Thursday, August 8, 2013

Beekeeping, Night or Day?

Ethiopia has a rich tradition of beekeeping, and it seems to me that the country is like a patchwork quilt of beekeeping traditions. There is a mixture of beekeeping practices that follow the country’s diverse nectar sources and differences in geography. The local beekeeping techniques also follow the differences in beekeeping experiences of the farmers. Many rely upon the handed down techniques of traditional beekeepers. Some have been exposed to trainers from outside the region who introduced them to modern beekeeping methods. My experiences in Ethiopia found me working in some areas with beekeepers who had been exposed to training based upon bee biology. These individuals were comfortable with handling bees and were anxious to hear of new ideas that they could apply. I suggested that they should build Kenyan Top Bar Hives with standardized dimensions, like the one in today’s photo that I borrowed from the local agricultural extension agent to use in my training sessions in Amanuel. This top bar hive is built according to measurements adopted by the Peace Corps. By using standardized top bars and hive dimensions, the beekeepers can move combs from hive to hive. I explained to them that they can remove the queen from an exceptionally defensive hive and bring over a comb of very young brood selected from their best hive. With this resource, the bees can produce a new queen with different genetic traits. The farmers, well versed in selective cattle breeding, understood the concept of selectively improving their bees.

I also worked in one area where the farmers had received inaccurate information about bee biology and agriculture in general. These farmers were fearful of the bees and highly reluctant to try my suggestions, especially opening the hives in the daytime. They gave many excuses for not doing this. Some said that they were too busy tending their cattle or plowing in the daytime. I suggested that they train other family members—women and children—to join in the beekeeping.