Beekeeping’s potential to lift over half of Africans out of poverty

Interview by Sharon Tshipa

With 52 percent of Africans living in rural areas, beekeeping has been identified as one of the interventions that can eradicate poverty among the rural poor. This is because the African continent has insurmountable natural resources that can be easily harnessed to create livelihoods for many communities, as most rural communities have large tracks of natural forests, mountains and valleys that can be used for beekeeping.

To find out more about beekeeping’s potential to lift over half of Africans out of poverty, GP recently caught up with David Mukomana, President of the Apimondia Regional Commission for Africa. The discussion also touched on the role Southern African youth will play through the recently formed SADC Apiculture Youth Initiative.

GP: Why did Apimondia see the need to initiate the Apiculture Youth Initiative?

Mukomana: Apimondia, the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations, is the global organisation that promotes beekeeping and honey industries worldwide. One of the major concerns at global level is the average age of beekeepers which is 50 years plus with fewer young people joining the profession while on the other hand, there has been a steady increase in demand for honey. Research projects that the global demand for honey will reach 2, 8 million tons in 2024. Contrary, the increase in global honey production has not been consistent with the demand growth due to a number of factors that include colony collapse due to diseases, decline in natural bee habitat and excessive use of agrochemicals.

The above scenario has left Apimondia with an urgent need to look at ways of bringing on board new beekeepers to increase honey production to meet the increased demand. Thus, Apimondia has partnered with International Centre for Young Beekeepers (ICYB) to promote beekeeping among the school-going kids as well as encouraging the Apimondia Regional Commissions to set up initiatives targeting young people to:

  • Provide them with employment and business opportunities through beekeeping;
  • Create awareness of the importance of bees to the environment and mankind

Africa has the highest rate of youth unemployment and Apimondia Regional Commission for Africa fully believes the Apiculture Sector is the low-hanging fruit that can provide employment opportunities to many youths given the natural resources in Africa suitable for beekeeping as well as the relative low cost of capital required. It is for this reason that the Regional Commission decided to set up the Youths in Apiculture Initiative.

GP: What is the mandate of the Apiculture Youth Initiative?

Mukomana: The Regional Commission believes that the young generation has a critical role to play in the Apiculture sector to contribute towards Africa becoming self-sustaining and see the sector contributing the development of the continent. The areas of focus for the youths include:

  • Beekeeping for honey production
  • Innovation and value addition of hive products
  • Production of beekeeping equipment such as bee suits, hives and hive tools
  • Advocacy on beekeeping in terms of:
    • Environmental protection
    • Food production through honeybee pollination
    • Benefits of honey and hive products for humans’ wellness

GP: How many Southern African countries are represented and how will this representation benefit the countries?

Mukomana: The Apiculture Youth Initiative started in 2018 in Nigeria during the 6th ApiExpo Africa Edition and now rolled out to the Southern African Community (SADC) with the second meeting having been held on 14 July, 2020. The initiative has 10 SADC Member countries involved with at least two young beekeepers representing their country. The initiative works hand in glove with the national associations where they exist, local beekeeping initiatives, development partners and/or line ministries so as to ensure the initiative is fully supported.

GP: What are some of the challenges affecting bee keeping as a source of livelihood in SADC and how can they be redressed?

Mukomana: Beekeeping in the SADC region faces common challenges similar to other countries in Africa and other developing countries globally. These challenges include

  • Lack of appropriate training and skills to do commercial beekeeping
  • Lack of start-up capital as most of the beekeeping is communal
  • Lack of government support for the sector with the sector being often under-funded and viewed as a peripheral agriculture sub-sector
  • Vandalism of hives and apiaries
  • Lack of proper honey processing equipment

GP: What are some of the successes of the SADC bee keeping industry?

Mukomana: Despite the many challenges the SADC and African beekeepers have had, there are significant successes that have been recorded with many exciting and inspiring stories coming from the region.

