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.


Anito Alemu

Anito Alemu

The guy largely responsible for the continued success of our Beekeeper Education Program in Ethiopia is Anito Alemu, better known by his community and the Bee Free Apiaries team as Tameskin. Aside from investing the time money and energy of our project into the 2 week long training programs, bee hives and beekeeping materials, we continue to invest in the follow through of the project through the hiring of Tameskin as our on the ground beekeeper support point man. 


Tameskin proudly stands next to his ready for placement swarm catcher hive.


Trained as a skilled laborer and carpenter Tameskin not only assisted us in the fabrication of the hives but also in the translation of our entire curriculum into the local language of Tembarenya. He never expected to build modernized hives and teach beekeeping skills to his fellow fellow community members but he did so well we asked him to spend the next 2 months following up with all trainees in order to assist them in the transferring and establishment of their new hives. Though his beekeeping experience up until our program was limited to assisting his established beekeeping father in times of the honey harvest where he held the light, started the smoker and helped move the heavy baskets, after already performing more than 50 hive transfers since our departure within his community, Tameskin is quickly building up his experience.  


Tameskin translates as the first of our hive transfers take place back in February.

The continued success of our program would not be possible without an on the ground community leader and program support staff member. By training Tameskin in the skills of modern beekeeping, hive construction,  bee management and transferring techniques the sustainability and growth of our program is positively moving forward.

Medula Women

Medula Women

The second week of our Education program took place in Medula Town. A dust filled city center of about 10 thousand people, though many more are surly scattered in its surrounding area. The Sunday leading up to the training we once again held a meeting with all interested members, only this time the pre requisite was that they needed to be a participant in one of Weema Internationals self help groups for community women.


Divided into 6 groups of 20, the women have been taught skills in entrepreneurship and work together to save funds which can later be invested into new marketable opportunities. About 50 participants showed up to our meeting and after identifying those with previous beekeeping experience, we asked that the groups decide amongst themselves whom would be the best representative to participate in our beekeeper training program. Chatter ensued for over 20 minutes while groups organized themselves and after coming together to finalize class times. Class began the following day. 

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.