A Shifting Market

A Shifting Market

Kembata Tembaro honey is currently an untapped and unrecognized honey market in Ethiopia. Local use of the sweet stuff primarily supplies the brewers of Tej,  the thousand + year old fermented honey wine which requires being made from the wax and honey mix in it’s crude form. Therefor as our beneficiary beekeepers evolve in their practice, harvest increased amounts of honey and have the tools for separating it from the wax, theoretically increasing their market value, they are currently only running into more problems.

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As no other table honey, as it is known, exists in the local market, potential buyers are only skeptical of the product, believing that the honey is mixed with sugar. Truly, this is a much too common reality on both a local as well as national level.  Because of this lack of market confidence, beekeepers continue to sell their honey wax mix to the current market need at the price the buyer marks.

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Hence, the main purpose of our teams last 10 days in country has been to better understand this reality and find immediate solutions for our beekeepers increasing production.

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Having previously made contact and visited with a neighboring Angacha beekeepers cooperative, we decided to check in with the 250 + member group early in the week, and were once again quite impressed. With initial 4 year funding and support by a fairly large and well known NGO they are producing, packing, selling, and managing, the sale of over 2,000 kgs per harvest.

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Their collaborative efforts have also greatly influenced the local agricultural office so much so that they’ve donated a plot of degraded and eroded land for the use of a community apiary and melifera, nectar and pollen producing reforestation program. We first hand witnessed how this effort is simultaneously increasing the overall land quality as well as brings additional support to the resident bees.

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The following day we arranged a gathering with beneficiaries, our team representatives, as well as with a local government livestock extension officer. When community concern for market opportunities arose as well as for their interest in additional bee friendly flower and plant seeds, it was only natural to wonder if the neighboring cooperatives model would also suit ourselves.

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Beyond My Expectations

Beyond My Expectations

 

In collaboration with WEEMA international, It’s been 2 years since we led 2, week long beekeepers training programs in Kembata-Tembaro Ethiopia, 350 km southwest of the East African capital Addis Ababa.

In each of the introductory training programs, 35 community members were introduced to the basics of bee biology, health, and beehive management. As part of the workshop community members participated in the construction of their own locally resourced transitional style top bar hive and were actively trained in how to transfer bees from the transitional type as well as how to catch swarms in order to grow their apiary site. 8 months later we returned to the communities, introduced a honey press machine, and spoke and demonstrated proper honey harvesting techniques, which enabled beekeepers to increase the value of their product by separating it from the wax.

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At that point, in November of 2014, beekeepers had already begun to see an increase in honey product, from harvesting 4 kilos of honey singlehandedly from the traditional basket hive; they were now harvesting 12+ kgs, increasing their production 3 fold in only one harvest. Before our departure beekeepers were encouraged to increase their hive number which they enthusiastically agreed.

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Soon following WEEMA followed our suggestions and contracted Tameskin Alemu, our beekeeping assistant, translator and carpenter, to work directly with the beekeepers in order to increase hive numbers and address challenges as they surface.

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With WEEMA’s additional support, bamboo and rope, 2 necessary materials for hive construction were sourced from neighboring towns and sourced to the beneficiaries as they continued constructing more beehives.

12 months later, I’ve returned with a group of Columbia University Graduate student who through their semester long course have partnered with WEEMA International to better understand the honey value chain in Ethiopia therefore making suggestions on the best way for our beekeepers to market their more readily available honey and wax product.

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With all this instruction behind, I wasn’t quite prepared to find such great success upon our visit with beneficiaries this past week. Not only have hive numbers increased, but livelihoods have noticeably been altered for the better. In one of our apiary site visits Bakalesh proudly showed us 10 active hives behind her Medula home. 

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Considering she hadn’t kept bees before our training session, this is considered quite the accomplishment regardless of her circumstances. Through the sale of her honey she is now sending her children to school as well as training her son in beekeeping with hopes to continue increasing her hive numbers.

Natural Beekeeping Workshop and Construction of BeeFree Beehives. March 2015, Santa Lucia, Spain

Natural Beekeeping Workshop and Construction of BeeFree Beehives. March 2015, Santa Lucia, Spain

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Thanks to a wonderful team of organizers our first Natural Beekeeping Workshop including the construction of 8 Beefree Beehives was carried out with great success from March 12th-16th in Santa Lucia, Cadiz, Spain.

