Agriculture and beekeeping contrast starkly from the United States to Ethiopia. America’s food production is now accomplished by a small fraction of the population, while almost all Ethiopians are farmers. Even though beekeeping and the pollination it provides is responsible for one third of our food production, an extremely small group of people manage our bees. By contrast, beekeeping is a part of many Ethiopian farm families’ endeavors. Honey bees in the US are housed almost exclusively in removable frame hives, mostly of the Langstroth design. A few individuals keep bees in top bar hives or Warre hives. In Ethiopia, modern bee hives are few; some keep bees in mud-coated straw top bar hives, known as transitional hives. However, the vast majority of hives are traditional bee hives which are simple six-foot cylinders made of cane and lined with leaves. Traditional Ethiopian bee hives are placed empty in the forest tree tops with the leaves of the Limich plant used to attract swarms of honey bees. The hive trees are truly beautiful and impressive sights. With woven bee hives mounted among the branches of trees from 50 to 120 feet above the ground, the trees resemble larger-scale versions of native Ethiopian trees covered with weaver bird nests.
The keeping of honey bees in Ethiopia involves indigenous knowledge passed down through generations. Nimble two-man teams of beekeepers harvest the hives at night. One barefooted climber with a torch negotiates the tree and gently lowers a hive to his waiting partner. The bees are worked at night because these are the bees with the reputation as the most defensive honey bees in the world. Harvesting the honey is destructive of the nest. Using heavy smoke to drive the bees back, the beekeepers cut combs from the hive. The combs are crushed by hand, and the collected honey and beeswax are sold. The displaced colony of bees flies to another awaiting traditional bee hive. Beekeeping in Ethiopia depends upon colonies regularly swarming.--Richard