Livestock Research for Rural Development 19 (11) 2007 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Study of honey production system in Adami Tulu Jido Kombolcha district in mid rift valley of Ethiopia

Tesfaye Kebede and Tesfaye Lemma

Adami Tulu Agricultural Research Center, P.O. Box 35, Zeway, Ethiopia


The study was conducted in Adami Tulu Jido Kombolcha district in mid rift valley of Ethiopia to identify major beekeeping constraints and opportunities in the area. For this study 9 Peasant Associations (PAs) were selected. From each PA 2-7 farmers were interviewed using pre tested semi-structured questionnaires. Secondary data were collected from the district Agriculture and Rural Development Office. Data were analyzed using SPSS soft ware and descriptive statistics. 43 beekeepers interviewed in the district owned total of 259 bee colonies with an average of 6 colonies per household. House holds colonies size varies from 4-12.


About 79.1% of respondents did not control swarming while some of them (14%) control swarming by cutting and removing some part of brood combs. There are different kinds of bee pests and predators in the area. Honey is harvested twice a year. The annual average honey production was 35.51kg/year/colonies. About 83% of beekeepers sale their honey at their home mainly for wedding ceremony while the rest sale their honey for middle merchants for local brewers. The price of honey in the area varies from 1.17 to 2.94 US dollars per kg. From this study it was realized that, there is potential of beekeeping in the Adami Tulu Jido Kombolcha district. Even though there is shortage of bee food during dry season, interviewed farmers indicated that there are many varieties of plants during wet seasons which used as bee food. Almost all beekeeping practices are traditional except little intervention with improved beekeeping practices. However, there is opportunity of improving this activity and farmers also have interest to improve beekeeping practices in the area

Key words: bee colonies, bee enemies, bee forage, bee management, Honey bee


Africa is blessed with numerous types of wild honeybee (Adjare 1990). Ethiopia is one of the countries of the continent which own big honey production potential. Owing to its varied ecological and climatic conditions, Ethiopia is home to some of the most diverse flora and fauna in Africa. Its forests and woodlands contain diverse plant species that provide surplus nectar and pollen to foraging bees (Girma Deffar 1998). Beekeeping is one of the oldest farming practices in the country. There is an ancient tradition for beekeeping in Ethiopia which stretches back into the millennia of the country's early history (Girma Deffar 1988). Of all countries in the world probably no country has a longer tradition of beekeeping than Ethiopia (Hartmann 2004). It has been practiced traditionally. Moreover, beekeeping is an appropriate and well-accepted farming technology and it is best suited to extensive range of ecosystems of tropical Africa. To date, over 10 million of bee colonies are existing, which include both feral, and hived ones (Ayalew Kassaye 2001).


Ethiopia is the largest honey producer in Africa and 10th largest honey producer all over the world. Also considerable amount of wax is produced in the country. On a world level, Ethiopia is fourth in beeswax and tenth in honey production (Girma Deffar 1998). Ethiopia, having the highest number of bee colonies and surplus honey sources of flora, is the leading producer of honey and beeswax in Africa. Ethiopia and Tanzania produce about 2.5% and 1.15% of total world honey production, respectively.


The total honey production of Ethiopia is estimated up to 24000 metric tones; only a small amount of this is marketed. Besides poor marketing conditions the main reason is that about 80% of the total Ethiopian honey production goes in to the local Tej-preparation, a honey wine, which consumed as national drink in large quantities (Hartmann 2004).


However, the products obtained from this sub sector are still low as compared to the potential of the country. Although thousands of tones of honey are produced every year it is usually poorly managed and unattractive in appearance. Because of this its place in the local market being taken by imported honey. Moreover, traditional hive honey is of good quality as long as it is in the hive. Faulty handling, from the time of its harvest until it reaches to market is responsible for its inferior quality. The type of hives used, the methods of removing and storage of honey play a vital role in the quality of honey (Crane 1970, as cited by Edessa Negera 2005).


Ethiopia's wide climatic and edaphic variability have endowed this country with diverse and unique flowering plants, thus making it highly suitable for sustaining a large number of bee colonies and the long established practice of beekeeping. Nevertheless, the bees and the plants they depend on, like all renewable natural resources, are constantly under threat from lack of knowledge and appreciation of these endowments (Girma Deffar 1998).


