Beekeeping has the potential to benefit rural development, but in Africa, it is not always easy. Five presentations with this theme were presented at the Africa Regional Apimondia Symposium in Durban earlier this year. These papers put the experiences of beekeepers in rural Africa into perspective.

Prof Robert Kajobe of Muni University in Arua, Uganda, presented a paper on why many beekeeping projects in Sub-Saharan Africa fail, with special reference to Uganda. (Source: The Uganda National Apiculture Development Organisation)

Beekeeping challenges in Uganda

Prof Robert Kajobe of Muni University in Arua, Uganda, presented a paper on why many beekeeping projects in SubSaharan Africa fail, referencing Uganda, where he is a research professor at Muni University. His accomplished career reflects 20 years of experience in teaching, research, policy analysis, and leadership in universities, research organisations, NGOs, and the private sector. Beekeeping in Uganda is a source of food, income, employment, and a means to increase crop productivity through pollination. The country is licensed to export honey to the EU market, which creates a huge opportunity.

However, a lot of beekeeping initiatives have not succeeded, due to a lack of formal beekeeping training institutions. The beekeeping extension systems are also non-existent and, or poorly funded. There is also inadequate affordable highquality beekeeping equipment, most of which is imported and inappropriate for local beekeeping programmes. Declining bee forage due to clearing forests for agricultural fields, bushfires, and climate change exacerbating drought adds to the dilemma. There is a lack of affordable financing, as beekeepers lack loan securities. Reliable beekeeping cooperatives and marketing organisations are in short supply. As a result, there are few product developments, diversification, and value-addition programmes. He believes practical solutions to solve the problems are needed to develop the apiculture industry in Africa.

Hives of rural Zimbabwe

Robert Mutisi presented a paper on the reasons for hive choices in beekeeping for rural development. Robert, an experienced beekeeper and master trainer of beekeepers, has just completed his PhD studies at a Zimbabwean university, focusing on factors that hinder honey production and marketing. Although beekeeping is one way of alleviating poverty and hunger in rural areas, the types of hives have not been properly identified.

The objective of the study was to identify determinants of hives suitable for rural development. The results revealed that 75% of beekeepers use traditional hives ranging from bark, log, and clay, to grass baskets, 20% use top bar hives, and 5% use frame hives. Sustainability, scalability, low cost, use of local re sources, hive colonisation, and accessibility were identified as key determinants of the choice of hives.

Dr Robert Mutisi presented a paper on the reasons for hive choices in beekeeping for rural development. (Source: Facebook)

Beekeeping in schools

Jayphter Mudongo from the rural district of Buhera in Manicaland province of Zimbabwe presented a paper on the Beekeeping in Schools Initiative. Many rural districts lack opportunities for households to earn livelihoods to put food on their tables, access healthcare and afford fees for schoolgoing children.

Population growth demands land for subsistence farming, which lead to natural forests being cleared. The demand for firewood for cooking has led to land degradation. Muzokomba Government High started a beekeeping club and established an apiary in the schoolyard to encourage skills development. Impressed with the vision, Apimondia Regional Commission for Africa elevated the effort into a model project for the Beekeeping in Schools Initiative. Training in hive-making and beekeeping was offered to seven surrounding schools with the intention of providing the kids with awareness of the importance of bees, conserving the environment and planting trees for bee forage, and providing life skills so they can start beekeeping as a business when they leave school.

The hives and honey are sold to provide an income for the school to subsidise school levies, which the parents often cannot afford.

Viability of small-scale beekeeping in SA

Elizabeth Lundall-Magnuson of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in Pretoria, South Africa, presented a paper on factors influencing the viability of beekeeping for upcoming beekeepers in the country. She has been involved in beekeeping development since 1994, and as an agriSETA accredited assessor and moderator, is developing material for the ARC in beekeeping. She has introduced beekeeping to rural farmers from about 100 villages all over South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, DR Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Nigeria.

Although beekeeping is a popular agricultural activity that generates an income from honey sales, it is becoming increasingly difficult for beekeepers to profitably keep bees in South Africa. Besides increased input costs, securing access to land for forage, veld fires, vandalism, and theft remain problematic. Other factors threatening beekeeping include the loss of forage sites, the high use of agricultural pesticides, and environmental stresses.

Poster presentations

Two posters were presented, one on sustainable development outlooks to subsistent apiculture in a transition in Ethiopia and bee clubs in elementary schools in Tanzania.

The Beekeeping in Schools Initiative was started in the Buhera district of Zimbabwe to teach schoolchildren the value of bees as an alternative source of income. (Source: Apimondia)

Apiculture in transition in Ethiopia

Dr Teweldemedhn Gebretinsae Hailu presented a poster on the outlook of sustainable apiculture in transition in Ethiopia. Dr Hailu has a PhD in Agricultural Sciences from the Department of Livestock Population Genomics at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany, where his research was focused on the classification and characterisation of Ethiopian honeybees.

He currently works as a post-doctoral researcher on honeybee genetic diversity and sustainable apiculture. Since the term, sustainable development, became popular, alternative production systems, such as organic agriculture and sustainable intensification have come to the foreground. In Ethiopia, sustainable development aspects of apiculture focus on a major subsistent beekeeping country that tries to transform.

Of note is that annual honey production has grown from 25 000 tonnes in 2005 to 150 000 tonnes in 2020 by increasing the number of honeybee colonies from 4,2 to 7 million (65%). The provision of higher-yielding frame hives (17,9 kg per hive per year) and top-bar hives compared to fixedcomb traditional hives (9,31 kg) also assisted in the growth. The average honey yield of simple top-bar hives over the period was 40% higher than that of traditional hives. As a result, export volume grew from 274 tonnes in 2009 to 481 tonnes in 2016 despite high local demand. Development initiatives focused on the introduction of frame hives (3%), compared to locally developed top-bar hives (1%). However, the traditional beehives which provide low yield and involve unsustainable management remained dominant (96%).

To promote food security and honeybee welfare, a sustainable apiculture development needs to focus on domestic markets, improving honey yield gaps by integrating beekeeping with crop farming and capacitating beekeepers to rear suitable queens and colonies locally.

Dr Teweldemedhn Gebretinsae Hailu presented a poster on the outlook of sustainable apiculture in transition in Ethiopia. (Source: ResearchGate)

Elementary school bee clubs

Ally Saburi, the founder of Worker Bees Africa, started bee clubs in elementary schools in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Despite the importance of beekeeping and the industry it represents, younger people are not keen to take it up as a profession. To mitigate this and encourage the youth to engage in beekeeping, Worker Bees Africa targets school children by making them aware of beekeeping and the opportunities it presents by starting bee clubs at elementary schools. Some of the activities introduced within these bee clubs include teaching the children the know-how of keeping bees.

For more information, contact Kai Hichert at (+27)82-561-0346 or send an email to  Some of the presentations are available for reading at this link: