Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (3) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Review on the role of honeybee in climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation

Yetimwork Gebremeskel Gebru, Awet Estifanos Gebre1 and Gebremedhn Beyene

Mekele University, College of Dryland Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Animal, Rangeland and Wildlife Sciences, P.O.Box 231, Mekele, Tigray, Ethiopia
1 Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Institute of Animal Science, Beijing, Haiden District 100081, PR China


This review paper attempts to identify the role of honeybees in climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation and to change the perception that consider honey bees are only for the production of honey. The words ‘apiculture’ and ‘beekeeping’ tend to be applied loosely and used synonymously. The product that most people first associate with bees is honey, although beekeeping generates much more than just honey. Honey is one of several different products that can be harvested: others are beeswax, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom, and the use of bees in apitherapy, which are “medicine” using the bee and its products. In many ecosystems, bees are important pollinators ensuring the maintenance of those ecosystems and for the production of good quality and quantity of different crops. Beekeeping can be an important sustainable and alternative source of income in rural areas, benefiting communities living in and around forests. Most importantly beekeeping can also be a practical tool for raising the awareness of these communities on the importance of forests management and for stimulating their conservation by improving their biodiversity. Through promotion of these production functions, it would trigger the global effort to mitigate climate change.

Keywords: beekeeping, conservation, forest management, Greeneconomy and Pollination


Honey hunting and beekeeping, i.e. keeping bees inside man-made hives and harvesting honey from them, has been practiced by humans for at least 4500 years - so human societies have long been aware of the worthwhile benefits to be gained from bees (Crane 1990). Apis is Latin word for bee, and apiculture is the science and practice of bee keeping. The words ‘apiculture’ and ‘beekeeping’ tend to be applied loosely and used synonymously: in some parts of the world, significant volumes of honey are today still obtained by plundering wild colonies of bees this ‘honey hunting’ cannot be properly described as ‘beekeeping’. However, honey hunting still remains an important part of many rural livelihoods (Nicola 2009). According to the same author the product that most people first associate with bees is honey, although beekeeping generates much more than just honey. The maintenance of biodiversity and pollination of crops are the most valuable services provided by bees.


Beekeeping is an environmentally friendly and non-farm business activity that has immense contribution to the economy of segments of the society and to a national economy (Bersmp 2008). Ethiopia has a huge natural resource base for honey production and other hive products, and beekeeping is traditionally a well-established household activity in almost all parts of the country. Moreover, it has a “variety” of honeybees, each with demerits and variations in productivity. With three major climatic zones in Ethiopia, there are different lengths in flowering seasons, also influencing the honey productivity (Robert 2010).


Beekeeping in Ethiopia plays an important role in income generation for beekeepers (farmers). According to Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation  pure honey production in Ethiopia is estimated to be about 26 tons a year, about 2/3 of which is used for making the honey wine, "tej". Ethiopia is ranked as the third exporter of wax in Africa, collecting about 3000 tons of beeswax annually (Robert 2010). In the country, an average of 420 million Eth. Birr or 35 million USD is obtained annually from the sale of honey. Honey production of the country meets beverage requirements of the urban and rural population. It is also demanded for its nutritional and medicinal values. The others hive products such as beeswax; royal jelly, propolis and bee venom have high demand globally but little is done in the case of Ethiopia (Gidey and Kibrom 2010). As a result of this the benefit from the sub-sector to the nation as well as to the farmers, traders, processors and exporters is not satisfactory. Infact this is due to challenges related to aggressiveness of the bees, disease, wind, pest, robbery, lack of knowledge about bee management and a need for usage of more modern equipment. 


It is still possible and important to harvest high quality, excellent products from bees using simple equipment and techniques, building on the traditions held in almost every society. Moreover, it is critical to identify alternative mechanisms in which the honey producers and other actors can overcome and add value to their products, and become stronger negotiators in local, regional, and international markets, thereby securing their income and livelihoods. As one of the best options diversification of bee products into beeswax, pollen and propolis, royal jelly and bee venom, and the use of bees in apitherapy, which is a medicine value using bee would be crucial.  The objective of this piece of paper is therefore to high light the benefits of bees in addition to that of honey and wax production.