In collaboration with the Pedro Ezquival Work group and the local neighborhood association the 4 day workshop could not have been held at a more pristine location. 

An eager and excited group of novice beekeepers gathered on Thursday afternoon at the base of the Santa lucia waterfall and we began the workshop with the construction of our top bar style brood box. 

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As standard Langstroth supers, panels, roofs and inner lids were ordered from a local distributer,the design of the brood box was modified for complete compatibility. Group participants worked hard  in the completion of each of their hives in order to be filled with bees upon completion of the weekend intensive.  

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 Once constructed the hives were treated with a linseed and beeswax varnish and left to dry over the completion of beekeeping training session. 

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 Following the two afternoons of hive construction the theoretical beekeeping session began Saturday morning and was shortly followed by a practical session at the home and apiary site of a local beekeeper.

As the visit made for many group members first experience working with the bees, their nervousness quickly dissipated into enthusiasm and served us throughout the duration of the weekend workshop. 

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 Based off of the groups observations in their areas flowering plants, part of Sunday mornings session was spent compiling the areas nectar flow calendar.  By being aware of the times of year in which certain flowers, trees and bushes offer honey and/or pollen as well in in what quantity, we as beekeepers know what to look for in our bees work habits and can better assist them in reaching their full potential. 

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 Upon completion of the weekend workshop, newly trained beekeepers excitedly took their beehives home and prepared them for the next days introduction of bee packages. Monday morning was a busy day as our team visited the home of each participant and assisted in the transferring of the bee into their new hives. As the packages came with a pair of unmated queens, new beekeepers patiently waited as their bees installed and the queen took her mating flight before opening the hive 2 weeks later. 

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 Despite heavy rains in the time following the bees installation, the first opening  of the beefree hive showed that the bees are adapting well. As the seasons evolve and beekeepers put their freshly acquired theory to the test, their observations of the bees will provide for an even richer next training session. 

A big thank you to all those who helped bring this project to life, Karmit, Jorge, Angela, Colectivo Arriero, y el Grupo de Trabajo AAVV Pedro Esquival, this would not have been possible without you and I am already looking forward to our next collaboration. 

BeeFree Pallet Hive Agroplaza Getafe

BeeFree Pallet Hive Agroplaza Getafe

Shipping pallets and their versatility and availability are all the rage. I know the boards are often finished with harsh treatments to endure their continuous life cycle , but if sanded down and retreated with a natural finish why not turn them into a beehive?

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I was given the opportunity to do just that a few weeks back at a 2 week long sustainability event held in the Madrid suburb of Getafe. With only 3 hours over 2 days to carry out the workshop on how to build a hive out of pallets, I had a bit of prep work to get done before it started.  As the Beefree beehive design came together last month in Andalusia and is already proving to fulfill the bees needs, I combined the same hybrid style beehive design with the urban areas locally available materials.  

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Following a brief introduction and photo slideshow of the various beekeeping experiences which have led me to prototype this model, a diverse group of workshop attendees enthusiastically assisted me in the assembly of the precut boards.  

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By adapting the design to the width of the pallets I had available I was able to respect the 40 liters of interior space bees look for while swarming in nature,  provide side walls with angles of 30 degrees, as well as assure its top opening compatibility to the standard Langstroth dimensions.  

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Now time to fill it with bees and let the real prototyping begin. 

Inovation, Creation and Technology

Inovation, Creation and Technology

I can´t help but be amazed these days as myself and my team of talented and creative artists bring the BeeFree beehive design to life.

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Its not easy bringing a paper creation to virtual reality and I have David and Nelída to thank. 

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What evolved last year as a result of an inspirational beekeeping project initiation in Ethiopia, and a frustrating bee year in our small Madrid apiary was a prototype that combined the best of both beehive styles into one. 

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Understanding that following the period of natural hive division through swarming,  bees look for a 40 liter space, more or less, to begin their new colony, I was inspired to combine the top bar style hive that we use with Ethiopian beekeepers with the typical Langstroth hive used by modern beekeepers across much of Europe and the Americas.

