Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar

by SEED Madagascar
Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar
Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar
Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar
Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar
Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar
Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar
Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar
Safeguard Bees and Beekeepers in Madagascar
A butterfly in one of the hives.
A butterfly in one of the hives.

It’s October, which means it will soon be honey-harvesting time in Anosy. Our two local beekeeping technicians, Pierros and Fidson, have been supporting 31 beekeepers across 6 communities - Tsagnoriha, Vatambe, Manarall, Beandry, Mahialambo, and Sainte Luce - through monthly monitoring visits ensuring the hives are clean, populated, and healthy. Pierros and Fidson are beekeepers who were involved in the previous phase of Project Renitantely selected as technicians due to their high levels of skill and experience. Pierros and Fidson support their fellow beekeepers with hive maintenance and repairs, populating the hives to expand the apiaries, pest management, and overall training for the beekeepers. For instance, June beekeepers were taught how to test the water content in the honey and how to make sugar water to feed the bees.

Each month the hives are cleared of any pests or insects (such as the varroa mites) that might damage the bees’ hard work, in order to keep the hives healthy. If you look closely at the photo, you might be able to spot a butterfly that invaded the hive! The team makes sure to remove the pests and works to prevent any other intruders from entering the hives. This allows Project Renitantely to be ready for the harvesting season and I look forward to updating you on the outcome.

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Whilst the yield of honey depends on the condition of the bee colonies, the health of the colonies depend upon the amount of forage (food) for the bees; a vital aspect of the beekeeping process. Unfortunately however, , forage is currently being threatened by slash and burn agricultural practices, as well as some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. This results in a severe lack in diversity and abundance of forage, leading to a decline of wild honeybees, making their capture and repopulation even more difficult.

To address this lack of forage, in April 2022, SEED introduced five varieties of vegetable seeds and fruit tree seeds, distributing these to the beekeepers as part of a supplementation strategy. This strategy promotes both short- and long-term forage for the bees, whilst also providing secondary benefits to households through the production of food and nutritional value. Amongst some of the fruits and vegetables introduced, including lychee, courgette, aubergine, and orange, the Moringa plant is fast-growing, almost entirely edible and is extremely nutritious due to its high levels of vitamins and protein. Thus, our approach is two-fold in its benefits, being beneficial to both the health of the bees and those around them.

A healthy relationship between bees and humans is not only essential for the wellbeing of the people, but also for the environment and livelihoods of those living in rural Madagascar.

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Beekeeper in Southern Madagascar
Beekeeper in Southern Madagascar

With failed harvests considerably reducing food and income, there is an urgent need for the strengthening of alternative, sustainable livelihood strategies. Most Project Renitantely beekeepers started beekeeping to supplement other forms of subsistence agriculture, such as rice or cassava farming. Despite expressed motivation to improve their beekeeping, many struggle to find the capital to invest in their enterprises. There often isn’t enough money to repair broken hives, let alone purchase materials to expand their apiaries.

To increase the affordability of materials required to repair broken hives or construct new ones, SEED will provide project beneficiaries with subsidised materials. This will enable beekeepers to maintain, and even grow, their beekeeping income. Beneficiaries that have successfully repaired and populated all their hives will have the opportunity to expand their apiaries by providing subsidised hives.

To address difficulties in populating hives from wild colonies, SEED will focus on strengthening its ‘bee banks’ and will provide a swarm attractant. The use of a swarm attractant, made from natural essences, will be trialled to catch wild colonies. SEED will manage three bee banks; these are apiaries that serve to supply project beekeepers with honey-bee colonies to populate their hives, without needing to catch wild colonies.

SEED also recently recruited two new beekeeping technicians, Pierros and Fidson, who are past project beneficiaries. They will each be working in three different communities to provide ongoing training, advice, and technical assistance to project beneficiaries; as well as completing periodic monitoring and review of field activities. The beekeeping technicians are also responsible for raising awareness about the benefits of beekeeping and guiding households in managing beekeeping income.

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The economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, compounded by the worst drought since 1981, have left small-scale beekeepers in a difficult situation amid soaring prices for staple foods. With failed harvests drastically reducing food and incomes, resulting in famine, there is an urgent need for strengthening alternative, sustainable livelihood strategies.

One key challenge faced by Project Renitantely beekeepers is the limited access to markets. All target communities are located within 35km of the more lucrative urban market of Fort Dauphin; however, poor infrastructure and prohibitive transport costs force honey sellers to travel by foot, taking up to 12 hours. The inability to afford overnight stays in Fort Dauphin results in an urgency to sell the honey, reducing its price.

To address this challenge, SEED has identified a new route to market. A Malagasy honey exporter that markets to international consumers operates near Project Renitantely’s six target communities. The company uses a honey extractor, which currently isn’t compatible with the hive frames Project Renitantely beekeepers use. SEED will help adapt the hives to make them compatible with the extractor. SEED will also trial the use of wax foundations that bees build honeycomb on inside the frames. These wax foundations save bees’ energies and can therefore increase the honey yield that can be sold by beekeepers.

Without SEED’s intervention, beneficiaries may have to abandon their beekeeping enterprises to meet immediate needs during an increased period of economic hardship. To prevent this, SEED is seeking funding for this interim project to improve beekeeping as a viable and sustainable livelihood by addressing key challenges faced by beekeepers.

Misaotra betsaka (Thank you very much) for supporting Project Renitantely!

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Handwoven queen excluder compared to plastic
Handwoven queen excluder compared to plastic

During the more productive harvesting season, beekeepers want to use ‘supers’ to expand their beehives. A super is a second level that is placed on top of a strong hive. The bees then have more space to fill with honey and wax, providing the beekeeper with more opportunities to profit from the livelihood during this season. Supers can be constructed by beekeepers using local materials in much the same way that a regular hive can. 

When adding a super, beekeepers should also use a queen excluder. The queen excluder is placed between the main hive and the super to prevent queen bees from crossing and laying eggs in the super, where the beekeeper only wants honey. Keeping the super exclusively for honeycomb allows for an easier, cleaner, and more abundant harvest. 

Unfortunately, queen excluders are relatively expensive and cannot be purchased within 900 km of Fort Dauphin. This means that obtaining a queen excluder is often beyond the means of rural beekeepers in the Anosy region. However, Domaine, one of our beekeepers, has come up with a creative solution: weaving them out of local materials like mahampy reeds or ravinala leaves. In September, the beekeepers and the SEED technicians trialed the woven queen excluder. They found that it works just as well as the plastic ones, and no purchase or long-distance travel is required. 

This is an especially convenient solution, as weaving is a skill that can already be found in nearly every household in rural Anosy; the vast majority of women in rural communities make and sell woven products to supplement their income. The beekeeping technicians have shown all of the Renitantely beekeepers how they can employ this skill to create the handmade queen excluders. 

These woven queen excluders will become an even more essential tool in August when honey harvesting season begins and more hives become strong enough to produce honey that can be harvested. 

Queen excluder is placed between the hive
Queen excluder is placed between the hive
Domaine weaving a ravinala queen excluder
Domaine weaving a ravinala queen excluder
Harvesting honey and wax from two strong hives
Harvesting honey and wax from two strong hives

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Organization Information

SEED Madagascar

Location: London - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SEEDMadagascar
Project Leader:
Mark Jacobs
London, London United Kingdom
$6,199 raised of $28,973 goal
 
104 donations
$22,774 to go
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