Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nekemte Training (w/o Power), May 17th

The thunderstorms woke me in the night and knocked out the power for much of the town, including the hotels where I have been staying and running the training sessions. It is hard to share a presentation when there is no power for the projector, so I got creative.

I split the group of 40 something rural farmers, beekeepers and Ministry of Agriculture experts into four groups with a mandate to discuss and determine the four greatest impediments to implementing modern beekeeping techniques and equipment in Ethiopia. I also asked them to brainstorm solutions to the problems, even if they were not entirely practical, and to think of at least one question regarding honeybee biology or modern beekeeping techniques. After an hour, they were to present their findings to the entire group.

The hall was quiet as the groups labored until morning tea.

Tea time is an orderly time.

Afterwards, we got down to business and all four groups presented their findings. Many of the problems were shared by all the groups. The availability and high cost of modern, moveable frame hives was always at the top of the list. Without the infrastructure of manufacturers, roads, truckers, and resellers that we are fortunate enough to have in America, it is difficult or impossible to obtain the woodenware without governmental assistance. It is estimated that well under 2% of Ethiopian hives are kept in these modern style hives.

Group 1: In English!

The solution is top-bar hives, commonly referred to as ‘transitional’ hives. With their moveable combs and resource friendly design, they are growing in popularity in both Ethiopia and abroad. They can be manufactured using local materials with very little cut lumber, which is the common limiting factor in rural areas. Many of the groups hit on this solution and we talked some more about how these hives can perform many of the same functions as ‘modern’ framed hives which cost many times more.

Group 2: Half in English!

There were also many questions about what do to about deforestation and loss of forage for the bees. Ethiopia is rapidly growing in population and the population demands more and more food. With this growth, comes the growth of agriculture and the loss of the trees that many hives need to survive. There is no simple solution to this problem, other than more efficient use of land, but we came to the conclusion that planting nectar producing plants in areas that were poor for agriculture would help improve the situation.

Group 3: A quarter in English!

The questions about deforestation and the rise of commercial agriculture also brought up issues with the increasing use of pesticides. Many beekeepers have lost their hives due to the overzealous application of these chemicals by local farmers, and as of yet, there is absolutely no regulation regarding their use (or misuse.) I suggested that if local farmers and beekeepers formed cooperatives, they could share information about when pesticides were going to be sprayed so that the beekeepers could seal or move their hives. It would be a mutually beneficial arrangement; the bees live, and the farmers get the pollination they need to get good yields.

Group 4: Only a little English

The final most common question was how to get bees that are as gentle as the ones in the US. This I answered as honestly as possible. The bees here have been bred for thousands of years to grow, swarm, and produce small hives quickly. These small hives would be harvested from and killed regularly by traditional beekeepers. This has made the bees small, fast, and highly defensive of the resources they have. Our bees, on the other hand, have been bred to swarm rarely, produce huge populations, and to make honey far in excess of their own needs. This has resulted in bees that are calm, gentle, and not overly aggressive.

Taking notes on queen breeding.

Breeding bees like these in Africa will take many years, and the switch to larger transitional and modern hives to increase populations and honey yields. By constantly breeding and splitting from their most gentle hives and by harvesting honey without tearing apart the hive, eventually bees which are less defensive will be produced. There aren’t any shortcuts; we’ve seen what the European/African hybrid commonly known as ‘Africanized’ bees can do. It will take a long time and care will have to be taken not to lose the vitality and strength of these awesome bees.

This brought us to a discussion of queen breeding techniques. In the afternoon, I gave a talk on breeding small numbers of queens by making walk-away splits. I also spoke about harvesting and processing ripe, high quality honey from a moveable frame hive, and leaving the unripe honey and brood for the bees to finish. By doing this, the hive is always left with some stores and the harvested honey is less likely to ferment.

The day was finished by a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture giving a talk on large scale queen breeding using grafting techniques.

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