Contribution of bee on management and forest conservation


According to the study by Japan Association for International Collaboration of Agriculture and Forestry, once local people begin practicing apiculture, they become accustomed to be conscious of their relation with apiculture resources surrounding them through honey bees and the products. They begin to think about the question from where honey bees settling hives originate, and to contemplate the relationship between the abundance of stored honey and that of flowers coming to bloom (Mary 2009). It is clear that in the areas where the acquisition of honey bees depends on wild colonies and the nectar sources depend on natural vegetation, the basic elements of apiculture derive from the richness of the nature that provides two resources (nectar and pollen). Therefore the closer the relationship between life and apiculture becomes, the much higher the consciousness of conservation of forest and natural vegetation is raised. In most parts of Ethiopia since the past few years it is observed such type of traditional efforts toward the conservation of natural vegetation through beekeeping (Ingrid 2004). Hence, the apiculture development has made it possible to raise people´s awareness of the natural environment and to lead them to engage in the conservation activities side by side with beekeeping.


Moreover, Ingrid (2004) stated that apiculture which depends on the natural vegetation for nectar sources, the richness of natural vegetation assures the richness of the nectar source and sustains the honey production. The ecological structure like this can be recognized most readily by beekeepers from the viewpoint of economics that the natural vegetation as nectar sources is equivalent to the production of honey, and constitutes the most important element in the principle of conservation. When the activities of apiculture is introduced and developed, the more heavily a region depends on the natural environment for nectar sources, the higher can become the level of improvement of awareness of conservation of natural vegetation (recognition that it is important to respect the forest preserve and to protect the remaining vegetation, from the viewpoint of conservation of nectar and/or pollen sources), and the level of responsive actions of the residents there.


Bees, pollination and plant productivity


The greatest added value of beekeeping lies in the fact that bees pollinate agricultural and horticultural plants. About one third of all plants or plant products eaten by humans depend directly or indirectly on bees for their pollination (Bradbear 2009). Crops pollinated by bees have been proven to produce higher yields and better quality, often at no extra cost for the farmer, rather crop seed yield increment. Yet, many farmers consider bees and other as harmful insects (Berenbaum 2007).


When a bee has found the flowers of a certain kind of plant, it investigates their comparative advantage. If the flowers produce a fair amount of nectar and/or pollen, the bee encourages hive-mates to use this source. The bees will visit these flowers as long as sufficient food can be collected from them. This flower constancy makes bees exceptionally valuable to plants needing to be cross-pollinated. If there are enough bee colonies in the area at flowering time, the plants will give higher yields and the quality of the fruits will also be improved (Leen et al 2005).


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for human nutrition the benefits of pollination include not just the abundance of fruits, nuts and seeds, but also their variety and quality. The contribution of animal-pollinated foodstuffs to human nutritional diversity, vitamin sufficiency and food quality is substantial. Just as the agricultural community is taking stock of the contribution of pollination to orchard, horticultural and forage production, populations of managed pollinators (the honeybee Apis mellifera and its Asian relatives) are experiencing new and poorly understood threats. Fortunately, with a greater appreciation of the role of pollination in food production comes a greater understanding of the major contribution of wild pollinators (Bradbear 2009). 


According to the study of Roger and Nicholas in U.S honey bees are very much a part of the modern American agricultural picture. It is estimated that there are 2.9 million colonies in the United States today (owned by beekeepers with five or more colonies). Over two million of these colonies are on the road each year to pollinate crops and to produce honey and beeswax. This represents a major change in U.S  agriculture since the first colonies of honey bees were rented for pollination on apples in New Jersey in 1909, and since the first migratory beekeeping for the purposes of honey production began in this country in latter part of the 1800s (Roger and Nicholas 2000).


