Ethiopia Beekeeping and Honey Production Part 3

b. Pollination
The main role of bees in general is to pollinate flowering plants. In the investigated area, pollination is important to the production of coffee, mango and avocados.
A relatively high density of honeybees were observed in both Supé and Bonga.
3. Traditional beekeeping Equipment
Traditional beekeeping is extensive and closely tied to swarm management: hives are hung up in trees to catch swarms and are then transferred to the ground. Often, such hives are placed in a kind of bee house that protects the hives from the heat and rain.
Traditional hives are crafted by creating a tube shaped structure using branches, straw, cow dung and clay. Hives are typically 30-40 cm across and 1 m long. Sometimes they can be carved from a soft log, such as from a cactus tree.

Due to the defensive behavior of the bees, honey harvesting is done at night. A long knife is used to remove the combs full of honey.

The knowledge how to produce first quality honey from this traditional system is locally available with only few beekeepers.. Numerous disadvantages of this hive system are listed in Table 1.

No possibility to inspect comb for brood diseases
Work with open hives must be performed in complete darkness at night
No possibility to split the colony for artificial colony reproduction
No selection for honey yield and behavior
No possibility to feed a colony during times of food shortage
Honey harvesting
High chance that the colony (queen) is killed during harvesting
Very difficult to judge the maturity / ripeness of honey before harvesting
Brood and honey combs are harvested together because separation of the two is laborious and difficult

a. Honey production
Honey is traditionally consumed by Ethiopians in small quantities, and most honey is diluted with water, mixed with herbs and fermented in big pots. So-called tej is a very popular honey drink in Ethiopia, and is consumed by people across the country.
There is no need to harvest ripe quality of honey (i.e. honey with a low water content) to produce tej. Thus, beekeepers are often not aware of any differences in quality of honey due to water content.


b. Traditional hive products
To our knowledge, and based on what we learned from the beekeepers we accompanied for 3 weeks, there is no tradition of using other honeybee hive products such as pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom; some beekeepers know that there is a certain market for wax.
Hive products in health care is limited to treating a sore throat with honey, but not to support wound healing.
There is, however, a tradition of using honey from stingless bees found in Ethiopia for medicinal purposes.

4. Modern beekeeping
Because improving honey quality and bee behavior is not possible using traditional log hives, transition to a system with removable combs is recommended.
Two different types of hives should be considered: the Top Bar Hive (TBH) and or the modern, western-style Zander or Langstroth wooden box hive. Top Bar Hives are simple in design and can be constructed for free using locally available materials. Construction plans for TBH from local timber and bamboo are available and published by Ethiopian bee scientists (see Appendix). True to their name, TBH’s need only properly spaced bars on the top; even twigs will do. Bees start building combs from these top bars down to the bottom of the hive, and due to the slanted walls of the outer hive box, will not attach comb to the side. The result is a hive that allows combs to be easy removed and completely inspected.
Zander or Langstroth hives with removable frames are much more complicated to construct. Precisely machined parts from high quality, imported wood, must be produced on professional machines.

bee hive Ethiopia

Unfortunately, frame hives are generally not suitable for African beekeeping conditions and are not readily adopted because of price and the need for precision parts. If not crafted precise enough working with these hives becomes a nuisance. Ethiopia already has experience with such a transition program to modern frame hives. For example, a few years ago NGO’s, together with the government, initiated the construction and distribution of 150’000 frame hives. To this day, the legacy to this ambitious program could not be seen in Ethiopian beekeeping. The hives simply disappeared.
In Africa, apiculture using frame hives is only feasible if the beekeeper can self-produce an appropriate hive and fitting frames that can be lent to farmers. Beekeeping training for these farmers is also required. Payment by the farmer is made using honey.

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