The principal resource base for beekeeping has, however, become seriously degraded in the course of time. The potential of the Ethiopian landscape for honey and wax production does now, undoubtedly, only constitute a small fraction of its former wealth. Moreover, the destruction of the remaining resource-base can be observed going on at a steadily accelerating pace (Girma Deffar 1998).


Based on this facts even though mid rift valley is believed to have diversified type of vegetation and cultivated crops and expected to be potential for beekeeping activities so far there is no compiled and reliable information on honey production system in the area. The numbers of beekeepers, bee colonies, amount of honey, type of beekeeping practiced and other constraints were not known. Therefore this study was conducted to collect information on potential and constraints of honey production systems of Adami Tulu Jido Kombolcha district in the mid rift valley of Ethiopia.






Materials and methods


The survey was conducted in 9 Peasants Associations (PAs) of Adami Tulu Jido Kombolcha district in mid rift valley of Ethiopia from July to September 2006. They were selected purposively based on their accessibility and beekeeping potential. From each PA 2-7 farmers were interviewed by using pre-tested semi-structured questionnaires. Majority of interviewed farmers were beekeepers (43) while few (8) of them were non-beekeeper or beekeeper in the past but not currently. Secondary data like potential of the area for beekeeping, beekeeping constraints, number of colonies, amount and type of bee hives so far distributed for farmers, number of bee hives (all types) currently available in the district and amount of honey produced per colony were also additionally collected from the district Agricultural and Rural Development Office.


The core points of the questionnaires were on number of bee colonies owned, type of hives used, amount of honey harvested per colony, bee management practices, absconding rate, honey fallow seasons, marketing system of honey, pre and post harvest management, vegetation condition of the area, bee poisoning, pest and predators of honey bees. Collected data were analyzed using SPSS software and descriptive statistics.


Results and discussion


Respondents’ general information


In all sampled peasant association most of beekeepers were relatively aged. The average age for the sampled peasant associations was 43 years old (ranging from 20 to 85 years). The majority of respondents were unable to read and write. Around 41.2% of beekeepers have got adult education and / or none educated while 21.58% of them have attended less than grade 4 level of education. Few women are participated in the beekeeping job in the area. Similarly Hartmann (2004) reported that in Ethiopia traditionally beekeeping is men’s job.


Type of hive possessed, colony distribution, absconding and its causes


About 84.3% of respondents have beehives (colonies) while the rest did not start beekeeping activities yet. Some of the reasons mentioned for this were lack of know how about beekeeping (50%), lack of materials for making bee hives (12.5%), lack of bee flora in the area (12.5%), agro-chemical problem (12.5%) and due to combination of these factors (12.5%). Almost all (98%) and few (2%) of respondents’ possess traditional and modern beehives, respectively. In the area there were about 2230 traditional beehives, 4 modern and none transitional beehives in 2006 according to secondary data obtained from the district Office of Agriculture and Rural Development. The modern box hives were distributed in 2005 by FAO. Very few (2%) of beekeepers have improved beehives. They mentioned that this is because of lack of awareness about it (16.7%), shortage of money to buy it (9.5%), lack of know how about its operations (2.4%), unavailability of improved beehives in the area (2.4%) and combination of lack of awareness and know how about its operations (69.4%).


They have engaged in beekeeping activities for a long period of time with the objectives to get honey for household consumption and to generate cash income from the sale of honey. 65.1% of the respondents prefer to have both transitional and modern hives to expand and to be more benefited from these activities.  The possible reasons indicated were ease of management and high yield obtained from modern hives as compared to the other. Majority (76.7%) of beekeepers need to get advices, short term training and improved technologies to improve their beekeeping activities. Almost all interviewed beekeepers (98%) have never participated on any training on beekeeping or visit of beekeeping center. Only one farmer has got training on general beekeeping practice so far. 43 beekeepers interviewed in the area owned 259 bee colonies with an average of 6 colonies per head. Similarly Hartmann  (2004) reported that in high land of Ethiopia farmers normally do not possess more than 10 beehives. About 70% of respondents have got their bee colonies by trapping swarms using a decay hives (putting smoked hives on branch of trees) while 30% of them got bee colonies both by catching swarm clusters and trapping swarm using a decay hives. Majority (96.1%) of respondents indicated that there is enough number of bee colonies in the area.


