economic sector of Ethiopia contributing for about 46% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and providing employment for more than 80% the population (FAO 1998). Honey bees play a critical role in agriculture and beekeeping has many relative advantages and importance that help farmers to improve their livelihoods to ensure food security. It promotes self-reliance and requires little if any land and money. Beekeeping conserves the natural resource and contributes to the globe through environmental protection, as beekeeping and agro-forestry are integrated activity. It also provides valuable products like honey, beeswax, propolis, bee venom and royal jelly, which the farmer can get cash income (Apimondia 2011).

Beekeeping is a very long-standing and deep-rooted household activity for the rural communities of Ethiopia. Amhara Regional state is endowed with varied agro ecological zones that are suitable for Beekeeping. It is estimated that about 1,032,927 honeybee colonies are found in the region and the study area takes share of 171008 (16.5%), (CSA 2013), which is the real reflection of the potential of the region. However, the level remained in traditional system and more than 90% bee colonies are still kept in traditional hives, with its various limitations. In the eastern part of the region, large areas of inaccessible lands for crop cultivation and livestock grazing (along escarpments, hills and undulating mountains) are covered with various types of bushes, which are potential for beekeeping (BOA 2003).

The most important role honeybees’ play is actually not honey and other hive product production, but pollination. Bee visits plants for its food, nectar and pollen. Besides getting food for the bees as a result of their visit, bees pollinate a number of crops. In US honeybees contribute an estimated US$ 117 billion per year (Costanza et al 1997); around 35% of agricultural crops depend directly on animal pollinators (Klein A 2007) and 84% of cultivated plant species are involved with the activity of these insects (Williams 1996). Apis mellifera are the most economically valuable pollinators of agricultural crops worldwide (Klein et al 2007).

Even though honeybees are highly important for indigenous and newly imported crops, they are under great challenge of climate change which resulted the variability of climatic elements mainly rainfall and temperature over extended period of time (decades or more). Due to the effects of climate change, trees are blooming earlier and changed in range and distribution of plants. Responses to climate change has required changing crop species/varieties and modified management of soils and water. New strategies for pest management have been set as species of wild pests, their natural predators and their life cycles in response to climate changes has changed. Different agrochemicals fabricated to kill new pests in crop farming have killed many honey bee colonies every year in the world. As a result there appear to be strong interactions between diseases, pesticides, environment and climate change. Proper conservation of honey bees in Africa must be ensured to avoid pollination catastrophe (Michener 2007) so as to ensure food security.

Climate change has also resulted direct action on the bees’ diseases, pests, environment and climate. Honey bees need to adapt to the entire array of pests, predators, parasites and pathogens surrounding them because of climate change (Le Conte 2008).To protect expanding and emerging pests, farmers in eastern Amhara region has started using a number of agro chemicals (pesticides for crop pests, mosquitoes and household pests control, herbicides for weeds), which, if improperly used, can cause honeybee colony losses and bring the real possibility of damaging the delicate equilibrium in the honeybee colony, as well as the contamination of hive products.

As a result, this study provides information enabling the applicator farmer and beekeeper to make sound decisions on the safe use of pesticides where honeybees are not at risk and was proposed to assess the honeybee production in the eastern Amhara region with the following specific objectives:


Materials and methods

Description of the Study Area

The study was conducted in eastern Amhara national regional state taking three potential districts (Sayint, Dewa Chefa and Gubalafto). Beekeeping is a common practice in the study districts. Beehives are virtually kept at backyards and it is widely practiced across all the kebeles of the districts, though it predominates at mid-altitude areas. There are three types of hives in use (traditional, transitional and frame hives) in the study area.

Data management

In this study, both primary and secondary sources were used and qualitative and quantitative data were generated using conventional survey method, single visit formal survey methodologies and semi-structured questionnaire. Out of the two zones, tree potential districts have been purposively selected and, about 15% from Sayint 20% from Guba lafto and 10% from Dewa Chefa, districts were purposively selected. The household selection was carried out from list of beekeeper farmers registered as members in each district. Total interviews were administered to a sample of 260 beekeepers based on structured questionnaires that were first developed in English then translated into Amharic. The study was designed to address determinant factors for beekeeping; climate change, its impact on honeybees and bees’ environment and consequence on food security.

Data analysis

The collected data were coded, tabulated and organized for analysis. SPSS 12.0 version software was used to analyze much of the data and the results of the analysis were interpreted using descriptive statistics (such as mean, frequency and percentile) and excel software package. Data are presented in table and figure forms.


