It’s a well-known scientific fact that bees play an essential role in ecosystems: being pollinators, a third of all our food depends on their activities. In fact, the economic value of bees’ pollination work is estimated to be worth about €265 billion annually. Yet, since the late 90s, beekeepers around the globe have reported a rapid and worrying decline in honeybee colonies. The cause is thought to be the widespread use of bee-killing pesticides, parasites and pathogens, and climate change.
Taken all together, the situation looks bleak, but it is stoppable and reversible. Greenpeace suggests a three-pronged solution: one; ban all bee-harming pesticides, two; adopt a bee action plan, and three; promote ecological farming. In sub-Saharan Africa, this approach is being taken a step further with the promotion of bee-friendly honey farming. It’s been said that beekeeping is possibly the only type of agriculture with an overwhelmingly positive impact on the environment; not only does it allow people to derive economic benefit from indigenous forests and other floral resources, it also encourages conservation of these resources while contributing to other forms of agriculture through the pollination of economically important plants.
In northern Uganda, for example, beekeeping is adopted as a supplemental source of income by numerous rural households, as global and local markets exist for honey, beeswax, royal jelly, pollen and propolis. But, according to Ugandan academic Elizabeth Akikiriza, honey production is low in these home-made efforts due to factors such as inadequate production knowledge and skills, pests and diseases, and predominant use of informal marketing channels. Ms Akikiriza suggests that in order to improve beekeeping adoption, farmers’ social capital could be strengthened through partnerships that will address knowledge gaps in production and marketing.
Such partnerships are already showing dividends in other parts of the continent: In Tanzania, for instance, Successful African Beekeeping collaborates with small-scale and subsistence farmers to encourage beekeeping and the subsequent protection of the environment, ensuring the farmers increase their often-meagre income through the honey collected and sold. Zambia’s Bee Sweet Ltd. applies a similar method. Working within local customs, the company develops an incentive-based partnership with local tribes that not only results in export-grade honey, but curtails deforestation through their tree-friendly top-bar hives and increases the income of rural farmers.
With numerous benefits for the farmer, it makes sense for African countries to adopt wide-scale bee-friendly policies such as the above. As research shows, the benefits aren’t limited; entire communities and ecosystems could become healthier and richer.