Beekeeping in Eritrea: Current Status, Prospects and Challenges

Mekelle:  6 December 2023 (Tigray Herald)

Beekeeping in Eritrea: Current Status, Prospects and Challenges

Honey is prominently known as a supplementary food and traditionally trusted medicine both globally and by many #Eritrea|n communities. Despite its long-standing nutritional history and importance in Eritrea, the progress of apicultural practice was very slow before independence. Frame-hive was first introduced in Eritrea during the Italian period when such hives were put in place in limited number at military bases in Biet- Gergish Asmara, Segeneyti and Adi-Quala areas. However, this was a short-lived experience until some improved frame-hives were introduced in some areas of Eritrean highlands in early 1980’s.

Mr. Zaid Tekle, Senior Beekeeping Expert in the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), indicates that beekeeping was yet not a popular agricultural practice in the early post-independence years. He further discloses that the MoA embarked on a resolute apicultural development program in 1998, and subsequently a total of ten thousand standard beehives were distributed in the same year. More beehives of this type were also distributed in the years that followed. “This figure may not be significant when compared to the current status, however, it is a worthwhile experience which served as a stepping stone towards a far-reaching change in beekeeping,” he says.

According to Mr. Zaid, following a tremendous increase in the number of nationals who are engaged in beekeeping until now, local honey demand is met to a satisfactory level and on a regular basis throughout the year. Hence, honey is no longer a seasonal product in Eritrea. Particularly since 2013, beekeeping constituted one of the major agricultural practices in Eritrea in connection with the implementation of MoA’s Minimum Integrated Household Agricultural Package (MIHAP), which is the ministry’s flagship project which addresses the small-scale farmers.

Eritrea is endowed with an ideal environment for beekeeping. Based on the MoA’s records, an average of more than twenty-thousand commercial apiaries with a colony size of forty to fifty each can be established across these potential areas. This huge potential can provide honey to the tune of around twenty-four thousand tons annually. Currently, annual harvest of honey in Eritrea is around five-hundred tons.

Mr. Zaid points out that there are around thirty-nine thousand registered honeybee colonies that are nested in frame, top-bar and traditional hives at this time, and that this figure accounts only around 4% of the country’s potential. “These colonies are reared by more than ten-thousand farmers from across the entire country. Since there are a number of beekeepers and honeybees in remote and pocket areas, the actual figure is assumed to be higher. When it comes to the make-up of beekeeping styles, colonies in frame-hives comprise more than 50% of the total figure, while the rest half represents colonies in traditional and top-bar hives. The proportion of the traditional hive being by large greater,” he adds. Mr. Zaid goes on explaining that one of the remarkable aspects of apiculture-related achievements in Eritrea constitutes the fact that many beekeepers have leaped to a level of migrating their colonies regularly to a more resourceful areas based on the time of flowering.

The Ministry of Agriculture, along with its development partners, has now laid groundwork for introduction of beekeeping sciences and developing related management practices through capacity-building programs, especially those focusing on training of experts and farmers. Based on its new five-year strategic plan, the MoA is due to exert increased efforts towards boosting beekeeping practice in all its forms, and a special focus will be given to family production based on top-bar hive.

Mr. Belay Berhane is a beekeeper from Berikh Sub- Zone. He is a war-disabled national who lost his left arm during the struggle for independence. Mr. Belay opted for bee-rearing for his household in 1996, when Eritrean National War-Disabled Veterans Association (ENWVA) started to extensively support its members by launching different self-supportive and income-generating activities such as group-owned bakery businesses, wood and metal workshops, poultry farms, as well as bee-rearing. Meanwhile, the MoA launched awareness-raising activities on different agricultural commodities including beekeeping. This was the first push factor for Mr. Belay to consider beekeeping, in a larger scale, He explained: “I requested a loan of 12,000 Birr from the association to purchase twelve frame-hives and twelve honeybee colonies. The entire beekeeping equipment was provided to beneficiaries at a very nominal price from the Ministry of Agriculture on credit.”

Mr. Belay now owns 80 bee colonies. “Sometimes, I wonder how my life would have looked like without the beekeeping business. Thanks to this activity, I am making a good living, and have built my own residential house.”

Women are also among the farmers who can testify about the rewarding nature of beekeeping business. Ms. Semhar Afewerki is one of the nationals who are fully engaged in this area of agriculture. She has been one of the successful beekeepers over the past thirteen years. Ms. Semhar lives in kitmowlie village, Gala-Nefhi Sub-zone. She started beekeeping in 2010 by nesting ten bee colonies in traditional hives. Her husband had some experience in bee-rearing, and, inspired by this background, she purchased ten frame-hives to practice modern beekeeping in 2015. The money she invested at that time was actually obtained in the form of a loan from relatives.

