How Maasai beekeepers are restoring lands and livelihoods

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© FAO

Opinion piece for World Bee Day (May 20) by Dr Nyabenyi Tipo, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Representative in Tanzania, and Jhony Zapata Andia, FAO Forestry Officer

© FAOClimate change has made droughts ever more frequent and severe in many parts of the world. For many small-scale forest and farm producers, this has made it harder to find enough pasture for their animals to graze on. In northern Tanzania, Maasai families have struggled as their main source of income has dwindled.

With the support of FAO’s Forest and Farm Facility, a local network of smallholder farmers and pastoralists, called MVIWAARUSHA, is helping Maasai men and women become beekeepers to survive the tough times.

MVIWAARUSHA has provided equipment and training in beekeeping techniques adjusted to their environment and, crucially, it has taught them to be savvy businesspeople. They produce, label and brand their products to maximise value, and combine forces with other beekeepers to access new markets.

In many cases, this has rapidly transformed lives, generating healthy incomes and the capacity to buy more hives. Beekeepers like Maria Shinini in the Monduli district of the Arusha region, are processing up to 300 one-litre bottles of honey per season, selling for 10 000 Tanzanian shillings ($4.50 USD) each. She is able to send her children to school from the profits.

Honey has now become a symbol of prosperity among the Maasai. Maria Shinini says a future husband might now present the parents of his would-be bride with a large bucket of honey rather than a cow.

At the same time, beekeeping is giving women new status in their communities as they become successful businesspeople. Wider opportunities are opening up for younger generations now that their parents can afford to pay for their education.

Today (Saturday 20 June) is World Bee Day, and it provides an opportunity to highlight how beekeeping can be a crucial part of Africa’s solutions to climate change. It can lift families and communities out of poverty and improve gender equity.

But this is not all. Bees have a vital role to play in conservation because their activity helps natural vegetation to grow again where land has been degraded. Beekeepers take care of the surrounding habitat to ensure the bees thrive, including forests where many plants grow that bees favour for nectar.

MVIWAARUSHA reports that in parts of Arusha where the Maasai now keep bees, degraded land and forest is turning green and flourishing again. This in turn helps to reduce drought and increase production for the beekeepers.

Close to 75 percent of crops that produce fruit and seeds for human use depend at least in part on pollinators. Local people are seeing with their own eyes the important role that bees play everywhere in keeping ecosystems healthy.

Yet today, 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species – particularly bees and butterflies – are under threat from intensive monocultural production and improper use of pesticides which reduce their access to food and nesting sites, expose them to harmful chemicals and weaken their immune systems.

Funded by Finland, Germany, IKEA, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United States of America, the Forest and Farm Facility has been supporting seven forest and farm producer organizations in Tanzania since 2020, directly reaching more than 322,000 households responsible for 425,965 hectares across Tanzania. Smallholders have been supported to develop and diversify their businesses, build resilience to climate change and develop sustainable farming practices. So far, close to 67,870 hectares of forest have been restored through various activities including establishing tree nurseries, sustainable forest management and improved beekeeping technology.

Tanzania already has a thriving beekeeping sector, employing 2 million people in the production and sale of bee-related products. There is potential for growth to meet demand for honey and medicinal beeswax products both inside Tanzania and across Africa. And the potential rewards go far beyond the revenue generated.

Protecting bees and promoting pollinator-friendly farming practices is a key part of the change needed to make the global food system sustainable and ensure food security for all. Beekeepers can become conservationists who help Africa through these very challenging times.

Source:FAO

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