All interviewed beekeepers responded that there was absconding and migration immediately following the main honey fallow season and continued throughout the dry season (mainly from October-March) up to the next active period. Except few colonies that have got enough honey combs (stored food) which enable them to survive the dearth period and colonies that got adequate additional food, others were absconded and/or migrated to highlands or towards lake area to search for water and food. The possible reasons indicated for absconding and/or migration were shortage of food, shortage of water, pests and predators of honey bee, poor bee manipulation (management) and lack of protection against bad weather. About 46.5% of the respondents indicated that shortage of food and water were the serious problem than others and they are mainly responsible for absconding and/or migration occurred in the area.  


Honeybee management practices


53.5% of respondents (beekeepers) visit their bees every day while 30.2% of them visit their bees at every three days and the rest visit their bees to check if the hive was occupied with bees and at least during honey harvesting seasons.  Internal hive inspection is totally unknown by beekeepers. About 88.4% of the respondents cleaned their apiary (around tree) and put ash under the tree to avoid small ant and ant like insect from climbing the tree and get access to hives while the rest 11.6% did not clean their apiary or under tree.


Farmers did not have any type of beekeeping equipments and did not bother about their colonies while harvesting. This is because of their experiences that they knew bees abscond or migrate after honey harvesting season. About 58.1% of interviewed beekeepers gave additional food and water for their bees in order not to lose them and hence to harvest honey in the second honey fallow season (May). 79.1% of respondents did not control swarming while some of them(14%) were tried to control swarming by cutting and removing some part of brood combs in which bees has got enough space and developed the remained parts of the combs and produce honey rather than again developing it into brood combs. About 97.6% of the respondents put their hives on a branch of tree ( Figure 1) and the rest at back yard.  

Figure 1.  Traditional beehives hanged on the branches of the tree in the study area

During the survey period it has been observed that farmers who have modern beehives did not manage it properly. This might be due to lack of training and knowledge on improved beekeeping practices, lack of supervision or follow up after hives distribution by donor organizations and might be also due to carelessness of the beekeepers. The hive did not have hive stand rather it has been kept on un appropriate stone and woods ( Figure 2) where as others kept on the ground without any stands ( Figure 3).

Figure 2.  Modern beehive without proper stand in the study area

Figure 3.  Modern beehive surrounded by grasses and shrubs in the study area

Moreover, the hives were totally surrounded by grasses and shrubs. This could affect bees from entering into and coming out from hives. This can waste pollen they collected while they struggle to enter the hives and also kill bee working time.  All of the improved hives observed were superred (addition of extra box) with two boxes, but the activity of colonies was very weak. This implies that beekeepers did not know when to add super and removed it. Also, they did not know the importance of superring and criteria required for superring. Some of the hives did not have lid, but they covered it with plastic materials. Others were in a position to loge down due to unsuitability of stands. Most of the modern hives were not bounded (fenced) and placed on bare land with out shade. If the bees disturbed, they can affect livestock and human being available in the surrounding areas. 


Honey bee flora of the study area


About 96.1% of interviewed beekeepers responded that there are diversified types of bee flora. Many cultivated crops in the area serve as pollen, nectar, or both pollen and nectar sources. Mainly shrubs, cultivated crops, forbs, herbs, weeds and some woody plants are the main bee forages for the honey harvested in October while most woody plants are the main source of pollen and nectar for honey harvested in May. According to the beekeepers response there are a wide variety of plants which are used as honey bee flora. Respondents indicated that even though there are different types of bee plants in the area during wet seasons, there is a shortage of bee food during the dry seasons. They also indicated that bee forages become declining as compared with the past period due to deforestation and expansion of cultivated lands in the area.


Pests and predators of honey bees


Beekeepers were interviewed on the prevalence of bee pests and predators. They mentioned the following bee enemies: ant like insects, birds, spiders, monkey or apes, honey badger and lizard like animals. According to the response of beekeepers honey badger attack was a serious problem in the district. As a result of this predators attack a considerable amount of honey lost and absconding was occurred. 76.7% of beekeepers protect some of bee enemies by rapping smooth iron sheet and spine around tree. Some farmers tried to protect honey badger by using rope around entrance of hive that can hang the predators’ neck and also by hanging hives on the branch of tree by using stick which has branch from both ends. Other pests and predators were protected by frequent cleaning around tree, using ash and by killing the enemies. None of the interviewed beekeepers were responded for the availability of bee diseases. According to farmers response both brood and adult honey bee diseases were not available in their area.


