Livestock Research for Rural Development 26 (10) 2014 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Characterization of bee-keeping systems and honey marketing in Eastern zone Tigray, Ethiopia

Yetimwork Gebremeskel, Berhan Tamir1 and Desalegn Begna2

Debre Berhan University, P.O.Box 445, Debre Berhan, Amhara, Ethiopia
1 College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture, Addis Ababa University, P.O.Box 34, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
2 Holleta Bee Research Center, P.O.Box 22, Holeta, Ethiopia


The study was conducted in Kilte Awlaelo District (KAD), Eastern Zone of Tigray, Ethiopia to characterize beekeeping systems and honey marketing.


From the interviewed beekeepers 4.50% and14.5% own only traditional bee hive and both traditional and framed beehive, respectively. About 95.5% of the beekeepers own framed hive with an average number of 6.39 hive/hh and in average produce 19.4 kg/hive/harvest. Majority of the beekeepers inspect the apiary and colonies every day and few of them (1.90%) yearly at the time of honey harvest. The majority of the beekeepers (85.3%) sell their honey at a local market. More than half of the beekeepers (51.30%) store their honey in plastic pot, tine cane, glass and clay pot. From this study it was realized that, there is a potential of honey bee production in the district and it is dominated by framed hive (modern) production system. This calls for proper intervention along the value chain components and actors, and involves huge investment in the development of honey production, processing and export.

Key words: beehive source, colony inspection, framed hive, honey storage, traditional hive


Beekeeping has a long history in Ethiopia (Ayalew and Gezahegn 1991). According to these authors there is a huge potential for honey production in the country and the subsector is an important livelihood activity in almost all regions owing to the prevailing ecological and floral diversity. It is an environmentally safe venture contributing much to the improvement of the livelihood of bee keepers. According to the report by the Central Statics Authority of Ethiopia beekeeping is an important economic activity that employs up to 2 million people. With about 5 million bee colonies confined in hives (CSA 2009), Ethiopia is the largest producer of honey in Africa.


Despite the potential to produce huge volume of honey and bees wax, current production is limited to only 43,000 MT of honey and 3,000 MT of bee wax  which is about 10% of the potential. Meanwhile, globally, there is large and growing demand for honey, as well as for beeswax and other bee products with nutritional or medicinal qualities (Gizachew 2010). Significant proportion of the honey produced in the country is used for domestic consumption mainly for making a local drink known as Tej (Hartmann 2004). On the contrary, evidences indicate that the amount of honey exported is comparatively low and this is due to the low quality of the honey produced among other reasons (SNV 2005; Beyene and David 2007).


In Tigray beekeeping has a long-standing tradition, dating back to ancient times during the kingdom of Abyssinia. It currently has strong growing end markets making it viable enterprise for women and landless youth (USAID 2008). The number of bee colonies in Tigray was estimated to be 206,040 (63 % and 37% of which are traditional and framed bee hive, respectively (BoARD 2010). According to (Meaza 2010) one season honey production was 25,454 quintal and 2008/09 annual production was 31,000 quintal. Though, beekeeping practice in recent years is improving, the contribution of honey production for the region to national honey production is still minimal (around 5%).  Hence, study of the existing honey production systems; honey marketing will help to give important and feasible recommendation for further improvement of the beekeeping system sustainably, the objective of the study is therefore to assess the beekeeping systems and product marketing.


Study Area


This study was  conducted in Kilte Awlaelo District one of the district in Tigray regional state, Ethiopia, located 830 km North  of Addis Ababa, about 45 km east of the  capital, Mekelle. It is situated at an altitude ranging from 1980 m to 2500 m a.s.l.  with the average daily  temperature of the area ranging from 15 oC to 30 oC. The mean annual rainfall of the area is about 558 mm.


Sampling procedure and sample size


The study was conducted in three randomly selected kebelles of the district (Adikisandid, Gemade and Genfel). A total of 156 beekeepers were randomly selected and approached for interview. The sample size (N) was determined using the formula recommended by (Arsham 2005) as N = 0.25/SE2, where N is sample size, and SE is the standard error. A SE of 4% was considered for determination of the sample size.


Data collection and analysis


Information about the household characteristics of the sampled beekeepers, types and sources of hive used,  the purpose of keeping honey bees, harvesting and marketing system of  honey and other hive products were collected through interviews using a semi structured questionnaire. The generated information was analyzed using descriptive statistics of SPSS (SPSS ©, Version 20).

Results and discussion

General household characteristics


Family size, experience in beekeeping, age of household head and land holding of the respondents are indicated in Table 1. 

Table 1. Summary of household characteristics in Kilte Awlaelo district

Socio-economic character





Family size





Age of household head (yrs.)





Experience in beekeeping (yrs.)





land holding (ha)





From the total of 156 sampled households interviewed, majority (88.5%) were male headed while few (11.5%) were female headed. Thus, the study result indicated that the participation of women in beekeeping is better than the finding by different authors in different area of the country (Tessega 2009, Tesfaw 2012) and contradicted with (Hertmann 2004, Solomon 2009 and Mengistu 2010).


