Beekeeping is one of the socio-economic activities, which are friendly to the environment and forests in general. During a recent Training of Trainers (ToT) session on REDD and Climate Change in Dodoma, beekeeping was mentioned as one of the key incentives for forest conservation.
The training which was conducted by the Forest and Beekeeping Division attracted about 50 foresters from some of the selected regions and districts in the country. Monica Kagya, assistant director for research training and statistics in the Forestry and Beekeeping Division (FBD) who took part in the training granted our Staff Writer Lusekelo Philemon an interview. They discussed on how the beekeeping sector is cardinal in addressing deforestation and scaling-up the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative. Excerpts:
Question: How can the beekeeping sector be used as one of the tools for scaling up the REDD+ initiative in Tanzania?
Answer: Before getting into details, it is better to understand these two concepts—REDD and beekeeping. REDD is a global effort to combat climate change and it is still a new concept in Tanzania. The initiative is potential in complementing initiatives done by government and local communities in conserving the country’s forest resources for years.
This is due to the fact that Tanzania has been in the forefront in curbing deforestation by promoting community forest management aimed at producing sufficient amount of forest products and services to meet both local demand and promote forest contribution to global environmental conservation.
REDD+ is anticipated to be a suitable approach to ensure sustainable forest management in the country is attained. In the face of climate change, REDD+ initiative is taken as an opportunity that will contribute to the efforts towards ecosystem management and poverty reduction through sound forest management. The government takes this as a viable option that can provide opportunities for the country to meet its obligations for managing forests and woodlands on a sustainable basis and at the same time respond to poverty reduction initiative accordingly.
However, it should clearly be understood that before embarking into REDD+ initiative, there were a number of programmes in place to ensure our forests and other natural resources are sustainably managed for the current and future generation. Beekeeping is one of the human activities which are friendly to the environment and forests in particular and it has been there for centuries as it is a source of food, raw materials for industries and a source of income.
Beekeeping is an important income generating activity with high potential for improving incomes, especially for communities living close to forests and woodlands. Beekeeping also plays a major role in improving biodiversity and increasing crop production through pollination. So by carrying-out beekeeping activities, beekeepers are not interested in cutting-down trees. And this alone makes the sector to have an environmental value; hence play a similar role with REDD+.
Q: How come beekeeping was not as popular in the past as it is now?
A: It is true that beekeeping has been there for years. History shows that beekeeping has been practiced as early as 13,000 BC. With climate change, weather variability, and increasing poverty for communities living adjacent to the forest reserves, experts from different fields resolved that the sector can play a big role in addressing those environmental and socio-economical challenges.
And people in their localities, have realized that beekeeping has an economical value and is an important tool towards addressing poverty. So, people in hundreds have started embarking into the venture. Other factors that have made the sector popular now than ever is the increased awareness.
Local communities are currently aware of the benefit of beekeeping economically. And REDD+ initiative adds some ingredients, making communities living near forests to engage more into conservation rather than in deforestation. Thumbs up to the endless campaigns carried-out by government especially the Forestry and Beekeeping Division, local and international NGOs and other potential development stakeholders. The initiative has made a large number of people respond well to forest management. It is our hope that the production of honey will double in the near future.
Q: How does this compliment REDD+ initiative?
A: By doing so, beekeeping will be supporting the REDD+ initiative. Beekeeping has dual benefits—honey and its related products for business and carbon trade. I believe if people are enjoying the benefit of having forests around, then they won’t allow deforestation because this is where they hang their hives. This way, they will be conserving forests and contribute to REDD+ initiative. So, beekeeping is a close friend to forests and the environment in general, there is no way you can separate the two.
Q: How do beekeeping activities trickle down to forest officers and other stakeholders?
A: It is true this idea needs to go down to the grassroots level, so that people take it and start engaging into the new economic venture. Thanks, to the initiative made by local and international NGOs, who are in the forefront in spearheading the ‘gospel’ of beekeeping and how they can benefit out of it. On our side, we have our own forest and beekeeping officers who are trying to sensitize people on how to engage into the activity. We have reached where we are because of a combination of efforts.
Q: Are plans in place to boost the industry?
A: The government in collaboration with other stakeholders has a number of programmes to make the industry move forward. And this has been propelled by the fact that the awareness level amongst Tanzanians on the need for them to engage into the new venture is very high. We’re fully aware that there are lots of people who have started engaging in the activity across the country, who need to be supported in different ways.
First of all, we’re planning to come up with bee conserved areas across the potential beekeeping areas in Tanzania. And to start with, this year we’re coming up with a total of 20 bee reserves. This number is going to increase. These reserves will be highly protected as we do in forest reserves. It is our hope that through this approach, we will be in a position to increase its production and in turn increase efforts to scale-down deforestation in the respective areas and the country at large.
Secondly, we are also coming up with training packages for beekeepers on how they can actively engage in the beekeeping industry, as most of them still depend on traditional ways of doing things. I am not saying traditional methods of harnessing honey are bad but, we want to equip beekeepers with skills on how to handle extracted honey and finally packaging.
