Supporting women to join the beekeeping economy in Mwinilunga, Zambia
Beekeeping and honey selling is an important source of income for people in the north-west of Zambia. The success of this activity is partly driven by the presence of a reliable, large honey buying company, Forest Fruits Ltd. They buy large volumes of honey and so inject much-needed cash into these poor, remote communities. Over 95% of the beekeepers who sell honey are men. “We are very organised and pay cash to the beekeepers at point of sale. They really value this arrangement. But I feel sorry sometimes. I give money to the husband. His wife is just watching. Sometimes I wish I was giving money to the woman of the household instead.” (Production manager of the honey buying company, 2018).
The project concerns helping women do beekeeping so they too can sell honey to the company (or any other buyer – they will not be tied). The reason why this activity is male-dominated is because the beekeeping system in use is a forest-based system. This entails much long distant travel into the forest and women’s home responsibilities mean they cannot do this. We cannot change everything overnight. And we don’t want to undermine what men beekeepers are doing. We just want to help women a bit more.
This is not a new idea! There have been women’s beekeeping projects before, and this has helped us learn lessons. We now know better how to target which women and what sort of support they really need to make a difference. The key thing is ensuring women can afford to buy or can make low-cost hives. Giving expensive hives (e.g. top-bar hives) is not a sustainable solution. We have been asked for support by Mayimba Women Beekeepers and staff from the honey buying company have agreed to help too. Mayimba Women Beekeepers are already trying by themselves on a small scale. Honey selling is one of the growing opportunities in the area – and brings in more money than beans or maize. They are determined to earn more money and spend it on their children, on education, on medicine for the family.
What we plan to do
We aim to empower Mayimba Women Beekeepers to participate more fully in the existing and growing honey economy in Zambia. We will do this in two ways. Firstly, we will enable 50 women to buy bark hives (this is the hive-type which men make in the forest). Once the women start harvesting honey, they will be able to buy more bark hives to scale up if they wish. Secondly, we will introduce an alternative kind of low-cost hive made from bamboo. Bamboo is readily available, but it takes different skills to weave bamboo hives. We will teach these skills to Mayimba Women Beekeepers, so in future they can make their own hives, rather than buying. These are the intended project outputs:
1. 50 women keep bees and sell honey to the local honey company (using bark/bamboo hives)
2. 50 women beekeepers have 10 colonies of bees each
3. 50 women beekeepers increase their income by £70 a year, a 20% increase on their current income.
This project will bring long term economic empowerment to a group of dedicated and beginning women beekeepers. They watch their husbands and other men earn a lot of money from getting honey in the forest, an activity which is hard for women. But they know that they would make different choices about how this money is spent – spending more money directly on their children. We also expect these women to become role models for other women and share their skills - especially in making woven bamboo hives.
Monitoring progress and impact
We will provide regular follow-up and supervision and ask the women beekeepers about any problems they encounter and seek their feedback. We will measure the impact of the project by visiting the group and recording how many productive bee colonies they have and how they are achieving increase. We will record how much money they sell. Mayimba Women Beekeepers will tell us the difference that beekeeping is making to their lives, so we understand and learn from the project.