The yield of plants pollinated by honeybees can be increased in quality and quantity. According to Crane (1990) honeybees can increase the yield of Citrus sinensis by 30%, watermelon by 100% and tomatoes by 25%. Adimasu et al (2004) also reported that onion yields had increased by 94% due to honeybee’s pollination. Moreover, in Ethiopia researches indicate bees can benefit 250 – 300 folds through pollinating particularly pulse seeds and vegetables in raising the production higher than their direct products – honey and wax.“ (Walta Information Center 1999 as cited by Ingrid (2004). Ingrid also stated that the global estimate of the value of the service of pollination is US$ 65 – 70 billion, representing a 46% loss of global harvests. The following table indicated that the number of honeybee colonies required for different cultivated crops per hectare. 

Table 1: The proportion Apis mellifera honeybee colonies to cultivated plants for better harvest

Plant type

Bee colonies per hectare

Alfalfa (Lucerne) seed






Asparagus seed






Brassica (canola, oilseed rape)


Carrot seed


Clover seed (White)


















Pumpkin, squash, gourd








Onion seeds


Source: Bradbear, 2009

Potential role of beekeeping in poverty alleviation


In Ethiopia strategies to eradicate poverty in the country honey production is the priority agricultural area (IBC 2007).  Beekeeping can be practised as a safety net, providing households with extra income from the sales of honey and other beehive products. According to the report by Oxfam beekeeping in Ethiopia provides employment for two million people and, with more than 10 million bee colonies, Ethiopia is the largest producer of honey in Africa (Oxfam 2010).


Moreover, bee products are nutritious food that can be an extra source of energy and nutrients. Honey can be easily stored, and sold or consumed in times of need (SNV 2009). As mentioned above, beekeeping can be started up with few resources, even by landless households, as bees collect nectar where they can and it is easy to manage by women. It is not a labour-intensive activity and can therefore easily be combined with the other daily activities. Beekeepers can organize themselves in Beekeeping Associations, improve their techniques, increase production and strengthen their position on the market (Charlotte 2010). The returns for beekeeping will eventually contribute to the wellbeing of the whole community. In terms of apiculture, the least visible livelihood outcome is the pollination of flowering plants, both wild and cultivated: this is an outcome impossible to quantify. However, in the developed countries the use of bees by renting or purchasing from the beekeeper or bee breeder in different farm is important source of income for the family.


Honey is a traditional medicine or food in nearly all societies and whether sold in a simple way at village level or packaged more sophisticatedly, honey generates income and can create livelihoods for several sectors within a society (Gotte 1998).


Beeswax is also a valuable product from beekeeping, although in some places its value is not appreciated. Industrialized countries are net importers of beeswax, and the supply comes from developing countries. The beekeepers and other people in a community can create further assets by using honey and beeswax to make secondary products, such as candles, beauty creams or beer. Selling a secondary product brings a far better return for the producer than selling the raw commodity. Bees also generate other products (pollen, propolis and royal jelly) that can in some situations be harvested, marketed and made into secondary products: all of this work effectively strengthening people’s livelihoods (Leen et al 2005). And the family becomes less vulnerable, strengthening their ability to look into the future, and reducing the chance that they will slip into poverty if a member of the family becomes ill or if a season is bad for farming or other activities.


In addition to their financial value, honey and beeswax have many cultural values and form part of ceremonies for birth, marriages, funerals, Christmas and other religious celebrations in many societies. Beekeepers are generally respected for their craft. All of these aspects are Livelihood Outcomes from the activity of beekeeping. While some may be difficult or impossible to quantify, they are real outcomes that strengthen people’s livelihoods and therefore should be acknowledged by a beekeeping intervention (Bradbear 2009).



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Received 14 November 2015; Accepted 15 February 2016; Published 1 March 2016

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