Livestock Research for Rural Development 27 (5) 2015 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Honeybee production systems in Kewet District of Amhara, Ethiopia

Gebremedhn Beyene

College of Dry land Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Animal, Range land and Wildlife Sciences, Mekelle University, P.O.Box 231, Mekelle, Ethiopia


A cross sectional survey was conducted with 60 purposively selected beekeepers as respondents to assess constraints and opportunities in the honeybee production systems in Kewet district of North Shewa zone Amhara Regional State. Data were analyzed using SPSS version 20 software.

The main sources of the foundation colony were either purchase (33.3%) or catching swarm (66.7%) and Most (53.33%) of the beekeepers in the study area own traditional hives, transitional (13.33%) and movable frame hives (33.33%). Beekeepers in the study area prevent the incidence of swarming by removal of queen cells (23.33%), honey combs harvest (16.67%), return back to the colony (33.33%), supering (16.67%) and using large volume hive (10%). The most important constraints of beekeeping in the study area were pesticides and herbicides application (1st), pests and predators (2nd), absconding (3rd), death of colony (4th) and swarming (5th). However, the study area has huge opportunities and potentials so as to boost the honey and wax production.

Keywords: absconding, beekeepers, bee pests, colony, hives


Ethiopia has a huge natural resource base for honey production. Beekeeping is a well-established household activity in almost all parts of the country. But the benefit from the sector to the nation and beekeepers is not satisfactory. Beekeeping sector provides an employment opportunity for many Ethiopian. About 4,601,806 hives exist in Ethiopia out of which about 95.5% was traditional, 4.3% transitional and 0.20% frame hives (Beyene and Davide 2007).

The elimination of good nectar and pollen producing tree species in many areas makes it difficult to maintain bee colonies without feeding (Kerealem 2005). In recent years, the contributions of beekeeping in poverty reduction, sustainable development and conservation of natural resources have been recognized and well emphasized by the government of Ethiopia and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

In Kewet district, traditional honey production is a common practice, Indigenous apiculture knowledge has not been supported by adequate research and extension efforts and constraints to beekeeping are not identified. Therefore, this study was conducted with an aim to identify the constraints of indigenous beekeeping production and management in the area, to assess the opportunities, potentials and overall honeybee production in the study area.


Description of study area

The study was conducted at Kewet, which is located at about 225 km north east of Addis Ababa close to the highway to Dessie. It is located at 11° 55’ N latitude and 37° 20’ E longitude at an altitude of 1380 m.a.s.l. The area has an average annual rainfall of 1007 mm, with short rain between March and April and long rain between June and September, and annual mean minimum and maximum temperatures of 16.5 and 31°C, respectively (BoA, 2000).

Sampling procedure and sample size

The study was conducted in three peasant associations of the district (Tere, Yelen and Birbira) selected by purposive sampling technique where beehive productions dominant. A total of 60 beekeepers were purposively selected and approached for interview.

Data collection and analysis

Information about the household characteristics of the sampled beekeepers, types and sources of hive used, the swarming and absconding incidences, colony inspection, attractant materials used to baiting hives, constraints and opportunities and the like were collected through interviews using a semi-structured questionnaire. Secondary data was collected from district’s rural agricultural development office. The generated information was entered into database and analyzed using descriptive statistics of SPSS (SPSS , Version 20).

Results and Discussion

Socio-Economic Characteristics of the Respondents

The mean age of the beekeepers was 40.1 years (Table 1) with standard deviation of 8.73 for Kewet district. The minimam and maximam age of interviewed beekeepers was 23 and 65 years old for Kewet, respectively. This survey result showed that people in the most productive age are actively engaged in beekeeping activities.

Table 1. Average age, beekeeping experience, family size and land holding of the sample respondents in the study areas
Socio-economic indicators of respondents (Average) Kewet district
Age of households 40.1
Experience (year) 11.4
Family size (person) 7
Land holding (hectare) 0.84
Sex (Male) in number 53
Sex (Female) in number 7

The beekeepers had an average experience of 11.4 (ranges from 1 to 39) (Table 1). The level of beekeepers’ experience was taken to be the number of years that an individual was continuously engaged in beekeeping. The very limited number of female participation in beekeeping agrees with the findings of Adebabay (2008), Tewodros (2010) and Workenehet al (2011) who reported low level of women participation in beekeeping.

Table 2. Educational level of the beekeepers
Level of education % of respondents who have attained education
Illiterate 33.3
Basic educationa 1.7
Grade 1-4 30
Grade 5-8 0
Grade 9-12 35
Total 100
aThis includes those respondents who can read and write, including church school.