The average family size of the beekeepers was 6.83 with minimum and maximum family size of 1 and 12, respectively. Majority of the beekeepers stated that labor is one of the important factors to their beekeeping practices. As Workneh et al 2011 stated that beekeepers with large family size have interest to accept improved beekeeping technologies. The age of the respondents ranged from 20 to 80 years with a mean of 47.62 years. The result showed that beekeeping can be performed by different age groups who are economically active and the beekeepers exercised beekeeping from 9 to 34 years.

Table 2. Educational level of the beekeepers

Educational level

Number of respondent






Can read and write



Primary education






Secondary education



Majority (57.1%) of the beekeepers in this study attend formal education i e. primary, junior and secondary education. While 25.6% could only read and write through different informal education. However, the rest 17.3% were illiterate (Table2). Education is an important factor which if lacking can negatively impact on future improved beekeeping and livestock production. Thus, farmers (beekeepers) need to get basic education, for the reasons of adopting new technologies.


Honey production system, honey productivity and hive ownership


Beekeepers management practices, types of hive and level of technology were used to identify honey production systems in the study area. According to these criteria, the study area is dominated by framed hive (modern) production system. From the interviewed beekeepers 4.50% own only traditional beehive and 14.5% possess both traditional and framed beehive. As the district apiculture expert explained since 2004 the use of modern apicultural technology in the district increased and the farmer is well aware about the advantage of the technology to the quality and quantity honey production. The highest percentage in modern hive availability indicated that the potential of the area for beekeeping and the attention of the regional government and different NGOs in the district to support the beekeepers in training, credit and different modern beekeeping technology transfer.


The productivity of the hive is different due to difference in management and environment. This is mainly due to bee forage availability. The mean honey production of traditional hive was 7.66 kg/hive/harvesting with 3kg and 20kg/hive/harvesting of minimum and maximum honey production. The average honey yield of the district was more than the national average reported by (GDS 2009). The mean productivity from one framed hive is 19.4kg/hive/harvesting ranging 3kg to 60 kg /hive/harvesting. However, the large differences between the minimum and maximum honey production per hive might be due to difference in management practices and availability of year round bee forages.

Table 3. Number of colony, hive condition and productivity







Number of traditional colony (owned/hh)






Number of framed hive colony (owned/hh)






Honey produce (traditional hive) kg/harvest






Honey produce(framed hive ) kg/harvest






According to the survey result, 98.7% and 1.30% of the sample respondents replied that they construct and purchase their traditional hive, respectively. Majority (83.3%) of the sampled respondents own framed hive from BoARD (Table 4). From the result NGO´s also participated in the distribution of framed hive in the district. Thus, 12.8% and 1.30% of the respondents have got their modern hive from different NGOs on credit bases and support, respectively and 2.60% purchased framed hive from local market sold by other farmers.

Table 4. Distribution of respondents by source of hives (percent)


Sources of  hive

Cost/hive ( birr)

Home made

Local market


NGO support






























GOV=governmental, NGO= nongovernmental

Colony inspection and honey harvesting frequency


Majority of the beekeepers inspect their apiary and colonies every day and 9.00%, 30.1%, 2.60% 3.20% inspect every two to three days, weekly, every two weeks and monthly, respectively (Figure 1). However, 1.90% inspect yearly only at the time of honey harvesting. Only 1.90% of the respondents replied that based on the season of the year they harvest up to three times a year where as about 61.5% and 36.5 % harvest once and twice a year, respectively. However, harvesting frequency varies from place to place which is directly related to the availability of pollen and nectar source plants and existence different management. Farmers found near irrigated area harvest three times a year. Similar result was reported by Gidey et al (2012) in Asgede Tsimbla district, Tigray, which in most cases is determined by the existences of bee forages.

Figure 1. Frequency of honeybee colony inspection and honey harvesting in kilte-awlaelo district
Honey marketing, storage containers and income from beekeeping


As honey is a good source of income, most of what farmers produce was brought to different market places. About 82.7% of the producers sell all the produce. Sixteen percent use for both home and sell and 1.30% use only for home consumption. Similarly, Tessega (2009) and Nebiyu and Messele (2013) reported similar production purposes. The market areas includes nearby market, main honey market, at home, to beekeepers cooperative and in the capital city Mekelle (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Honey marketing places in Kilte Awlaelo district

Beekeepers that have no critical financial problems keep their honey for extended period of time to get better price of honey in the off season. More than half of the beekeepers (51.3%)  store their honey. Out of which 14.7%, 15.4% and 21.2% store for 1-3 months, 4-6 months and more than 6 months. Whereas, 48.7% sell immediately after harvesting. Plastic pots, tin can, glass and clay pots are used as a major storage container (Figure 3). The storage containers in KAD are different from the finding by Tessega (2009) in Amehara region which use plastic sack, gourd and animal skin for honey storage. In addition, for the beekeepers in Bench-Maji Zone, the primary storing and transporting material for honey is gourd pot (Awraris et al 2012).

