Written by Gebreamlak Bezabih and Guesh Godifey (Tigray Agricultural Research Institute) and Yayneshet Tesfay, Dawit Woldemariam and Haile Tilahun (International Livestock Research Institute).
Beekeeping is an important traditional practice in most parts of Ethiopia. With an estimated 10 million beehive colonies half of which are kept in traditional and improved hives, Ethiopia ranks first in Africa and fourth in the world in honey and beeswax production. Traditional hives made from mud and wooden logs are by far the most pervasive accounting for more than 97% while improved hives account for only 2% of beehives in the country.
Managing bees using traditional hives is not only difficult but the quality and quantity of honey produced is small, with an average yield estimated to be below 7 kg/hive. Public agricultural extension in rural Ethiopia is working to replace these traditional hives by introducing top bar beehives to smallholder farmers, and in Tigray region of northern Ethiopia the annual distribution has reached more than 20,000 hives.
But with a shift from traditional to improved hives, the likelihood of farmers facing acute shortage of beeswax is high and there is a need to identify sustainable ways of providing beeswax that also attracts bees and minimizes absconding. One way of achieving this is through the introduction and popularization of the ‘Ethio ribrab’ hive, which is a variant of the Kenyan top bar hive.
The introduction of this type of hive is not meant to replace improved frame beehives but to complement them by providing beeswax made from local honeybee flora. Honey harvested from this type of hive is of better quantity and quality compared to honey from a traditional hive. The popularization of Ethio ribrab hives has also the added advantages of being made by smallholder farmers using local materials and is easy to work with and inspect the colonies.
Considering the multifaceted advantages of Ethio ribrab hives, the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project in Tigray has demonstrated these hives to beekeepers, who after having received trainings, transferred colonies from traditional hives. Field observations suggest that farmers who used Ethio ribrab hives have harvested 15 to 20 kg/hive of honey and 1 to 2 kg beeswax, and this is by far more than what is possible using traditional hives.
Download steps guide for constructing an Ethio ribrab hive that is currently being used by farmers in the LIVES intervention sites in Tigray.