“Beevelop” rural Ethiopia?
In November 2015 the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Oromos, took to the streets to protest against an expansion of the capital Addis Ababa into Oromia territory. As Addis Ababa is surrounded by the federal state of Oromia, the fears of land grab and displacement of farmers were driving the protest. These demonstrations soon developed into general dissatisfaction with the government and marginalization of the Oromo in the political process, leading to the declaration of a state of emergency on October 8, 2016.
This incident shows us that land has become an increasingly disputed resource in Ethiopia, spurring conflict – particularly in rural areas – where people depend on their land for their livelihood. To address this issue, an economic activity that is not land-consuming is needed to support rural development. Can beekeeping be part of the solution?
Agriculture plays a crucial role in Ethiopian economy and society: 40.9% of the GDP is generated by agriculture and 72.7% of the population depends on it for its livelihood. In fact, most Ethiopian farmers live on subsistence farming. Additionally, due to growing interest by foreign investors in Ethiopian land, a growing population, and a land tenure system that does not allow the sale of land, scarcity issues are becoming increasingly worse.
Because agriculture is the main income-generating activity in Ethiopia, the lack of off-farm jobs increases pressure on land and hinders poverty reduction. Land holdings are already low, averaging only 1.06 ha per household. By 2030, the Ethiopian population is estimated to increase from currently 99 million to 138 million people, which will tighten the distribution of land. This tightening, coupled with the need to maintain production levels on decreasing farm plots, causes overuse of the remaining land and reduces soil quality.
Additionally, insecure tenures reduce investments in land and increase land degradation. With the present land tenure system in Ethiopia, all land belongs to the state and only possession of land is granted. Consequently, authorities can redistribute land and use it as a political instrument to reward government-friendly behavior. Ethiopia is also one of seven countries worldwide that has leased more than 10% of its agricultural land, resulting in the displacement of pastoralists and farmers.
To tackle problems of land scarcity, off-farm jobs are necessary to support rural income generation. Beekeeping is a pro-poor and off-farm income generating activity. It not only produces a nutritious and high-value food product which generates income, but it also creates employment possibilities along the honey value chain (input provision, production, processing, and marketing). Beekeeping does not consume large amounts of land – a backyard is sufficient – so it releases people from land-demanding activities and reduces pressure on land. As beekeeping requires relatively lower levels of investment and is a non-physically demanding work, it is also favorable for women.
In addition to the food product (honey) and the non-food products like wax and propolis, beekeeping improves pollination of crops, which increases harvests for farmers. Moreover, sustainable land management can be combined with beekeeping – planting bee forage around plots, for example, can function as contour lines against soil erosion.
According to studies, Ethiopia could increase its honey production by about 90%, but several factors impede beekeeping in Ethiopia and it remains a largely untapped industry. Among others, lack of modern production techniques, constraints in market access, missing financial support, and a low degree of institutionalization continue to be significant roadblocks. For example, Ethiopian beekeepers still largely rely on traditional production techniques, like beehives in treetops, which yield only around 6 kilograms per harvest. Transitional and modern hives, on the other hand, can yield up to 20 kilograms and are managed at ground level. Currently, only 0.6% of bee hives are transitional or modern hives in Oromia, despite their advantages. But differences between the regions in Ethiopia are large as Tigray, the northern federal state, uses 23,2% modern hives. Government programs, like the ones implemented in the Tigray region, can help improve production techniques through loans for beekeepers to purchase materials.
Beekeeping can certainly be part of the solution to Ethiopia’s rural development problem. By supporting off-farm jobs in beekeeping, the government can encourage rural development in regions like Oromia. This support can include raising awareness about the advantages of combining traditional and modern hives, as well as offering practical training in their use, enhancing the supply of modern beekeeping equipment, and providing financial support through loans. However, improving the inclusion of marginalised ethnic groups like the Oromos in the political process is crucial to prevent further unrest and support development.
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 The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Central Statistical Agency, “Agricultural Sample Survey 2015/2016. Volume IV. Report on Land Utilization,” (Addis Ababa, 2015).
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 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, “The Constitution. Article 40. The Right to Property,” (Addis Ababa, 1994), accessed December 28, 2016, http://www.ethiopia.gov.et/de/democratic-rights.
 Samuel Gebreselassie, “Land, Land Policy and Smallholder Agriculture in Ethiopia: Options and Scenarios,” Discussion Paper 008, (Future Agricultures Consortium, Sussex, 2014).
 IFPRI/Concern/ Welthungerhilfe, “Global Hunger Index,” (Bonn/Washington DC/Dublin, 2013).
 Mengistu Assefa Wendimu, “Pro-poor value chains to make market more inclusive for the rural poor: Lessons from the Ethiopian honey value chain,“ (paper presented at Global Value Chains and Sustainable Development, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, 2011).
 International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Ministry of Agriculture, Federal Republic of Ethiopia,“ Apiculture value chain vision and strategy for Ethiopia,” (International Livestock Research Institute, Addis Ababa, 2013).
 Mengistu Assefa Wendimu, “Pro-poor value chains to make market more inclusive for the rural poor: Lessons from the Ethiopian honey value chain,” (paper presented at Global Value Chains and Sustainable Development, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, 2011).
 Tamrat Gebiso, „Adoption of Modern Bee Hive in Arsi Zone of Oromia Region: Determinants and Financial Benefits,“ Agricultural Sciences 6 (2015): 382-396.
 Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia, Federal Republic of Ethiopia, Agricultural Sample Survey 2014/15 (2007 E.C). Volume II. Report on Livestock and Livestock Characteristics (Private Peasant Holdings), (Federal Republic of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, 2014).
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