Educational level of the farming households may have significant importance in identifying and determining the type of development and extension service approaches. The high level of illiteracy in Kewet district limits the effectiveness of formal training programs and requires more emphasis to be placed on practical demonstration of essential concepts especially in improved beekeeping. Traditional beekeeping practices are based on informal opportunities and an individual's level of formal education does not matter (Gichora 2003).

Beekeeping practices

Beekeeping is an important agricultural practice in the mixed farming systems of the area. Based on their level of technological advancement, there are three types of beehives (Table 3) used for honey production in the study area. These are traditional, intermediate and movable frame beehives. In the study area most of the traditional hives are either made locally by the beekeepers for domestic use or handcraft men for sale in local markets. The predominance of traditional hive in the study area is similar with other findings conducted in the Northern, South Western and Central parts of Ethiopia which showed that traditional beekeeping is predominantly practiced in most parts of Ethiopia (Kerealem et al 2009; Kebede and Lemma 2007; Nuru 2007).

Table 3. Honeybee production system
Beehive type Number of beekeepers (n) Total %
Traditional 32 53.3
Intermediate 8 13.3
Movable frame 20 33.3

During interview with respondents, it was discovered that the capture of natural swarms is a traditional and common technique which was practiced almost by all beekeepers in the study area as a source of colony for colony expansion. Colony multiplication as means of getting new swarm is not introduced and practiced by any of the beekeepers in the study area. To create supply of sustainable and quality bee colony in the area, colony multiplication technique should be promoted through training.

Table 4. Sources of honeybee colonies in the study areas
Sources of colony Percent of beekeepers respondents
Swarm catching 66.7
From parents (as gift) -
Buying colonies 33.3
Total 100
Honeybee Management Practices
  1. Placement of honeybee colonies

The majority of the respondents (Table 5) were keeping their bees in backyard, under the eaves of the house, hanging on trees near homestead/forest and in area enclosure. Such apiary sites are appropriate/easier for daily follow up activities or inspection of beekeeping except “tree apiaries”.

Table 5. Beehive Placement (%)
Placement of hives Percent of beekeepers respondents
Backyard 40
Under the eaves of the house 28.3
Inside the house -
Hanging on trees near homestead/forest 10
In area enclosure 21.7 
Total 100
  1. Colony inspections

In the study area, hive inspection by opening the hive is not a common practice in traditional beekeeping. Internal hive inspection is undertaken by not more than 33.3% of beekeepers (mostly respondents using modern beehive) during honey harvesting, swarming and when colonies attacked by pests. This is presumably because of fear of being stung, the risk of the colony absconding, lack of time and lack of awareness of the value of doing so. Moreover, almost all beekeepers in the study area perform external inspection and also clean their apiary to prevent ant and other insect pests from getting access to hives. The study conducted by Kerealem et al (2006), Kerealem et al (2009), Nuru (2007) and Kebede and Lemma (2007) revealed that internal hive inspection of traditional hive is not very common or non-existent at all in their respective study areas.

  1. Feeding honeybees

Honey bee colonies naturally sustain themselves and produce honey by foraging from natural and cultivated crops in all possible radiuses from their nests. During the survey period it was observed that farmers who have modern beehives did not manage it properly. Out of the sampled respondents’ only 45% practice feeding of their bee colonies, while 55% do not practice feeding as they think that honeybees can strive for themselves. With regard to the type of feed they provide, of those sampled respondents feeding their bees, 25.9% of them use roasted barley flour, 37.04% of them feed roasted spiced pulses flour, 29.6% of them feed sugar syrup and the rest 7.41% provide feed like honey and water solution.

Swarming incidence and its management

Swarming is a cluster of bees containing a queen that has split from an established colony to start a new colony. All bees may swarm under certain conditions, but some races and strains are more inclined to swarm than others. According to the respondent farmers swarming mostly occurs in autumn (from September to October) in Kewet.

Table 6. Occurrence of swarming, its advantage and prevention measures taken by respondents (n=60)
Description Response n %
Occurrence of swarming Yes 30 50
No 30 50
Total 60 100
Advantages of swarming Yes to increase colony number 10 33.3
Yes to sale and get income 10 33.3
Yes to replace non reproductive bee Colonies 10 33.3
Total 30 100
Swarm prevention mechanisms Removal of queen cells 7 23.3
Honey /honey comb harvest 5 16.7
Return back to the colony 10 33.3
Supering 5 16.7
Large volume hive 3 10
Total 30 100
n= number of sampled respondents

When bees are preparing to swarm, they will always build queen cells. These are easily recognized by their large size, peanut like appearance, and vertical position on the comb. A crowded brood nest, age and productiveness of the queen are one of the main causes (Tewe 2004). Poor ventilation of the hive and weather conditions positively affecting the nectar flow may contribute to swarming.

