The beekeepers in the Oromia region of Ethiopia collect honey and beeswax from traditional bee hives mounted in trees. However, problems the farmers encounter in handling and storing honey often mean a harvest of inferior quality that brings a low price. My Winrock International assignment is to teach modern beekeeping methods and to demonstrate how to move bees from traditional bee hives into modern hives. Most Ethiopians are farmers, and nearly all Ethiopian farms have bee hives. Ninety-seven percent of the hives is traditional hives like those placed high in trees for thousands of years. These hives are truly beautiful sights; tall trees holding the five to six-foot long cane cylinders resemble trees covered with weaver bird nests. One percent of Ethiopia’s honey bees is held in transitional bee hives, known as top bar hives. The remaining two percent of Ethiopia’s bee hives is the modern Zander hive, and half of the Zanders sit without bees. With the vast majority of Ethiopia’s bees being held in traditional hives high in trees, beekeeping in this semi-tropical land is based on attracting swarms of bees and then making a one-time harvest of honey and beeswax. The method of harvesting is destructive of the bees’ nest, and it usually results in the loss of the bee colony. Keeping bees in modern hives makes harvesting high-quality honey possible with no loss of the bee colony.
I planned a move of brood comb and bees from a traditional hive into a modern Zander hive. Unlike traditional bee work done at night using large amounts of smoke, I told my students, all seasoned beekeepers, that we would attempt to move the bees during daylight hours using a small amount of smoke. In today’s photo, I am shoulder-deep in the traditional hive cutting out brood combs which my helpers tie into modern frames with string. After I have removed all of the combs, I dump all of the remaining bees into the waiting hive with one sharp bump.