Household characteristics

Out of the 260 total sample respondents, 98.8% were male. This agrees with the traditional idea that underscores beekeeping to be men’s job due to physical reasons it claims. Actually this belief might not hold true if females are given equal power in heading the family as that of their male counterparts. Most of the sample farmers (98.3 %) are married while the remaining, are single, divorced and death of wife, respectively. The mean age and standard deviation of beekeepers is given in Table 1.

Table 1. Age of the household head (years) by Districts


of cases

















Dawwa Cheffa






All Districts






The age group between 15 and 60 years are considered economically active age group in many findings and as the result of this survey, out of the total households interviewed 54.1 % of the families were found between this age group. The average total family size of the sample beekeepers in the study area were 6.6 individuals, with range of 1 and 19 individuals, respectively. This variable can indicate the ample labor input potential for beekeeping activities and other agricultural activities.

Educational status of the sample respondents

Regarding educational status of the respondents about 26.1% were not received any education while 73.9% are at a stages of literacy ranging from read and write to diploma level. This reflects the need of intensive training and persuading of beekeepers proper management of hives.

Table 2. Average yield of honey (kg) harvested from different types of hives by Districts


Traditional hive

Top bar hive

Frame hive




















































All districts










N = Number of cases, S.D = Standard Deviation, Max = Maximum

Honeybee flora condition

The study result indicated that about 73.3% of respondent beekeepers face problem of feed shortage for their honeybee colonies due to frequent and severe drought in the area. The recent studies has also revealed that the expansion of agriculture and a very rapid population growth has resulted in dwindling of the forest into tiny leftovers, which are found around churches, permanent graves, schools, private holdings (mostly around villages and towns), and the vegetation is dominated by shrubs, herbs and cultivated crops which are largely replaced by the former forest vegetation.

The bees obtain their food and raw materials for all the hive products of interest to man such as honey, wax, royal jelly and propolis directly or indirectly from plants. Among many factors, availability of potential flowering plants and ample sources of water for bees are the two parameters of an area to be considered as potential for honey production.

Based on the results of this survey, the availability of resources supplied by plants varied according to seasons, agro ecologies and rainfall conditions of an area. Nearly 89% of the sample respondents replied that their colonies suffer from feed shortage mainly during February to May (55.7%) followed by from February to August (33.7%), June to August (7.3%) and September to January (2.8%). During periods of feed shortage only about 42.8% of the respondents provide supplementary feeds to their honeybee colonies. Of the total beekeepers interviewed only about 47.2% of the respondent plant at least one type of honeybee floras around their apiary. Thus, plantation of multipurpose, drought resistant, pollen and nectar rich honeybee floras and conservation of natural resources and integrate these activities with the development of apiculture should be the major concern.

Honeybee pests and diseases

The existence of pests and predators were major challenges to the honeybees and beekeepers. Based on personal observation during study tour, pests and predators caused devastating damage on honeybee colonies within short period of time. Farmers have ranked them ants; wax moth, bee-eater birds, spider, bee lice, honey badger, termite, beetles and snake were the most harmful pests and predators in order of decreasing importance. These, pest and predators significantly affect honeybees and their productivity. Farmers are not aware of the direct or indirect effect of some pests and predators like lizards, bee mites, small hive beetles and pirate wasps, though they have considerable effects on honeybees and their products.

In some literatures, bee-eater birds are stated as having non-significant effect on bees (Dadant, 1980); however, as stated by (Adjare 1984), and (Hooper 1997) the bee-eater birds coming in-group usually causes a considerable loss of bees in apiary and are significant predators of honeybees respectively. Similarly, (Sammataro 1978) has reported that sometimes droves of swifts (Chaetura dubia - Spine-tailed swift) have been reported to eat up to hundred bees each in one day. As of observation during study tour, newly arrived, non endemic bee-eater birds, strategically holding an ambush around the hive waiting for its prey in a flock were strong enough to devastate the entire colony. This is the result of changing climate to be favorable for those non endemic honey bee pests. Moreover, small hive beetles were also observed in the lowland areas as one of bee pests. As a result predators and pests attack, a considerable amount of honey production was lost and honeybee colony absconding has been occurring. Consequently, it resulted in reduction of potential pollinators for crops to increase production and quality of crop yield to ensure food security in the area.

Poisoning of honeybees

The major causes of honeybee poisoning were pesticides, insecticides and herbicides applied on crops as well as on some human health vectors like mosquito and flea in the houses (96.9%).

