The study on beekeeping formed part of a wider project implemented by Practical Action (http://practicalaction.org/) aimed at strengthening the capacities of nomadic pastoralists and drop-outs/destitute people to adapt and improve their livelihoods in increasingly changing socio-economic and ecological environments of the Karamoja region (Kenya, Sudan and Uganda). This was expected to contribute to the reduction of chronic poverty and vulnerability among the Karamoja communities. Beekeeping was identified as a potential means for diversifying and enhancing livelihoods.
This beekeeping study was conducted in Turkana district Kenya for Practical Action in late 2007/early 2008. The purpose of the study was to assess both production and marketing of bee products and to design a beekeeping intervention for Karamoja.
A literature review was conducted on beekeeping and related development in the target area. Beekeeping groups and individual farmers were visited and discussions were held. Interviews with development partners promoting beekeeping in Turkana were held (Government, Non-Governmental Organisations and Private Partners.). Discussions were held with businesses dealing with the honey trade. Key informants involved actively in the promotion of beekeeping were interviewed. Based on the primary and secondary data collected a report provided conclusions and recommendations on the way forward, with the outline of a proposed intervention to support the development of the beekeeping sector in Karamoja.
The project was delivered by ABRC consultants Eliud Emeri and Thomas Carroll.
Some of the key findings of the Turkana beekeeping study were:
- Excessive stinging and defensive bees (thought to be Apis mellifera scutellata or Apis mellifera nubica) combined with a lack of bee suits make for difficult beekeeping – leading to beekeepers using excessive smoke and fire to control bees. This reduces the quality of honey (too much smoke particles) and imparts a smoky taste to the honey.
- Traditional log hives appear to be more successful (in terms of hives occupied and in production) than introduced ‘modern’ hives.
- Only honey is traded. (Other bee products such as propolis and beeswax are largely ignored.)
- Demand for honey is high in Kenya but Turkana’s isolation and poor roads make it difficult to access outside markets.
- Past beekeeping interventions have emphasised on the supply of inputs, in particular bee hives (especially the KTBH), rather than beekeeping skills.
- The cultural barriers to beekeeping. People relying on farming and beekeeping in Turkana are known as the ‘poor’. People who keep livestock are traditionally higher in social status.
- Environmental degradation is a major concern in some parts of Turkana where sources of bee forage are being turned into charcoal.
- There is no forum for people to share beekeeping experiences. Past lessons are not built on, and shared.
Some of the key study recommendations:
- Hive technology – traditional log hives appear to be effective. However an expansion in beekeeping using these hives is not possible as there are no trees available for making these types of hives. (It is destructive to cut trees to get these hives.) It will be useful to explore: why traditional beekeeping systems are effective; and the alternatives? There is a need to research this issue through a process involving the Turkana beekeepers, to come up with an appropriate bee hive and beekeeping system for Turkana.
- A learning approach to beekeeping – a large number of beehives have been distributed by development projects in Turkana. Many appear to be abandoned or unoccupied. Beekeeping projects should move away from this emphasis on hive distribution, with a focus on improved skills and knowledge.
- Protective equipment – introduce simple bee suits and smokers and train beekeepers/artisans how to make and use them.
- Honey processing equipment – there is a need for simple methods of processing honey. Expensive donated honey extractors etc. are currently lying idle. Simple and cheaper methods of sieving honey are more appropriate.
- Stakeholder organisation – there is a need to bring Turkana beekeeping stakeholders together in a regular forum/workshop to share beekeeping experiences. Consideration should be given as to how such a process should be continued into the future if found useful by stakeholders.
In conclusion, the report was accepted and Practical Action intended to implement the recommendations.