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.

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Building Beehives

Building Beehives

This past week sure would have been different had we gifted all our program participants pre-made beehives following the completion of their coursework. Yeah it would have been easier and more efficient in the eyes of many, but for the sake of the projects sustainability we took the time to stand next to each group member as they constructed their own hive.

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With frames sourced from young Eucalyptus trees, side walls woven from a mix of bamboo and sorgum, and lastly lined with a layer of a mud/straw plaster all hive materials are readily available to the community.

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A bow saw, hammer, and nails are necessary for the hive foundation work, followed by a bit of wire in all the corners for reinforcement. Rope is then tied to 4 of the vertical supports on 3 of the 4 sides and used to fasten the bamboo/sorgum side walls.

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Top bars for the bees to hang their honeycomb are cut to their precise measurment (3.2 cm) and a protective roof is shaped out of more eucalyptus, before being covered with a waterproof covering.

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Doing so, all participants spent all daylight hours outside of “classtime” spread out over the community school yard.

Lucky for us, school was out this week and we had all the time we needed.

 

Thank you for calling me a Beekeeper; Kololo, Ethiopia

Thank you for calling me a Beekeeper; Kololo, Ethiopia

So we’ve been back in Addis since Tuesday, and I can’t help but do circles in my mind about the future possibilities of collaborating with beekeepers in the Kembata-Tembaro region of Southern Ethiopia this coming fall.

Our week spent in the south not only introduced me to the communities of people collaborating in the construction of schools led by my brother Cien,  but introduced me to the existing infrastructure of beekeeping in the area. Though I only have 2 years of beekeeping experience behind me, my university education as well as time spent studying and experiencing successful community development programs join together to provide me with the confidence in knowing that I am on the right track.

Kololo Beekeepers Meeting

Kololo Beekeepers Meeting

Part of our last day in the south was spent traveling to the small hillside village of Kololo. My brother spent almost 7 months in the village from 2011- 2012 constructing a hillside kindergarten school, so we took some time to visit the area, check on the progress of the newly installed school programs, as well as meet with area beekeepers. Due to its hillside location as well as proximity to spring water, the areas vegetation is even denser than that of Azedabo.

The family of Salamesh, one of my brother’s school construction team members, took it upon themselves to organize a meeting between myself and area beekeepers for a basic information session. As many of my readers know, my focus for making this trip to Ethiopia has been to gather the necessary information to bring a pilot program focused on enhancing the culture of beekeeping to better favor the health of the honeybee and consequentially the people as well as the communities that keep them. In simpler terms I am working at finding a way of continuing our exchange of beekeeping knowledge to better celebrate the richness the trade offers.

Beekeepers Trying on Protective Gear

Beekeepers Trying on Protective Gear

Though similar in some regards to the beekeeping meeting held in Azedabo three days earlier, the turnout of beekeepers in Kololo was much greater as well as more diverse.  To my satisfaction, women do in fact bee keep in the village, and are looked at as equals to the men. Old as well as young were present, and all were eager to hear what I had to share. From one translator to the next, I introduced myself and my beekeeping background and immediately began to pass around my protective beekeeping gear.

I shared with them my experience of harvesting honey the previous day, and stated how the trade could become so much more comfortable with very small changes. Had I not had a similar response during the previous meeting I would have been surprised, as the majority of beekeepers practice the trade as passed down from their elders and really have no idea of the logistical side of things. Basic concepts of protective gear, hygiene, as well as bee nutrition are non-existant. After drawing up and explaining a bit of the benefits of transitional top bar style bee hives as well as modern closed panel style hives, I could tell through their inquisitive stares as well as further questions that basic concepts were being understood. An elderly man even spoke out and thanked me for calling him a beekeeper, though the money he earned to send his children to school was made by the sale of his honey, no one had ever recognized him as such.  

Inquisitive Stares

Inquisitive Stares

We finished the meeting by asking the beekeepers of their interest of transitioning to transitional and or modern hives and received a unanimous response.  Though they repeatedly thanked me for taking the time to educate them in the most formal class on beekeeping they had ever received, I am certain I took away more from the encounter than they did.  So with just over 2 weeks left on Ethiopia I continue to work towards gathering all the necessary information to make my return this coming fall possible.