Tanzania is among the countries in the world with very high beekeeping potential. This potential is mainly due to the presence of a high population of bee colonies that are estimated at 9.2 million, and also due to the presence of high quality of vegetation that is preferred by honeybees in many areas of the country (Kihwele et al., 2001; Latham, 2001; Mbuya et al., 1994). The production potential of bee products in the country is about 138,000 tons of honey and 9,200 tons of beeswax per annum. However, production stands at about 4,860 tons of honey and 324 tons of beeswax, which is only about 3.5% of the existing potential.
Tanzanian Honey is known all over the world due to its organic nature and is in high demand in many countries in Europe (e.g., Germany, Holland, England, Belgium) as well as other countries. Increased consumption of honey in both local and global markets over the last few years can be attributed to a general rise in living standards and an increased interest in natural and health products. worldwide honey consumption and consequently demand is increasing annually.
Most honey produced in Tanzania is and will continue to be natural and organic because beekeeping is mostly carried out in game reserves, forest reserves, bee reserves and buffer zones of the national parks. These areas are free from pesticides by agricultural chemicals, industrial wastes, veterinary medicines, and Genetically Modified Farms (Mpuya, 2009). This confirms most of the Tanzanian honey will continue to be natural and organic. The market for honey will continue to grow as sensitization of the public on the importance of honey as food and medicine increases. Demand for honey as food and as a healthy ingredient in various foods and as a product with healing qualities is also increasing worldwide.
In some places like Tabora, Singida Dodoma etc bee products are commercial products that residents and businessmen depend on for their income. Many people coming from those areas have been able to educate their children, construct their houses and improve their livelihood through beekeeping, this can also be done in Mwaya where Miombo woodlands exist in large quantities. Beekeeping can as well contribute positively to household food security through the production of bee products (mainly honey and beeswax) the minor bee products are pollen, royal jelly, bee venom, propolis etc. Honey is the most important primary product of beekeeping both from a quantitative and an economic point of view. Honey is a very nutritive food that is rich in protein, minerals, carbohydrate, and vitamins. Beeswax is the second main product. It is a commercial and industrial product. Beeswax is not well known but Tanzania is one of the leading countries for exporting beeswax in the world, and the world market is growing.
Beekeeping is done by people of all ages and sex, although the majority are women and the capital investment required is relatively low compared with other fields of agriculture and livestock and therefore beekeeping can be a viable and valuable project for subsistence farmers as an alternative income-generating activity.
Morogoro region is endowed with substantial land comprising of mixed vegetation and year around reliable water sources making it ideal for beekeeping in many areas.
Fig. 2: Map of project area showing Kilombero river valley.
The district is characterized by a marked dry and wet season. It receives an average rainfall between 800mm and 1,800mm per year. The average temperature is 26°centigrade per year.
Generally having a marked dry and wet season in the district’s ecosystem is very conducive for beekeeping, since bees make honey as their storage food, to be consumed during the unfavourable condition (dry season), so by instinct bees can sense/mark a dry season ahead even before it has happened and trigger them to make more honey to sustain the bee colony throughout the year, on top of that the presence of Miombo woodland in the area provides a lot of melliferous (bee) flowers that produce good honey with good aroma. Melliferous flowers are those flowers that are good for bees (as not all flowers are good for bees, others are not suitable i.e, they provide unpleasant nectar, such as they produce too watery nectar, poisonous nectar etc.)
Most of the land area is cultivated, but most of the natural vegetation where the bees will be kept is still intact. This district is populated by communities that depend almost exclusively on agricultural farming for their livelihood, it is therefore very good to introduce this beekeeping project, since it can be a modal for an alternative income-generating activity as sometimes in one way or another you can not harvest well agricultural crops, but you can harvest honey as a substitute.
Ulanga District ecosystem falls under low-level honey producing area in Tanzania, since because most of its land is not utilized for beekeeping though there so many big areas with miombo woodlands suitable for beekeeping, residents are not engaged in beekeeping so this project can act as a demonstration to enlighten the residents about this valuable income-generating activity. If many residents could keep bees Ulanga District could be among the best producer of honey in Tanzania, as it has similar weather condition and vegetation that is found in Tabora (the highest honey producer).