After a few measurements were made with the assistance of an online calculator equating the interior space of a trapezoidal fish tank, I adapted the top openings to match that of the interior space of the Lorenzo Langstroth beehive and worked my way down.

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The beauty of top bar hives is that they allow for bees to naturally build their honey comb depending on their colonies needs.

By providing a top bar with an indication of where they should begin their work, and providing side walls between 30 and 60 degrees, bees,  while naturally forming their new home, resist attaching their wax to the side walls, leaving each panel independent from the next. 

It seams that Varroa destructor, the infamous tick thats sucks all nutrients from developing bees is here it stay. And while we as beekeepers can treat our hives from season to season with the latest biologically advanced and ecologically approved chemical or not treatments, Varroa only seams to adapt and each year the following treatment must be stronger. 

So rather than irradiate the parasite it seems our best option is to strengthen the colony throughout this rather abrasive co-existence.  

By allowing the bees to build their honey comb panels we allow for them to draw each of the cells out according to needs leaving no extra room for the Varroa Destructor.

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After a full season of colony development and hive establishment within the KTB style brood box, the Beefree beehive allows for the addition of Langstroth style honey supers directly on top. 

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Like I said before, my team here in Madrid is making this all come together. With the use of the laser printers and the CNC digital router were currently working out all the kinks with the bees comfort in mind. 

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Kembata- Tembaro Honey Press

Kembata- Tembaro Honey Press

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Until now, beekeepers in both Medula and Kololo  have sold their crude honey in the form known as “injera”. Going by the same name as that of the fermented teff grain bubbly flat bread, honey along with pollen, propolis, and rolly jelly all are all sold inside of the wax honey comb.

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Nutritionally, this mix is very beneficial as all the bee products are kept in their most natural state. However, as beekeepers sell these products in their crude form to the the tej makers in town who in turn mix it all with water and allow it to ferment in the production of their traditional honey wine, these benefits as well as their market potential are lost.

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The second half of our workshop was spent introducing the proper use and maintenance of an Italian imported honey press machine.

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Beyond benefiting from the increased amount of honey produced in the transitional beehives, beekeepers are also able to benefit from the cleaner and more hygienic products the bees create.

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Rather than selling the “injera” honey to the tej buyers at an average price of 50 Birr per Kilo (2 Euros/Kilo), by separating the wax from the honey, beekeepers have the potential of selling the wax for at least 200 Birr/Kg (8 Euros/Kilo) and the pure table honey for another 60 Birr/KG.

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Yet, as beekeepers brought to our attention, the sell isn’t always going to be easy. In order to increase the product, many honey sellers, weather producers or resellers have the reputation of mixing their honey with sugar in order to increase it’s over all weight. So when product quality is in question, selling honey inside the comb has been the only way to guarantee its purity.

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Temporarily stumped at this issue myself, I know that the only change to this dilemma is community education. Beekeepers need to be constant with their selling prices as well as production. When they value their product, buyers desiring their product will have no choice but to do the same.

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By being consistent with their production as well as quality, beekeepers can recreate a stronger market in their favor, and like most changes this will take time.

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But as their enthusiasm and commitment have shown me in our little time working together, I have no reason to think that they won’t.

 

Motivated Medula Women Beekeepers

Motivated Medula Women Beekeepers

Urban beekeeping isn’t always an easy task, and even further so when your a women living in a dust filled male dominated rural Ethiopian city of 10,000 plus people.

But the women who turned up for our Sunday beekeeper review and healthy honey harvest workshop are slowly changing that. Just like in any other highly populated space, keeping bees requires attention to certain rules and regulations. One of which requires a three meter fence separating bees from inhabited spaces, that of which requires materials that not all community members have access to. When brought to their attention, the Medula women enthusiastically created a list of resourceful solutions.

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We once again gathered their list of flowering plants and trees, created a nectar flow calendar and came to a mutual agreement of the best best times to work, feed, and harvest from the hives.

In the afternoon we regrouped and collectively made our way to one of the beekeepers homes.

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The women proudly pulled their protective gear out of it´s original packaging, 

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and we made our way back to the hives. 

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Smoking calmed the bees and as all the women gathered, 

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we excitedly began to identify all the combs. 

With all the challenges aside, it´s safe to say that the Medula women beekeepers are on the right track!