Figure 3. Honey storage (packing) materials in Kilte Awlaelo district

On average beekeepers earn 9180 and 6837 birr per year from the sale of honey and colonies, respectively (Figure 4). The average income found to be higher than similar study by (Assefa 2009) in Atsbi Wemberta district. However, the use of other hive product like bee wax is very minimal, which is 1.30%. Use of framed hive, lack of knowledge and materials are some of the reasons for the low harvesting of bees wax. Similar result was reported by (Beyene and David 2007) and (Nebiyu and Messele 2013) in their study as none of the beekeepers with intermediate and framed hives are collecting crude wax.  

Figure 4. Average income from honey, wax and bee colony in kilte-awlaelo district



We would like to express our gratitude to Addis Ababa University, College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture, Ethiopia for funding this study. Our thanks go to Kilte Awlaelo District Office Agriculture and Rural Development for providing secondary data on beekeeping,   and kebelle leaders and development agents for their cooperation in facilitating the data collection process. Last but not least we are thankful to farmers in the study area for their willingness to provide all the necessary information.


Arsham H 2005 Questionnaire design and survey sampling 9th edition, (Retrieved September 2011). 

Assefa A 2009 market chain analysis of honey production in Atsbi Wemberta district, eastern zone of Tigray Ethiopia. A Thesis Submitted to College of Agriculture Department of Agricultural Economics, School of Graduate Studies Haramaya University. 

Awraris G, Yemisrach G, Dejen A, Nuru A, Gebeyehu G and Workneh A 2012 Honey production systems (Apis mellifera L.) in Kaffa, Sheka and Bench-Maji zones of Ethiopia. Journal of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development Vol. 4(19). Available online at 

Ayalew K and Gezahegn T 1991 Suitability Classification in Agricultural Development, Ministry of Agriculture, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

Beyene T and David P 2007 Ensuring small scale producers in Ethiopia to achieve sustainable and fair access to honey markets. Paper prepared for international development enterprises (IDE) and Ethiopian society for appropriate technology (ESAT), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  

BoARD (Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development) 2010 Annual report of Tigray region Ethiopia. 

CSA (Central Statistics Authority) 2009 Ethiopian Statistical Abstract 2002 Central Statistics Authority. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

GDS (Global Development Solutions) 2009 Global Development Solutions paper. pp 19-29.

Gidey Y, Bethelhem K, Dawit K and Alem M 2012 Assessment of beekeeping practices in Asgede Tsimbla district, Northern Ethiopia: Absconding, bee forage and bee pests. African Journal of Agricultural Research Vol. 7(1), pp. 1-5. Available at 

Gizachew S 2011 Women Economic Leadership through Honey Value chain Development in Ethiopia. Paper presented on Workshop on Gender & Market Oriented Agriculture 1st February 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

Hartmann I 2004 the management of resources and marginalization in beekeeping Societies of South West Ethiopia. Paper submitted to the conference: Bridge Scales and Epistemologies, Alexandria. P.1  

Meaza G  2010 Socio-economic analysis of market oriented beekeeping in Atsbi Wemberta District of Eastern Zone, Tigray Region. MSc. Thesis. Mekelle University Department of Management College of Business and Economics, Ethiopia. 

Mengistu A 2010 Improving market access and income of small-scale beekeepers through value chain analysis: a case study from Gera District in South West of Ethiopia. Msc thesis presented at Copenhagen University, Faculty of Life Sciences. 

Nebiyu Y and Messele T 2013 honeybee production in the three Agro-ecological districts of Gamo Gofa zone of southern Ethiopia with emphasis on constraints and opportunities.  Agriculture and biology journal of North America ISSN Print: 2151-7517, ISSN Online: 2151-7525, doi:10.5251/abjna.2013.4.5.560.567 

SNV/Ethiopia, 2005 Strategic intervention plan on honey & beeswax value-chains, snv support to business organizations and their access to markets (boam), p: 5. 

Solomon B 2009 Indigenous knowledge and its relevance for sustainable beekeeping development: a case study in the Highlands of Southeast Ethiopia. Livestock Research for Rural Development 21 (11) 2009.  

Tessega B 2009 Honeybee Production and Marketing Systems, Constraints and opportunities in Burie District of Amhara Region, Ethiopia. A Thesis Submitted to the Department of Animal Science and Technology, School of Graduate Studies Bahir dar University. 

Tesfaw T 2012 Beekeeping systems, opportunities and challenges in honey production and marketing in Ada'a district of Oromia region, Ethiopia. A Thesis Submitted to the Department of Animal production studies to Addis Ababa University College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture, Ethiopia. 

USAID/Ethiopia 2008 Sector assessment and identification, Kilte Awlaelo incorparating sector assessment/identification into a graduation pilot for safety net beneficiaries, pp: 42. 

Workneh A, Ranjan S K and Ranjitha P 2011 Determinants of Box Hive Promotion and Financial Benefits in Selected District Of  Ethiopia. International Journal of Agricultural Science, Research and Technology.

Received 7 July 2014; Accepted 6 September 2014; Published 3 October 2014

Go to top