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Keeping the honey flowing

The Miombo woodlands of Zambia contain many tree species that are ideal for beekeeping. However, the production of honey is often constrained by periods of drought or limited rainfall. Neglected or mis managed hives also lead to colony starvation, swarming or absconding. Data from the main honey producing regions indicate that about 6,000 beekeepers with almost 500,000 hives produce over 600 tonnes of harvested honey and 100 tonnes of wax. Only about 80-100 tonnes of honey is sold commercially with the remainder used locally in beer production. Until recently, any exports have been the monopoly of one private honey factory, North-Western Bee Products Limited, but with liberalization it is hoped that export sales to South Africa and Canada might be encouraged.

Demonstrating how to make beehives
credit: Singy Hanyona

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Zambia has supported the establishment of community apiaries in the northern region. More than 100 hives have been set up through the WWF beekeeping project and 210 litres of honey was recently harvested, processed and labelled for sale. According to Justine Lupele, the WWF education officer, the people involved in the project now have a better understanding of the importance of bees and are more interested in using improved methods of beekeeping . "They have discarded old methods of beekeeping that were destructive as many trees were cut down to extract tree bark, used in making traditional hives or, in some cases, the tree was killed when hollows were made in the trunks to create homes for the bees." Beekeepers are now encouraged to use wooden-framed beehives, which can be moved easily to increase the pollination and yield of crops, such as beans, sunflowers and citrus fruits. "Beekeepers have also begun to realise the contribution bees make to the sustainability of the forest through the pollination of wild fruits, many of which are harvested and used by local people."

In the Central Province of Zambia, beekeepers are complaining that their bees have been killed by the pesticides used on cotton although Clarke Cotton Zambia Limited, one of the cotton processing companies, has said that only a synthetic pyrethroid, Dealta Metrin (DECIs), is used for killing cotton bollworms before hatching. "Cotton needs insects, including bees, for pollination so there is no way we would use chemicals that destroy beneficial insects," says James Phiri, Operations Director for Clarke Cotton. "However, there may be some agents that are selling very strong pesticides that not only threaten the bee production industry but are also damaging to the environment."

Although the Forestry Department is responsible for the provision of extension services to promote beekeeping in rural areas, there are as yet, no known bee breeding programmes to improve beekeeping in the major beekeeping regions. Without knowledge of improved management techniques, very few farmers have the expertise to manage their hives effectively. Hives may be checked too regularly, or not often enough, which can result in hives being affected by pests and diseases or invaded by ants. During long drought periods, bees will feed on stored honey unless a beekeeper has the wisdom to move the hives closer to forage, or to feed them. As a result, many colonies are not fulfilling their potential and a lack of training and available vernacular beekeeping manuals is currently limiting the further development of beekeeping in Zambia.

Information based on article written by Singy Hanyona, Zambian journalist.

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