At present, she owns thirty-five colonies in frame-hives. “I had to focus on frame-hives, because I couldn’t maximize honey production from the traditional ones. First of all, traditional hive is not mobile. The highest rate of harvest I could have was once or twice per year, based on the nature of specific local resources. Managing a traditional hive is not easy too,” Ms. Semhar says. She further explains that her current net profit is still limited as she is on continuous investment: Procuring more beekeeping equipment. “I’d like to witness that beekeeping is a promising business for a good living and even beyond, if managed properly. I still intend to increase my honeybee colonies by three to four folds for I have already started to enjoy great support from my children,” Ms. Semhar concludes.

Association of Beekeepers in the Central Region was established in 2001 under the umbrella of the Ministry of Agriculture by about thirty founding members. Currently, the number of its members stands at one hundred and ninety three, out of which four are women. Generally, the association’s members own a total of around six thousand and five hundred honeybee colonies. Mr. Habtab Gehad, Chairperson of the Association, elucidates that the members are benefiting from the capacity development programs and experience-sharing environment the association has been ensuring:

“Thanks to the MoA, the level of enlightenment and technical expertise on the part of our members is on the rise, and, as a result, honey production has increased significantly. In the course of the early years following this association’s establishment,

we were compelled to run our honey sales outlet for few months only as honey supply was both too seasonal and inadequate. However, now, we produce more than one hundred and thirty tons of honey annually. We have active honey shops in Asmara and Keren cities. We sell our honey to staff members of a number of institutions on installment basis.”

The association is working transparently and strictly adheres to its constitution and governing laws. The Chairperson of the Association and other members of its administrative body are elected by the entire members.

Pointing out to the fact that beekeepers need to have an enabling ground to play their due roles in the national pursuits of maintaining biodiversity, enhancing domestic economy and supplying nutritious food, Mr. Habteab says that vast resourceful geographical areas of the country are not being exploited yet when it comes to the apicultural sub-sector. Moreover, he indicates that hives and other supplementary equipment get damaged while farmers transport hives for migration, i.e. during loading and unloading. In this connection, Mr. Habteab discloses that the association plans to establish wood and metal workshops, basically targeting production of frame-hives. “We hope that an enabling environment is ensured so that this goal becomes a reality. For the time being, we will continue to depend on the MoA for supply of the majority of equipment,” he told.

Despite the fact that bees constitute a national treasure, farmers in many parts of the highlands are not exploiting all vegetation resources to the fullest extent. Mr. Habteab underlines this situation as one of the major hurdles beekeepers are facing. Hence, the association’s members and other beekeepers recommend the following points in a bid to addressing the afore-mentioned challenges:

Availability of documented and approved regulations, as well as directives regarding beekeeping areas, their safety and quality of honey
Promoting participation of citizens in beekeeping venture, with due attention to the disabled, women, youths, and even the elderly
Supply of adequate beehives and their accessories

Mr. Habteab goes on explaining about more factors that tend to hamper beekeeping practice in Eritrea as follows: “Limited frequency of timely technical training on bee-rearing and management, specially targeting small-scale beekeepers in remote areas; scarcity of supply of beehives and hive accessories; delays in introduction and promotion of alternative beehives; deforestation; weak value-chain; and improper use of pesticides and insecticides, which is resulting in death of bees.”

Equally worth mentioning is beekeepers’ inability to access further resourceful areas due to lack of roads and high cost of transporting hives. For this reason, almost all beekeepers tend to put their bee colonies in a very congested area. And this scenario imminently gives rise to an inferior level of honey production, because it can only mean high competition for limited resources.

Finaly Mr. Zaid Tekle, underscores the need for adhering to integrated approach of beekeeping, in addition to harmonized role of relevant bodies to enhance the sub-sector within a very short period of time. His final words were: “First of all, we should believe that life continues when bees and other related insects continue to exist. All living things depend on bees for their genetic thrive. Bees constitute critical basis for life. Therefore, we need to create national beekeepers’ platform, which might be composed of beekeepers themselves, the MoA, the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment, as well as development partners. I believe that doing this could ensure formulation of national beekeep#ing investment guidelines and regulations, and ultimately Eritrea would shortly be in a position to secure a competitive surplus honey produce for the regional and global markets.”

A Monthly Newsletter Prepared by the Public Relations Division, Issue No 67, January 2024

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