Honey production and management


Honey is harvested at the time when beekeepers expected that honey is ready for harvest with out checking whether the honey is ripened or not. During honey harvesting from traditional hives, beekeepers cut and pull the fixed combs one by one. Pollen, brood, and honey combs were removed and all kept in the same container. Any comb pulled out of the hive (if it is empty) could not be returned. Beekeepers harvest the honey or bring the hive to the ground to harvest by using smoke. 67.4% of interviewed beekeepers in the area use wood for smoking during harvesting while the rest of beekeepers use dung, old clothes and combinations of wood, animal dung and old clothes. During harvesting 16.3% of them annex the whole honey and 83.7% of the interviewed farmers left 1-2 combs (52.5%), 2-3 combs (30.6%), and 3-5 combs (16.7%) of honey for their bees. In the area honey was harvested two times a year provided that bees did not abscond and/ or migrate before the second honey fallow season. Large amount of honey was harvested from late September to early November while small amount was harvested in May. This might be attributed to availability of abundant flower difference between the two seasons.


Similar results were reported by Rivera et al (2007). Most of the farmers (90.7%) store honey in clay pots until consumption or sale. Considerable number (34.9%) of interviewed farmers faced a problem by using this container for honey storage while 65.1% of farmers did not face any problems by using the container. The observed problems due to container were quick crystallization and fermentation of honey, changing of general appearance and taste of honey. Majority (93%) of farmer reported that their honey were granulated quickly and they melt it to change it to liquid honey by putting honey with its container near fire and by using sun light (solar energy).They kept honey in cold room or use very tighten containers to store it for a long period of time. However, they indicated that there is lack of appropriate honey container and processing equipments. The average honey yield in the survey area was 7.12kg/colony (ranging from 2kg to 15kg/colony) while the annual average honey production was 35.51kg/year/available colonies/household (ranging from 4kg to 80kg /year).


Honey marketing


Number of hives, amount of honey produced and money obtained from the sale of honey per PA per household are given in Table 1.

Table 1.  Number of hives, amount of honey produced and money obtained from the sale of honey per PA per household (HH)


No. of hives with colonies

Honey obtained, kg

Money earned,


No. of colonies per HH

Honey yield/hive, kg

Money obtained per HH, USD

Price of 1kg of honey

Korme Bujure

83 (16)







Wilcho Boramo

135 (37)







Bara Hobicho

32 (6)






2.19 USD

Jela Aluto

314 (27)







Hoetu Basuma
















Gobajocho Asebo








Wayiso Kanchara








Gofita Rasa
















Galo Hirape
























Galati Migira
















Ellellan Ababu
















Note: numbers in bracket indicate farmers involved in beekeeping activities

Majority (93%) of respondent sell their honey while the rest produce honey only for home consumption. Only 12% and 5% of beekeepers sold their honey to middle merchants and local brewers, respectively, where as 83% of them sold their honey at their home mainly for wedding ceremony and sometimes for medical purposes. The price of honey in the area varies from 1.17 to 2.94 US dollars per kg with the majority between 1.76 to 2.35 US dollars. Almost all farmers have at least one market center where to buy or sale their honey. In the area the price of honey subjected to fluctuation with highest price in the dry seasons especially during wedding time (January to April) and also during wet seasons (June to August) in the period when there was no honey production and lowest price during honey harvesting time (September to November and May). In general marketing of honey in the area is promising.


They use honey as food, drinks, medicine and for cultural ritual or ceremony. Almost all interviewed beekeepers did not harvest beeswax because of lack of awareness about the product, lack of processing skill and materials, and lack of beeswax market. As a result no one has benefited from the product except using it for oiling of local food baking materials.


Constraints of honey production system in the study area


Lack of bee equipments (like modern hives, casting mold, frame wires), bee equipment  accessories, high rate of absconding; poisoning of bees by agro chemicals, lack of appropriate honey processing materials; lack of skilled manpower, limited beekeeping training for farmers and experts, poor pre and post harvest management of honey, lack of appropriate honey containers, predators, shortage of bee food and water, low productivity of colonies and lack of attention from concerned body to improve the traditional beekeeping system.


Conclusions and recommendations





We would like to express our gratitude to Japan International Cooperating Agency (JICA) for funding this study. Our thanks also go to Adami Tulu Jido-Kombolcha District Agriculture and Rural Development Office for providing secondary data on beekeeping   and peasant association leaders for their cooperation in facilitating the data collection. Lastly but not least we are thankful to farmers in the study area for their willing to be interviewed and giving us all necessary information.




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Received 27 July 2007; Accepted 4 September 2007; Published 1 November 2007

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