Beekeeping in Africa 
Bees are vital insects due to their role as pollinators. Researchers at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found that “three out of four crops across the globe producing fruits or seeds for human use as food depend, at least in part, on pollinators.” In Africa, bees take on the additional role of defending crops from an unexpected threat: elephants. Beekeeping in Africa holds multiple benefits for communities.

Human-Elephant Conflicts

In many African countries, free-roaming elephants bring the risk of damage to farmland and trees. For farmers living near the edges of forests, elephants can be a detrimental force that cripples crop yields and income. Because of this, farmers will often confront migrating families of elephants with aggression if the herds come too close.

In South Africa, elephants often target marula trees for feeding. Because locals hold these iconic fruit-bearing trees in high regard due to their cultural significance and economic value, damage to marula trees by elephants is a root cause of their conflict with humans. As the elephant population continues to dwindle due to poaching and habitat loss, many farmers feel the need for a more reliable system of protecting crops while subduing the need for hostility. Over the past decade, the Save the Elephants organization has studied the ability of bees to mediate human-elephant conflicts by preventing the large mammals from encroaching onto farmland, and the results have been surprisingly successful.

How Bees Can Help

The Elephants and Bees Research Project, an initiative of Save the Elephants, aims to “explore the natural world for solutions to human-elephant conflicts.” This initially Kenya-based program aims to supply farmers with beehive fences, a unique bee-based system to repel wild elephants. The system employs multiple beehives that are along the perimeters of farms and connected with wires.

If a wandering elephant trips the wire by walking in between the hives, the hives will open and release the bees. Elephants have mostly durable, two-inch-thick skin around their body, but the soft skin around their eyes, mouth and trunk makes them vulnerable to bee stings, and thus, overly afraid of the small pollinators. A 2007 study by Lucy E. King et al. found that elephants will even run from the mere sound of bees buzzing.

In 2015, the Elephants and Bees organization experimented with its beehive fences near groups of marula trees in Jejane Private Nature Reserve, South Africa. A research team led by Robin Cook from the University of the Witwatersrand found that the marula trees surrounded by beehive fences faced less impact from elephants than the unprotected trees in the control group. The success of Cook’s tests motivated Save the Elephants to train locals in beehive manufacturing and beekeeping skills.

Bees for Business

The most obvious way that the Bees and Elephants program improves business for African farmers is through the ability to protect crops. According to the program, the beehive fences cost about $1,000 for a one-acre farm. Depending on how successfully the beehive fences prevent crop raids, beehive fences can increase yields. Additionally, owners who introduce bees to their farms can expect increased levels of pollination, which leads to the production of higher-quality crops.

Beyond protecting crops from wild elephants, the Bees and Elephants program aims to promote beekeeping in Africa as a business in itself. The organization purchases raw honey from farmers who use their beehive fences, ensuring that the participants have an alternate source of income. Save the Elephants’ “elephant-friendly honey” program encourages more farmers to get on board with this natural, inexpensive and income-generating solution to human-elephant conflicts.

Expanding the Bees and Elephants Program

Save the Elephants has introduced beehive fences to 14 countries in Africa and three countries in Asia. In some counties like Meru, Kenya, the government is recognizing the benefits beehive fences bring to farmers. In May 2022, Meru’s Governor Kiraitu Murungi approved the distribution of 3 million Kenyan shillings ($25,581) worth of beehives and beekeeping equipment for the construction of a 5-kilometer fence that will border the Lower Imenti Forest. Murungi plans to allocate additional funding in the following financial year for “more beehives [that] will ring-fence the entire forest.”

The Elephants and Bees program highlights the significant abilities of bees to act as both pollinators and protectors. As the program’s leaders discuss expanding their work to countries like Angola and Indonesia, it is worth considering that more than 3,500 species of bees play a role in expanding farmers’ crop yields, thereby reducing hunger and increasing income.

Overall, beekeeping in Africa holds benefits that span far beyond honey production. By protecting crops and increasing crop yields, bees play a significant role in improving food security and reducing poverty.

– Evan Lemole
Photo: Unsplash

Bees Reduce PovertyBees are an essential part of global agricultural systems. Additionally, bees reduce poverty around the world as they are responsible for pollinating 80% of the world’s plant species, including 90 different types of crops.

Study by the FAO

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) studied 344 plots of land in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. The plots revealed a positive correlation between the number of bees that visited a particular plot of land and its agricultural productivity. For small farms with a landmass of fewer than two hectares, the study concluded that farmers could increase their crop production by an average of 24% by increasing pollinator traffic.

The results of the FAO study could affect approximately two billion farmers worldwide. Because of their importance to agricultural production, increasing the number of bees on agrarian lands could improve global food security. Bees also provide a valuable way to reduce rates of poverty. Bees can be especially valuable to people living in rural poverty, a very important issue to address as approximately 63% of people in poverty worldwide live in rural areas.

5 Ways Bees Reduce Poverty

  1. Beekeeping helps households increase their income. Rural families living in regions with poor agricultural yields may struggle to make ends meet. However, raising bees can help these families earn more money. In addition to potentially increasing their annual crop production, bees produce honey and beeswax which families can sell. For example, Bees Abroad and the Poverty Abroad for the Poor Initiative taught farmers living in extreme poverty how to run bee farms. As a result of this training, 30 of those farmers went on to run their own bee farms afterward, which helped increase their incomes.
  2. Beekeeping creates opportunities for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs use bee by-products to make commodities such as shoe polish, candles and ointments. More importantly, beekeeping presents opportunities for entrepreneurship, which helps people escape poverty and support themselves and their families. Entrepreneurs are finding ways they can use bees to reduce poverty and improve living conditions.
  3. Food insecurity and poverty are linked. Poverty is the main driving factor behind food insecurity worldwide. Across the world, roughly 80% of chronically undernourished people live in rural areas of developing countries, making food insecurity a particularly important aspect of ending rural poverty. Increasing bee populations can enhance food security by increasing crop yields. By improving food security, bees reduce poverty in a way that is especially beneficial to rural communities.
  4. Beekeeping is an effective form of occupational therapy. Occupational therapy helps people with disabilities accomplish goals such as working and attending school. People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by poverty, which makes addressing their needs critical to reducing poverty. Additionally, inaccessible work and education opportunities are major contributing factors to this problem, which occupational therapy can help address. Fortunately, beekeeping requires little capital and helps occupational therapy participants become financially independent, making it an effective form of occupational therapy.
  5. Protecting the global environment keeps people out of poverty. Environmental degradation can increase levels of poverty. For example, the loss of natural resources to environmental degradation leaves communities with fewer means to support themselves. However, bees are critical pollinators that support ecosystems and natural resources across the globe. Additionally, bees can even improve habitat restoration efforts. So, by preserving and restoring vital resources, bees reduce poverty.

Overall, bees provide unique benefits that have the potential to reduce global poverty. By garnering the help of pollinators, impoverished communities can rise out of poverty.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr