International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Small farmers in Zimbabwe get a buzz from honey

Honeybees on beehive frame

With global demand for honey on the rise, the IRC is training farmers in beekeeping skills, harvesting techniques and business management.

You may remember Winnie the Pooh proclaiming his love for honey, but cuddly bears aren’t the only ones who crave the sweet syrup. Global Industry Analysts estimate that the worldwide market for honey will exceed 1.9 million tons by 2015, one reason the International Rescue Committee is working with the Zimbabwe government to support smallholder farmers learning the art of beekeeping.

The two-year program, a response to rising unemployment in rural Zimbabwe, aims to improve production and quality among local farmers and help them establish links with retailers.
“We are working with government officials in Nyanga and Mutasa districts in eastern Zimbabwe to train farmers in beekeeping skills, harvesting techniques and business management,” says Priscilla Dembetembe, the IRC’s economic recovery and development coordinator in Zimbabwe.
Training beekeepers in Zimbabwe

Beekeepers in eastern Zimbabwe learn how to build a style of beehive known as the Kenyan Top Bar hive.

Photo: Nyasha Kariramombe/IRC 

Under the initiative, farmers in a particular village will be encouraged to concentrate their efforts on a single product—like honey—in order to achieve higher yields and efficiencies. “Our communities are richly endowed with natural resources, and we identify the resource that is in abundance in a certain area, and then look how to tap into it,” says Dembetembe.
A total of 171 beekeepers were trained in January this year, including 48 women, an added plus in an industry that has been the province of men. “Beekeeping is traditionally a male-dominated profession in Zimbabwe because it is regarded as dangerous,” Dembetembe explains.
The beekeepers are trained on hive construction, honey harvesting and marketing. “They send their honey far and wide to hotels, restaurants and supermarkets,” says Dembetembe. “We are currently exploring the potential in pharmaceutical companies because of honey’s medicinal qualities.” 
A beekeper in Zimbabwe harvests honey from a Kenyan Top Bar Hive

A beekeeper harvesting honey from a Kenyan Top Bar hive

Photo: Nyasha Kariramombe/IRC

An IRC marketing officer conducts research and helps local producers connect with customers, “in itself quite a large task, as potential retailers for some of our farmers’ products aren’t always obvious,” notes Dembetembe. “Once we have identified potential buyers, we assist in the negotiations on volumes, prices, packaging and the like. We then try to facilitate bulking of the final product in a few locations to make it simpler and more cost effective for the buyers to collect.” 
The quality of the honey, sold raw or processed in 500g bottles, has improved since the IRC established local honey processing centers, aided by new equipment. Farmers are now fetching higher prices.
“It is wonderful to see farmers realizing an income which is helping them meet some of their expenses, such as paying for school fees and uniforms for their children,” Dembetembe says.

Honey facts: Did you know?

The Romans used honey instead of gold to pay taxes.
A honeybee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.
Honeybees must gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey.
Worker bees are all female. 
 Courtesy of the Honey Association UK

Give Rescue Gifts for the Holidays

Honeybee Harvest Kit: $72 can help farmers boost their income through beekeeping by providing hive frames, a smoker and a bee brush.
Honeybee Keeping Kit: $95 can provide essential protective gear, including a veiled hat, jacket, overalls and sturdy boots, for an aspiring beekeeper.
Rescue Gifts represent the innovative tools and programs the IRC implements around the globe.
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