Ethiopia: Harnessing Ethiopia’s Untapped Honey Production Potential

What makes honey unique in Ethiopia is that it is harvested from the vast forests of South and South East Ethiopia as well as massively produced as part of the country’s apiculture. Currently, honey is also processed in factories which adds value to it.

The annual honey production in Ethiopia is estimated at 25,000 tonnes, which is mainly derived from traditional husbandry, research finds.

Data on the resource potential assessment of the region undertaken by IPS in 2003 indicated that on the average 3.5 tonnes of honey has been exported annually from 1977 to 2000. The exported amount of honey is extremely low as compared to the existing production level.

The main reason for the low level of export is due to low quality in terms of moisture content, flavour, aroma, etc. The other reason is that a significant proportion of honey production in Ethiopia is consumed in preparing “tej”, a local liquor in most parts of Ethiopia.

The Benishangul Gumuz Regional State is one of the well known potential areas in the country for honey production. According to the assessments, there are 136,074 beehives in the region. The average crude honey yield from traditional hive per year is estimated at 5 kg. Therefore, total annual crude honey production in the region is estimated at 680.4 tonnes. Furthermore, there is a practice of crude honey harvesting from the forest by hunting.

In the Gojjam Zone of the Amhara Region, northern Ethiopia, the other highly lucrative area for honey production, the natural vegetation coverage is relatively high. As a result the honeybee population is dense and production is relatively high in this area. Besides the beekeeping potential, the region is popular for various cultivated oil crops, pulses and field flowers, which serve as an important source of forage for the bees. Farmers who produce primarily cereals, pulses and crops use various types of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides without due consideration of the damage on honeybee colonies.

A number of bee colonies either die or abscond from their hives due to the extensive use of agrochemicals. In addition, the promotion of some agri-cultural inputs such as pesticides and herbicides for crop production, as well as the use of deadly chemicals for the malaria eradication programme, might have also contributed. The trend of chemical utilization, including usage by smallholders, has been increasing due to the expansion of agriculture packages to increase plant productivity nation-wide. In recent years, population increase led to a rise in demand for crops and cereals that increased with price incentives. For this reason, many societies have aimed to counterbalance the human needs and food production. This made the farmers use much more agro-chemicals in production activities. Some beekeepers lost all their colonies due to agrochemical application.

Currently, there are few private and cooperatives engaged in commercial honey processing that process and sell honey using conventional (not highly mechanized) equipment. However, to be more competitive in both local and international markets, it is recommended to acquire modern processing technology from abroad (Far East, Europe or America) as a source of technology and machinery among which the following companies are recommended.

Processed honey is locally supplied by two private honey processing small scale industries located at Addis Ababa. The annual supply of processed honey from these two plants is estimated at 240 tonnes.

Since there is no disaggregated data on the consumption of honey for the production of the local drink “tej” and household consumption, the demand for processed honey is estimated based on an end-use approach. According to the recent household income, consumption and expenditure survey, CSA, the per capita consumption is about 60 grammes indicating total national consumption of 4,264 tonnes.

The target market for honey production is the urban population. Taking the average per capita consumption and size of urban households, the current effective demand is estimated at 671.94 tonnes. As mentioned, the annual average export of honey is 3.5 tonnes. Hence, the total present effective demand for processed honey is estimated at 675.44 tonnes.

According to the findings to the research conducted to assess the financial and economic rationale of the USAID interventions addressed to improve the livelihood of poor honey producers through the provision of modern beehives, is characterized by the widespread use of traditional technology resulting in relatively low honey supply and poor quality of honey harvested when compared to the potential honey yields and quality gains associated with modern beehives.

The study done by three researchers named Mikhail Miklyaev, Glenn P. Jenkins and Richard R. Barichello found that Ethiopian honey production Modern beehive yields around 20kg of higher quality honey as compared to 6-8 kg of yields from traditional beehives. This situation results in growing domestic prices of table honey and poor perspectives for reaching export markets.

To develop a successful and reliable system for honey production and marketing in Ethiopia, other aspects of honey production will need to be researched, and more investments will be necessary. Bee foraging is one area that might be worth researching, especially in Eastern Tigray, where white honey is produced. In that area, bees forage in a specific type of herbaceous plants that are considered to be medicinal by local people. One of these herbs, Tebeb (in local language; scientifically known as Basium clandiforbium), is believed by many local people to lower blood sugar.

The research also recommended that beekeepers will need access to financing resources to obtain modern-style beehives and tools, preferably packaged together to prevent significant delays. Training sessions on modern beekeeping will need to be organized before the beekeepers attempt modern-style honey production, and follow-up workshops will most likely need to be organized to ensure continued proper management of modern apiaries.