We are also encouraging beekeepers to ensure their pieces of land are registered, so that communities have ownership. This will make them plan on the use of their land. They can decide to set aside a particular area for beekeeping, another free from fire, which is a deadly cause of deforestation in Tanzanian and Africa at large.
Q: What can you say is the engagement of women in beekeeping?
A: There are a good number of women who are actively engaged in environmental conservation initiatives and beekeeping. Women who are living close to the forest reserves are now engaging in beekeeping. In some areas, women through their groups are performing better.
Q: How sustainable is the industry?
A: The role of beekeeping will remain there and its demand will continue to flourish. As I said earlier, there is no doubt that the sector will become an important source of revenue and hence contribute to the GDP. The current trend is very positive as more people are chipping in and actively engaging in the sector.
Because of this, I am very optimistic that the sector has a bright future and will be there to stay and by doing so, the industry will be very important in complementing REDD+ initiative as well as a tool towards addressing poverty in Tanzania.
Q: Lack of markets for products related to honey has been described as a serious challenge in Tanzania, what is your view on this?
A: It is estimated that the sector generates about USD 1.7 million each year from honey and beeswax sales and employs about 2 million rural people. In this case, the market for honey and related products is no longer a problem in Tanzania. The demand for honey and beeswax is very high within and outside the country. We have been encouraging our beekeepers to concentrate on the local market, which right now pays a lot.
Our surveys show that local market for honey and its related products is very potential for beekeeping products than that of abroad. In the local market for example, a litre of honey is sold at 10,000/-, compared to USD3 abroad. What is missing here is information on the market of the product between the beekeepers and traders/consumers. That’s why we’ve been telling forests and beekeeping officers to bridge the gap, as some producers have no information on the availability of the markets in the country.
Within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, we have a special team of officials, who are ready and eager to explore marketing opportunities in and outside Tanzania. So, for those who will be having a problem on marketing, we encourage them to consult us and we assure them they will be assisted. As a government, we are also closely working with the country’s honey council.
We also have other programmes to promote the sector. One of them is through organizing honey fairs on a regular basis with a view to bringing together industry stakeholders, including experts and individual keepers.
We’re also encouraging keepers to ensure they establish small-scale industries to process the industry’s products.
Q: It is alleged that some keepers mix honey with molasses, what is your comment on this?
A: This is a challenge that needs collective efforts to address. I call upon honey dealers involved in the dirty business to stop doing it. The move has a very negative impact to the sector, as it will make honey produced to loose market and when it looses market, beekeepers will stop keeping bees and this will pose a threat to forests through deforestation, which will affect initiatives like REDD+ and other forest conservation efforts in place.
Q: What is your comment on the technology used in beekeeping?
A: Beekeeping in Tanzania is carried out using traditional methods that account for 99 per cent of the total production of honey and beeswax in the country. Approximately 95 per cent of all hives are traditional including log and bark hives. Others are reeds, gourds, pots etc. For years our people have been using traditional methods of extracting honey. I am not saying traditional methods are bad, but more has to be done. Our beekeepers are required to ensure cleanliness is maintained during the extraction of honey.
In 1960s, Tanzania was the second in exporting honey and beeswax and the only method used in production was the traditional one. So, the technology needs some improvement to make the bee products meet the required standards. We’re telling our beekeepers to ensure that they maintain cleanliness when handling honey. Those who have the ability to embark in modern beekeeping should apply the centrifugal honey extracting technology. The technology allows producers to harvest honey three times a year.
As the beekeeping and forests division, we are working closely with other stakeholders like Small Industries Development Organization (SIDO) and some colleges, so they may come up with simple machines to extract honey and packaging facilities for local and international markets. This includes coming up with modern hives and protective gear during honey harvesting. We believe these kinds of technologies, when clearly understood will trickle down to small-scale beekeepers across Tanzania.
Q: How can honey production in Tanzania be improved?
A: In addressing this challenge, the government is working hard to come up with honey collection centers in the beekeeping potential areas across Tanzania. The idea behind is to easily connect the buyers and honey producers in the production points. So, far 32 centers have been earmarked and will start operation this year and next year, another 20 centers will be operational.
Q: Any idea on the number of beehives in Tanzania at the moment?
A: No! I don’t have the exact figure. This is a challenge facing the sector and that is why we have a lot of programmes at hand, including carrying out an inventory exercise on the number of beehives and groups of bees across the country.
The idea is to know the total value of the sector and be able to understand the amount of honey produced and its related products in the country.
We’re not sure of the number of beehives available in the country and the contribution of the sector to the country’s economy.
Estimates show that forestry products including beekeeping in general contribute 3 per cent to the country’s GDP. That’s why we see the need to come up with the study that will give us a true picture of the sector, which is believed to be employing two million people in the country. We call upon youths to actively engage in beekeeping and form groups as they do in other productive sectors for better output.