Agriculture / Apiculture / ASSP / DFATD / East Africa / Honey / ILRI / Knowledge and Information / LIVES / Oromia / SNNPR

Humans and honeybees: Discordant or harmonious relationship?

Traditional beekeeping in jImma (Photo:ILRI\Dereje Legesse) There is a deep bond between honeybees and people. They have lived together for thousands of years, though no one knows exactly when this relationship started. There is evidence that the relationship began in the early Stone Age, probably when people hunted and robbed hollow cavities in trees or rocks filled with honey. Gradually, the relationship developed from bee-killing to bee-keeping.

In bee-killing, humans torch the hive/cavity and then collect the honey and brood (larva and pupa). Most of the bees in the hive die and the ones that survive migrate. In bee-keeping, which is now more common, beekeepers forge close relationships with their bees; they smoke the hive and take only combs with pure honey and leave those containing brood. In times of feed shortage, they provide supplementary feed to the bees. Some farmers in Jimma say bees can even recognize the body odour of the hive owner. This is probably an interesting area for further investigation.

On a recent trip by the LIVES team and the head of the livestock agency of Dedo district, they witnessed both bee-killing and bee-keeping in the same district.

At one rural village, a farmer took seven beehives from a tree and torched them to take the honey. When the team reached the place, a few helpless bees were still alive. The hives themselves were destroyed and cannot be used in the future. It seems this is a common practice in the area. Many farmers burn hives and kill the bees. When they want honey again, they construct new ones or buy and hang them on a tree.

From this experience, it would seem that honeybees are in trouble and the relationship between people and honey bees, at least in that particular area, is not harmonious but destructive. Unless transformed, this practice will reduce the honeybee population and force migration of the bees. A great deal of work on awareness creation, skills development and the introduction of new technologies is required.

burned beehive in Dedo district, Jimma (Photo: ILRI\Ephrem  Tesema) In Jimma Zone, the application of pesticides, herbicides and the encroachment of the “Euphorbia cotinifolia” plant are additional challenges to bees. The so-called ‘Caribbean copper’ plant contains a poisonous sap and kills bees feeding on it. It is commonly found in the southwest and southern parts of the country.  People in this area plant Caribbean cooper as an ornamental plant or a fence; they have little or no knowledge of its poisonous nature to bees. Awareness creation campaigns on this malicious plant (for bees) needs to be organized by the offices of agriculture and its stakeholders. A similar campaign has been done in Sidama and it has proved effective.

Contributed by  Gemeda Duguma (LIVES zonal coordinator, Jimma), Ephrem Tesema (LIVES gender expert), Dereje Legesse (LIVES Agri-business expert)  and  Gossa G/Medihin (Livestock agency, Dedo District)

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