These success stories, among others, include:

  • Zambia top 3 exporting countries in Africa: Many communal beekeepers in Zambia are making a living from honey with most of their product being exported to UK and other European countries. Zambian honey is also being exported to other SADC member countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana.
  • Tanzania top 5 honey producers in Africa: Tanzania is one of the highest producers of honey in Africa courtesy of the efforts my government of Tanzania through establishment and fund of the Tanzania Forest Fund as well as other initiatives put in place to promote beekeeping throughout the country.
  • South Africa Pollination industry: South African commercial beekeeping is one of the most effective industry in Africa with commercial pollination services on commercial crop, fruits and wine farms earning beekeepers millions of Rand annually. South African beekeeping industry is also leading in coming up with policies that promotes safe use of pesticides on farms in order to protect the bees.

GP: Beekeeping is synonymous with honey, as a food, what else is this industry crucial for?

Mukomana: The most popular and known product from the hive that has been traded in Africa is honey. However, there are other equally important products that can be harvested from the hive with ready market. These include bees wax which many communal beekeepers often throw away after extracting hone due to lack of awareness that bees wax has a high demand both locally and internationally. Currently, Africa produces the bulk of the bees wax consumed internationally due to the type of hives in use. The traditional hives and top bar hives produce more wax compared to the frame hives used elsewhere.

Other products that have a ready market include pollen and propolis. Both are extremely useful as supplements as well as immune boosters. These products can also be used in production of other products such as cosmetics, soap, lotions, and toothpaste.

There is a steady use of the hive products such as bee venom, propolis and honey for Apitherapy and wound treatment. Scientific research work is under way to provide the standards that can be used to see hive products being used for medicinal purposes with Apimondia’s Scientific Commission for Apitherapy working closely with other institutions to provide input to the development of CODEX standards that include other hive products other than honey.

GP: Which SADC countries produce the most honey, and honey products and which are performing the least?

Mukomana: The highest honey producer in Southern Africa in Tanzania whose production has gone beyond 36 000 metric tons. The increase in production is directly attributable to the government support for the beekeeping sector. Tanzanian government through the Ministry of Natural Resources has a significant budget allocated to support beekeeping. Further, the ministry has set up the Tanzania Forest Fund that has been instrumental in supporting beekeeping as a strategy to preserve its natural forest across the country.

GP: What will your organization do to ensure that SADC is competitive in the market, ridding it of the ‘dirty honey’ label?

Mukomana: Part of the role of the Regional Commission is to link the beekeepers with the markets, both at regional and international levels. However, there are two major challenges that need to be addressed for the honey to be traded regionally and on international markets. These are:

  • Capacitation of the honey processors to ensure the quality of honey supplied to local, regional and international markets is high. Many beekeepers use the traditional methods of processing honey, often leaving the honey with debris. In consequent this has resulted in African honey being labeled “dirty” when in actual fact it is quality honey. Strengthening of the honey value chain players will ensure the region access good markets and the honey competing well.
  • Secondly, the regional commission intends to work closely with standards organisation in the region to ensure intra-regional trade is promoted through favourable trade agreements and or importation terms to allow countries within the region to access regional markets.

GP: What advise can you give to young Africans considering bee keeping?

Mukomana: The major challenge in Africa has been lack of appreciation of the vast resources at the disposal of the youth for them to start income generating initiatives within their communities as opposed to the preference to migrate to urban areas or to other continents in search of greener pastures. Young Africans should actively identify resources around them in their communities and look at creating jobs for themselves than looking for employment.

Beekeeping is a project that can be easily started with locally available materials and in the communities with not much capital compared to other sectors or projects.

GP: What global lessons can Africans learn from for the benefit of their industry?

Mukomana: Apimondia Commission on Beekeeping Economy and Regional Commission for Americas recently published a report on the effects cheap imports from other continents that has robbed the local beekeepers of incomes and livelihoods. South American Beekeepers have suffered losses between USD666 million and USD1,06 billion due to importation of honey from other continents. Southern Africa needs to therefore take note that importation of honey from other continents may bring serious challenges to the viability of the local beekeeping industry including food production through pollination services by honeybees.

GP: Any last words?

Mukomana: Africa is blessed with abundant resources to do beekeeping at large scale in the communities throughout the year, contributing significantly to the attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially eradication of poverty, fighting hunger and gender equity.  The demand for African honey and bees wax on the global market is so high providing a readily available market for honey that can be produced. Thus, African stakeholders need to start investing in the apiculture sector not only to create jobs for the young generation but to boost exports in order to earn much needed foreign currency from honey and bees wax exports.