Knowledge is the Key

Want to know how to develop African beekeeping?

Africa is a big and diverse continent. According to the website Africacheck.org there are 56 de facto states in Africa including Somaliland. Geographically the continent has an area of 30,220,000 km². That is bigger than Europe, China and the USA put together (29,167,308 km²). The continent covers about one fifth of the total land area on the planet. According to Google, in 2011 there were just over 1 billion people living on the continent of Africa and a majority of the world’s poorest countries today are found in Africa.

There are many different cultures in Africa and according to the United Nation’s agency UNESCO, the number of languages spoken in Africa varies between 1,000 and 2,500 depending on different estimates and definitions. Many of these cultures have their own traditional beekeeping knowledge and practices.

The climate and vegetation of Africa ranges from desert to savannah grassland to jungle to sub-arctic conditions. There are a multitude of bee forage plants. For example a study carried out in Adamawa State Nigeria (Abdullahi et al., 2011) established that 103 species of plants were found to be foraged upon by honeybees in selected grazing and forest reserves. That is just in one small area of one country. Across the continent there are thousands of bee forage plants each with their own unique ecology.

Even when it comes to honeybees there are a number of sub-species of Apis Mellifera in Africa each with their own distinctive characteristics. Ruttner (1998) identified 10 sub-species: capensis, scutellata, litorea, unicolor, adansonii, monticola, jemenitica, lamarckii, sahariensis, and intermissa. In Kenya for example, Raina et al., (2005) identified three sub-species of the honeybee – Apis Mellifera litorea, Apis mellifera scutellata and Apis mellifera Monticola.

In summary Africa is big and it is very diverse. Is it any wonder then that when we try and transplant beekeeping systems from the USA and Europe that they don’t always work? What we need are systems of beekeeping that build on indigenous knowledge and local experience and are adapted to local bees, climate, vegetation, pests and socio-economic factors. What we need is a bottom up learning approach to beekeeping to come up with local solutions to local opportunities and challenges. In many cases however the development focus has been on the introduction of “modern” hives which is frequently accompanied by bland “one-size-fits-all” training that is unable to meet the needs of beekeepers due to the diversity of local conditions.

If we want to develop beekeeping in Africa we therefore need to shift the focus from distributing hives to building beekeeping skills and knowledge in close collaboration with African beekeepers.


Abdullahi G, Sule H, Chimoya I. A. and Isah, M. D (2011)

Diversity and relative Distribution of Honeybees Foraging Plants in some selected Reserves in Mubi Region, Sudan Savannah Ecological zone of Nigeria. Advances in Applied Science Research, 2 (5):388-395

Raina, S. K., & Kimbu, D. M. (2005)

Variations in races of the honeybee Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in Kenya. International Journal of Tropical Insect Science, 25(04), 281-291.

Ruttner, F. (1988)

Biogeography and Taxonomy of Honeybees. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

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