Honey and Beeswax Project, Kilombero River Valley, Southern Tanzania.
The initial establishment of beekeepers
Provision Charitable Foundation (PCF) has been involved in developing beekeeping in the Kilombero valley since 2009, when we were approached by a group of Mahenge villagers requesting assistance. Ted Rabenold, an American missionary, who has been training beekeepers in Tanzania for 25 years provided the needed training as our project developed. PCF will continue to work with Ted through the complete project as we move forward. For more on Ted's work, CLICK HERE.
We began with training three individuals from Mahenge and providing them with ten hives. This initial setup struggled with problems with the construction of the hives. The hives leaked and the bees then abandoned the hives. The replacement hives were then lost in a forest fire. As part of the current training, beekeepers are trained to clear the areas around the hives and hang the hives to protect them from fire.
However, with proper training and construction of secure hives, we now have hives at five locations, Luhombero, Mahenge, Taweta, Ruaha and Ideta with trained groups, on both sides of the Kilombero valley. We have placed groups at the far end of the valley on both sides of the valley.
In 2017 two groups from Taweta, a village at the end of the western side of the river valley requested assistance and we arranged to train two women from a women’s cooperative, and a man and a woman from a youth group. It is significant to note that all individuals in all locations who have been trained approached PCF and asked for training.
PCF’s next step is to expand by building a honey and beeswax processing centre at Ifakara, Tanzania, and to provide further training and processing expertise to producers in the valley. Land has already been made available for the processing centre. Once the processing centre is operational, additional groups will be trained and provided with the necessary hives and equipment through micro-enterprises loans to be repaid from production. The processing centre will also ensure quality so that consistent products can be produced and premium prices obtained.
We will begin marketing in Ifakara. As quality and volume improve and increase, we will develop larger premium markets. For example, the darker honey from Taweta is reputed to have healing properties.
Beekeeping has the potential to generate life-changing cash flow to subsistence farmers in the area without any distraction from their normal way of life, as honey and beeswax are excellent cash crops requiring no refrigeration for preservation.
The main challenge to achieve a successful honey and wax project is to educate the keepers to take a much longer-term view of the whole process. Historically, honey “production” has been a smash and grab affair.
Find a wild hive
Smoke the bees
Destroy the hive as you grab the honey
Process the honey
Discard the wax
The result is often very poor honey, smoked and dirty. The wax, which is very valuable, is not utilized and the hive is destroyed.
In some ways, it is very similar to ancient cultures moving from hunter-gatherers to farming, a major cultural shift. PCF is planning to address these issues through training and supervision with assistance throughout the whole process of placing the hives, maintaining the hives, harvesting and processing, and assisting with marketing, both locally and in a larger area.
Why beekeeping as the specific project?
Beekeeping is a “transformational” project as defined by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations (For more on SDG, CLICK HERE), which once established will be able to stand completely on its own. Beekeeping is an activity with great potential for development in Tanzania. The local people are aware of the potential and are eager to participate. (Our project started as the people approached us for assistance).
Beekeeping is an excellent opportunity for women to participate and become more economically independent. PCF is already working with a women’s cooperative in the village of Taweta.Once the processing centre is operational, even two hives maintained by a single family can make a significant difference to the quality of life for the family. Beekeeping requires very little land and the Tanzanian government has provided access to land reserves for beekeepers. Tanzania has set aside and is managing 506 natural forest reserves for beekeeping.
Why the Kilombero river valley?
The Kilombero river valley is an excellent place for the development of beekeeping. The valley is over 200 km long, with rough roads along both sides of the valley connecting isolated villages. Unlike many other areas in Africa, there is year-round access to water and bees require constant access to water in order to thrive. The Kilombero river valley is particularly fortunate that even at the end of the dry season water continues to flow from underground springs etc to provide adequate water for the people year-round and therefore there is always adequate water for bees to produce honey.
There is sufficient undeveloped land to place hives in isolated areas away from human habitation as bees can pose some risk to people. The climate and vegetation allow for the bees to produce honey twelve months a year so the honey and wax can be harvested twice a year.
The full business plan for the development of the business can be made available to interested individuals.