Absconding and reasons for bees absconding from hives

Absconding is the term used when all the bees from a hive leave and desert the combs. The interviewed beekeepers responded that there was absconding immediately following the main honey flow season and continued throughout the dry season (mainly from February - March) up to the next active period.

Absconding usually occurs as a result of shortage of food or reduction in the honey flow, disturbance of the colony, either by pests, predators or even by the beekeeper (Table 7). Poor management and honey harvesting techniques including excessive use of smoke during harvest and destructive ways of honey harvest, the beekeepers might use unsuitable hives (too big, too humid, bad smell), unsuitable places (too much shade, no shelter from rain or excessive heat, and exposed all day to the sun). Moreover, bee strains like Apis cerana and tropical Apis mellifera are much more prone to absconding (Segeren 2004).

Table 7. Reasons for absconding and their prevention mechanism (n=60)
Description Response N %
Occurrence of absconding Yes 32 53.3
No 28 46.7
Total 60 100
Reasons for absconding Pests and predators 12 37.5
feed/ water Shortage 10 31.3
Poor harvesting technique 7 21.9
Due to unknown reasons 3 9.38
Total 32 100
Absconding control mechanism Overall management of the apiary 27 84.4
No measure 5 15.6
Total 32 100
n= number of sampled respondents

In the survey conducted on honey production system in West Shoa Zone the absconding rate was estimated to be 32.1 percent (Edessa 2002), and this result is lower than that of the present study.

Swarm attractant materials

The use of baiting hives to catch swarm is part of the traditional beekeeping practices in the study area. The new hive may be smoked until the internal color of the hive gets brown. Similarly, Kerealem et al (2006), Kebede and Lemma (2007) and Workneh (2011) reported that most of the beekeepers in the central Ethiopia had got their bee colonies by trapping swarms using bait hives.

Table 8. Swarm catching experience of respondents and type of swarm attractants used (n = 60).
Description Response N %
Swarm catching practice Yes 37 61.7
No 23 38.3
Total 60 100
Swarm attractant materials* Wax 13 35.1
Cow dung 8 21.6
Corn cob - -
Eucalyptus 3 8.11
Olea Africana 5 13.5
Cordia Africana 3 8.11
Damekesi - -
Tid 3 8.11
Kese 2 5.41
Total 37 100
*Multiple responses were allowed;
n = number of sampled respondents
Bee diseases, pests and predators

In this study at least seven pest and predators that attack honeybees and their hives in the study area were identified based on information collected from the respondent beekeepers. According to respondents ranking in Kewet; ant (33.3%), wax moth (16.7%), honey badger (15%), bee lice (13.3%), birds (10%), lizard (6.7%) and spiders (5%) are ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, respectively.

Like all living things, honeybees are attacked at all stages of their development by various enemies either directly as predators, or indirectly, by disturbing the life of the colony in various ways. The most important of these enemies are those that destroy the combs, the stores, the hive itself and some predators that attack foraging worker bees as they leave the hive. Study conducted by Desalegn (2006) in West Shewa Zone of Ethiopia also showed that from the total honeybee colonies in his study area, 44.2% of them were known to be attacked by ants every year, of which 24% absconded and 4.2% died. In the current study area, some of the methods used by the respondents to prevent predators are keeping the apiary tidy and clean from under growth, avoiding throwing/scattering combs around the apiary site, application of ash around the hive stand, plastering the hive stand with plastic materials, finding and killing predators like bee-eater birds and the queen of ants.

Constraints of beekeeping

The result shows the major constraints encountered by respondent beekeepers. About 83.3%, 66.7%, 53.3%, 51.7% and 50% of the beekeepers in kewet district claimed pesticides and herbicides application, pests and predators, absconding, death of colony and swarming, respectively. Shortage of bee forage, beekeeping equipment, shortage of water, drought, storage facilities, marketing, high temperature, high wind and excessive rainfall were some of the other problems responsible for low productivity of hive products in the study area. This study result is in line with Kerealem et al (2009) who reported shortage of bee forage, agrochemical poisoning and honeybee pest which were also reported as the major beekeeping constraints in Amhara regional state.


In Ethiopia beekeeping provides rural people with sources of income and nutrition. It is a sustainable form of agriculture, which is beneficial to the environment and provides economic reasons for the conservation of native habitats and potentially increased yield of food and forage crops. In the study areas also beekeeping provides a good example of one activity which has a strong local tradition, where there is a local market, and which is environmentally beneficial. Besides the constraints mentioned in the above, the major opportunities for sustainable beekeeping in the study areas are as follows:



I would like to express my thanks to the Kewet district Agricultural offices for their assistance during data collection. Lastly I would like also to express my thanks to beekeepers in the study area for their willing to be interviewed and giving me all the valuable information.


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Received 22 December 2014; Accepted 1 April 2015; Published 1 May 2015

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