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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.

Hive Transfers in Kembata-Tembaro Ethiopia

Hive Transfers in Kembata-Tembaro Ethiopia

 Transferring bees from traditional basket style hives to our newly constructed mud finished top bar hives was a very exciting part of our training sessions held in the Ambakuna and Medula beekeeper communities.


Our exemplary hive transfers took place with each of the respective groups at the homes of a volunteer participant Friday and Saturday evening.   Participants gathered in their newly furbished protective bee gear and we began the session with demonstrations on the use of the hive smokers.


This alone was a worthwhile lesson. As in the past hive smoking was performed with the use of a free smoking ceramic basin, the presence of modern smokers allow beekeepers to control not only the amount of smoke they disperse but therefore they can better control the aggressive African bees they deal with.


Once demonstrated, trainees were gathered into an open space out of view from the existing hives. As soon as the sun went down, the basket hive and colony identified for transferring was carried to the work space, filled with smoke and from Amharic to Tembarenya trainees began an indispendable hands on lesson.

Beehive Building in Medula

Beehive Building in Medula

After working out the kinks of the top bar hive frame construction in week one, our team of builders including myself, my brother Cien Keilty-Lucas, our long time friend Madeleine Ruegg, Tolera Kumsa, and our two local hired hands Tameskin Alemu and Mengestu, we started off the week with a mass production line Ethiopia has only seen far and few between. 


When the Medula women’s group began to collaborate on the construction of their hives on Wednesday, it also didn’t take them long to get the bamboo weaving underway.



The work could easily be seen as tedious, yet the women found a way to drown out the monotony with a fair bit of chatter, song and laughing.


It was another informative and empowering week of class and a busy one of building, but in the end all participants were satisfied in the construction of their very own Top Bar beehive.


Local Swarm Catching Technology

Local Swarm Catching Technology


Kembata Tembaro Beekeepers have not changed the manner in which they multiply their hives for over 500 years. Men climb the branches of tall eucalyptus and accacia trees and hang their long cylinder baskets in their branches. Leading up to the height of the strong nectar flow season when the bees population outgrow their home, 1/3 of the bees take their queen and leave the hive in search for a new one. Knowing this, beekeepers place their empty hives in close proximity to their existing ones. Amazingly, as we were told in our community  meeting, here in Kembata Tembaro, there is a 100% success rate in filling those hives. This is called swarm catching.

Working with this success rate is not only the best way for beekeepers too expand their apiary but also a good way for new beekeepers to start up with their first colonies.

So while we are introducing transitional style beehives we are also introducing similarly designed swarm catchers. Sharing the same dimension yet one third of the volume, these hives are designed to make the age old traditions just a bit more efficient.1896861_716051895102191_1093467507_n

Rather than having to harshly break newly constructed honeycombs killing many bees in the process, using a bit of local technology, after 2 months of a new colonies presence, beekeepers can simply lift the top bar from the swarm catcher and slide it into the full sized hive.


We’ve demonstrated the construction of these new locally sourced swarm catchers here on the ground and local beekeepers seem excited about their possibilities. As the rains accumulate and bee populations expand, their use and success rate could make swarm catching and hive multiplication more efficient for both the the beekeeper as well as the honey bee.

A promising start

A promising start


Welcome to the Kololo village. Or better yet Ambakuna as Im getting to know the broader areas’ residents.

2 year ago my brother Cien Keilty-Lucas lived in this quiet little jungle town while organizing the construction of this beautiful school in the background. He slept, ate, worked, and drank coffee with the community for 8 months while getting to know them and now hes back for another round. Just this time, we are beekeeping.

The area has a long history of the trade and the 82 village members we met with on Sunday afternoon acounted for over 300 beehives. They are mainly traditional hives, long cyclinder baskets covered with dried leaves, and produce about 10 kilos of honey a year.

So this time around, instead of building schools my brothers been helping me get our  BeeFreeApiaries beekeepers education program off the ground.

After holding a lottery sunday afternoon to select 18 men and 18 women at random to participate in the program we began on monday with a bit of theoretical work.

Thanks to Tolera Kumsa, from the Holetta Bee research center, the students have been engaged and excited from the start. They are eager in asking questions and already understand the benefits of switching to transitional hives.

We’re only getting started and definitly have our work cut out for us, but its looking to be a promising start to an evergrowing program.


WEEMA International

WEEMA International

Thanks to a newly acquired collaboration with the ngo WEEMA International, Bee Free Apiaries is excited to announce that we will be implementing three, week long beekeeper education workshops and seminars in February of 2014!

WEEMA logo

With WEEMA’s collaboration we will be educating beekeepers in the villages of Kololo and Mudula in the Region of Kembata-Tembaro Ethiopia. 105 new and old beekeepers, including at least 50% women, will be trained on basic bee biology as well as transitional beekeeping hive designs and  methods. This combination will insure that beekeepers have the necessary  information to better support their livelihoods as beekeepers.

Kololo Beekeepers Meeting

Kololo Beekeepers Meeting

To read more about our collaboration with WEEMA as well as more on their amazing work in Ethiopia, follow the link below.