Keshi Fisseha Berhe lives in a remote rugged village of Derokai (Almeda) in Adwa district, Tigray region. He is an innovator in honeybee colony splitting. Keshi Fisseha’s innovation in beekeeping caught our interest when wet met him in a zonal workshop organized by LIVES in Axum. To visit Keshi Fisseha’s backyard
apiary, we had to walk one and half hrs on foot along a steep slope hillside. It is within this hilly set up that one finds a surprising innovation in space saving and rapid honeybee colony splitting.
Keshi Fessiha gained basic beekeeping skills from his parents who kept traditional mud hives for honey production. Back in 2004, he decided to shift to improved box hives when the local agricultural office pushed him to take a loan and buy three hives. Since then, the ever increasing price for improved box hives and the presence of a lucrative business for honeybee colonies have contributed to his ambition to invent a rapid and space saving colony splitting technique. Accordingly, he has successfully applied his innovation so he now has 60 improved box beehives inside his less than 900 m2 backyard.
Against expectations, these colonies in box hives are used as mother hives for colony splitting. Keshi has forged partnerships with other farmers keen to share beehives for honey production, an arrangement that also helps him reduce the risks associated with vandalism. He firmly believes that honey harvests can be maximized by increasing the frequency rather than the intensity of harvest. That way, Keshi Fisseha and his shareholders are able to harvest an average of 60 kg of honey per hive within the three- month honey flow period.
In the improved hive boxes distributed by the agricultural extension system, frames are arranged vertically while Keshi Fisseha’s innovation is based on the horizontal expansion of the front sides of a hive. This enables him to insert up to 32 frames without violating the basic principles of spacing requirements. The frames are transferred to new empty hives when bees start to build combs in each frame. This way he successfully split a strong colony into six new hives.
Although the concept of horizontal hive is not new, Keshi Fisseha’s version of including large number of frames placed inside a horizontal hive and positioning hives close to each other (not greater than 10 mm) are unique innovations. Even at a larger scale, this also appears to supercede the conventional colony splitting blueprint that relies on wider spacing between the new and old mother hives, to avoid honey robbing.
The space saving and rapid colony splitting innovation Keshi Fisseha devised has helped him to specialize in colony marketing. His average annual income from the sale of beehive colonies is about 65,000 Birr, and he is the sole colony supplier for Adwa and its surroundings. Keshi also contributes to the district beekeeping platform members that LIVES has set up by sharing his knowledge and skills.
Where there are shortages of honeybee colonies, innovations like this will benefit LIVES action and learning districts that are targeted for apiculture, as these are clustered into honey and colony marketing specializations. There is an obvious need to closely research the actual impacts of decreasing the distance between the new ‘weak’ and the old ‘strong’ hives before widely replicating this innovation to other areas.
Contributed by Yayneshet Tesfay (LIVES regional expert, Tigray) and Haile Tilahun (LIVES zonal coordinator, Central Tigray Zone)