Honey bees play crucial role in the wellbeing of the ecosystem. Hundreds of years ago, however, the benefits of those little yellow and black creatures were not understood. The early relations with humans was killing, burning bees’ natural habitat, then it was about eating the honey and running away from bees. Through time, cultivating honey started followed by producing bees and then honey was utilized as natural sugar. Gradually, knowledge about honey and its benefits grew as well as bee products such as cream, medicines among others increased.
The kingdom of bees, which normally comprises the queen and her workers, continue to possess the healing power for various diseases. With the degradation of the environment, the life and continuity of bee production remains at risk. Many may try to promote their honey as the best product, however, organic and natural honey are becoming very rare to find as 3 million flowers are needed for a bee to produce 1 kg of honey. Pollination is also significant for vegetables and fruits to grow as the process is cross-corresponding.
Eritrea is one of those places where organic honey is produced at large. Many would witness the beehives along the way to Fil Fil Selemuna, on the way to Mendefera, on the way to Kohaito and many other parts. From my recent visit, the town of Mendefera is home to many beehives and when I adventured myself into a little bush, I came across a village of beehives. Despite the heavy rain that day, Mr. Asmelash Asmerom, a bee farmer was working at his farm and offered me a warm welcome. A man in his 50s and former employee at the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Asmelash acquired great experience and with his background as a veterinary expert, he started his own bee farm and a pet pharmacy in the town.
During the first years of Eritrea’s independence, the Ministry of Agriculture and its partners, the Ministry of Local Government, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) among others, introduced the importance of bee farming among local communities by implementing a system in organizing, financially supporting and monitoring the work of bee farmers. Initially, the Ministry of Agriculture provided affordable beehives and materials as a starting kit for farmers willing to diversify their income-generating activities and preserving the natural ecosystem. At that time, a beehive was sold at 400 Nakfa by the Ministry compared to a current market price amounting to 7000 Nakfa.
Thus, the Ministry’s initiative allowed each region to form Association of farmers and one of them is the Mendefera subzone Association of Bee Farmers. The cooperative was officially established in 2012 and has 57 active members including more than 400 beehives throughout the country. Being organized under in an association allowed the voice of farmers to be heard effectively including sharing expertise among senior farmers such as Asmelash who is also the head of the association.
Currently, the association, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture in Mendefera subzone, launched a new method for bee farming by introducing Kenyan toper. A new method, less costly and environment friendly. “The positive aspect of this toper is that it is less costly as it can be built with materials available. It is a recycling method, a transit between traditional and modern method of farming”, said Mr. Habtom Laine, Animal Production Expert at the Ministry of Agriculture in Mendefera subzone. “It allows the less fortunate to start an income-generating activity by using the materials they have at hand to build their own beehives”, he added.
With an average of 162 quintals of honey produced each year in the subzone, the cooperative aims at multiplying it even further by introducing its members to trainings on productivity methods both in honey production and bee products.
“Being organized into a cooperative gives strength and enables farmers to find solution collectively”, said Asmelash. The low-scale farmers are given the opportunity to learn from the larger ones through the access they have to their expertise and assistance. Training is given to all members in modernizing bee farming. Subsidizing materials and bees also allows any member to start his/her activity.
“I have my own beehives but I also share with a group of six where as a senior, the other farmers learn the job”. Asmelash has beehives in different parts of the country according to the season between Mendefera and its surroundings, Tera Emni and Dekemhare and by the sea side in Massawa. There are various honey available giving different type of honey known as mono-flower or multi-flower according to the variety of flowers such as beles, apricot, papaya and from cereals such as sorghum or taff. In most of the highlands, the honey is multi-flower due to the variety of flowers and cereals growing in one area and Asmelash produces about 250-300 kg of honey per year. “Many of my clients are private and we also have important orders for wedding especially to make the traditional beverage known as mies”, the bee farmer said.
Accordingly, as I have mentioned two years ago in my article entitled, “Golden Liquid in Eritrea”, during the whole process from honey production to delivery, there are no third parties involved. This in turn enables, firstly, to sell honey of quality, secondly, to keep a healthy producer-client relationship and thirdly, to keep the price at constant level. The latter is important to remember, as there is a minority of honey producers who are not members of the cooperative selling honey for double the price without necessarily having a clear monitoring and quality testing procedures. In addition, the existence of this cooperative creates a platform to sell their honey without having to go from door to door.
As regards to the price of honey; it continues to put this natural product and medicine as a luxury item for many. When I asked the question to Asmelash about the price being an average 400 Nakfa per kg, he said that the price is lower in his region than it is in Asmara and it remains to be an expensive product as it continues to be used as a natural medicine rather than food product. In fact, honey is used against bladder infections, arthritis, cholesterol, heart-related disease, and toothaches. It is also source of prevention against cancer. It is a natural method to fight against symptoms of fatigue, cold, and skin problems, to boost the immune system, against stomachaches or indigestion and hearing problems.
Certainly, organic and natural products are becoming rare and people would pay the price to have such foodstuffs. While I was tasting different kinds of honey at Asmelash’s farm, I realized how Eritrea, thanks to its less polluted environment than many other places, is able to produce quality and organic honey praised by its inhabitants and visitors and with high potential in competing on international market and branding the “Organic Made in Eritrea”.