About 61.7% of respondents have encountered the incidence of poisoning their honeybee colonies by different causes. The major causes of honeybee poisoning were pesticides, insecticides and herbicides applied on crops as well as on some human health vectors like mosquito and flea in the houses (about 98.6%). The prevalence is more in lowlands than other agro ecologies due to frequent outbreak of locust and armyworms on different crops. Thus, due to unwise use of insecticides on crops, some beekeepers have lost total honeybee colonies. The most commonly used pesticides in the districts were Cypermethrine, Diazinon, Malathion, Endosulfan and Carbosulfan. Similarly, insecticides (Ayalew 1983) kill more than 40% of honeybee colonies in the world annually.

Cereal and pulse producing farmers take the main contribution of insecticide application (about 96%). To preventive honeybees from insecticides poisoning and herbicides effect in the study area, no tangible discussion has held between beekeepers and crop producers about pesticide application. beekeepers have given tentative preventive measures as agro chemicals should be sprayed at night or dusk when the honeybees are out of contact (29.3%), shutting the entrance and provide emergency feeding with milk and others feed internally (22.7%), preventing spraying of insecticides around the apiary at daytime (10.7%).Many farmers are using insecticides without thinking of honeybees they need for pollination of the same crop they are spraying (Hertz 1995). Therefore, farmers should be encouraged to use agro-chemicals, especially, insecticides before flowering or at the time when honeybees are not foraging. There must be good cooperation between beekeepers and crop cultivators. Even if the presence of poisoning plant for honeybees were reported in the region by (Nuru 1996), in the study area risky poisonous bee forages were not reported except partinium weed, which is poisonous for human when consumed such honey

General constraints of beekeeping

Based on the result of this study, the major constraint of honeybee production is drought which mainly attributed to the availability honeybee forages. This result is in line with the works of (Kerealem 2005). This constraint has a direct and indirect effect on the reproduction and productivity of honeybees.

Table 3. Reported constraints of beekeeping in decreasing order (weighted average scores)

Description of Production constraints


Lack of rainfall


Bee poisoning


Lack of bee forage


Pest and diseases




Lack of beekeeping accessories


Lack of honeybee colony


Feeding honey bees

About 50.8% of respondents presume that honeybee colonies naturally sustain themselves without any supplemental feed and produce honey by foraging from natural and cultivated crops in all possible radiuses from their hives. The reasons of those beekeepers who do not supply supplementary feeds were lack of awareness (50.8%), availability of good natural honeybee flora around apiary (34.9%), lack of supplementary feeds (6.3%), migrate their colonies to good flowering areas (6.3%) and the remaining leave honey for bees during harvesting. About 49.2% of the respondents provide supplementary feed for their honeybee colonies during dearth periods. As stated by (Alison and MacCallum 2009) honeybees do not rely on humans for their daily food, but needs to be fed two or three times during the course of a year with strong sugar solution. However, at any time where the natural food stores of a colony is low, the beekeeper must begin emergency (dearth period) feeding (MAAREC 2009).


Although honey and crop production are naturally complementary, misuse of agrochemicals to protect newly emerging pests and weeds of crops due to climate change, particularly, insecticides, pesticides and herbicides were severely damaging the honeybee colonies and consequent crop production. Prevalence of newly emerging honeybee pests and predators has also ultimately resulted in dwindling and frequent absconding of honey bee colonies. Majority of beekeepers do not provide any supplemental feeds during the dearth or emergency period feeding resulted from direct or indirect effects of climate change. Though there are many challenges in the study area, there is still huge potential to increase honey production and consequent crop yield and quality. There is still enormous opportunity and potential to boost the production and quality of hive products and crop production.


Awareness should be created on the value of honeybees for crop pollination, improving the crop yield and quality to ensure food security. Farmers should also be aware of saving honeybee colonies from misuses of agrochemicals applied on cereals, pulses, legumes and horticultural crops during flowering.

Honeybee colonies should be supplemented on critical emergency and dearth periods caused by direct or indirect effects of climate change. Research should be done on selecting and multiplying of local honeybee species resilient changing climate.

Designing local or scientific prevention and control methods for emerging honeybee pests, predators and climate change adaptive feed sources is timely.

Selecting, propagating and planting of honeybee flora preferably multipurpose species preferably resilient to changing climate are very important.


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Received 1 November 2016; Accepted 14 March 2017; Published 1 May 2017

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