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There is no well documented evidence that indicates when and where beekeeping practice started in Ethiopia. According to the history books, it had started in the country between 3500-3000 BC. The country has a high potential for beekeeping as the climate is favourable for growing different vegetation and crops, which are a good source of nectar and pollen for honeybees.

Ethiopia is an important honey and beeswax producing country, and the leading producer of honey and beeswax in Africa. According to report estimates, Ethiopia, with over 10 million honeybee colonies, is the country with the highest  honeybee population in Africa.  With a honey production estimated at 50,000 metric tons per annum and is said to represent only 10.7% of the country’s production potential. The country is on a global scale, the 4th largest producer of beeswax and is the 10thlargest honey producer in the world.Ethiopia produces around 23.6% and 2.1% of the total African and world’s honey, respectively.

The country also is endowed with botanically diversified honey source plant species which supply ample food to the honeybees and for honey production. Some 800 bee plants were already identified and 500 of them are described in detail.


Total Land area : 945 203 sq km where 4.53% is arable and 6.2 % is water

Population : 79 221 000

Population Density : 2-888 people per squarekilometre

Economy : Agricultural based

Forest cover : 38.8 million ha

Apiculture sector : 10 million bee colonies, out of which about 7.5 million are confined in hives and 2.5 million in the forest and crevices

Major type beehives : Traditional type

Honey production : 50 000 MT annually

Beeswax production : 3000 MT annually

Beekeeping in Ethiopia is an ancient tradition which stretches back into the millennia of the country’s early history. It is an important activity for many rural people and is also carried out in home gardens and even houses in all parts of the country. The collection and selling of honey and other bee products, is a major economic activity. Honey and beeswax also play a big role in the cultural and religious life of the Ethiopian people.

Honey from Ethiopia is organic by default, mainly because the honeybees produce honey from forest plants and honey plants growing in areas that are free from in organic fertilizer and chemical application. This makes the input to output ratio very high, which in turn, helps to attract great deal of investment in the sub sector. The demand for Ethiopian honey has increased to the extent that honey processors and packers can not meet. This coupled with other suitable agro ecological factors for honey production have attracted foreign investors to involve in organic honey production in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia forest honey and honey from coffee trees










Local honey


Beekeeping is the most wild spread practice in the farming communities and is a traditionally important off-farming activity for an estimated 1.7 million rural households. Itformsa very important integral part of the farming system. There areabandonedapiculturalresources, particularly in the western parts of the region, like the capital of Kaffa zone, is an example for the region’s most widely known forest organic honey production which has high demands for its quality product. This area holds about 30-40% of the dense natural forest coverage and the majority honey  bee population.

This area is well known for their quality and quantity of honey and bee wax production, in the country. The second largest area includes the agro-forestry based agriculture land area. Sidama and Gedeo regions are well developed and long standing traditional beekeeping  areas. They keep bees mostly at back yard level, using hives either under separate shelter or around the house or even inside the house. These areas are widely known by their coffee plantations and production that can produce organic honey from coffee trees.









Traditional Hive
















A ‘honey house’ with Traditional hives

In the centre parts of the region, professional training is given to beekeepers farmers to enable them become more productive and to maximize their honey and bee wax production. Professional training services like demonstrating, introducing and adopting improves technologies and beekeeping practices such as distributing box and framed hives with accessissories, training on bee management and production, and the introduction of bee forage seeds, other inputs required for honey production like queen excluder, wax presser, and honey extractor are provided for farmers.

Professional training that was given to the beekeeping farmers of the region in the western natural forest areas have made a desirable changes in the past years.

Despite its long history, beekeeping in Ethiopia is still an undeveloped sector of argriculture. The knowledge and skill of honey production and honey and beeswax extraction of Ethiopia farmers is still very traditional.  The large majority of beekeepers in the country are still producing honey using traditional hives. Traditional beekeeping accounts for more than 90% of the honey produced in the country. This method of beekeeping, is extensive and closely tied to swarm management. The hives are hung up in trees to catch swarms and are then transferred to the ground. Often, such hives are placed in a kind of bee houses that protects the hives from the heat and rain. The traditional hives are crafted by creating a tubeshaped structure using branches, straw, cow dung and clay. The hives are typically 30-40 cm across and 1 m long .  They can be carved from a soft log, such as a cactus tree.

Productivity from traditional hives is very low at an average of 5-6 kg/year, while production from improved hives like the KTBH (Kenya Top Bar Hive) and Langstroth can reach levels of 10-15 kg and 20-40kg pure honey/year, respectivly.The quality of honey produced in an improved box hive (Langstroth type) is also significantly better being free of pollen, beeswax, brood and debris.Low productivity and poor quality remain the main challenge.
















Kenya Top Bar Hive in production

Because of the numerous disadvantages of the traditional hives, the traditional way of beekeeping is changing to removable frames type hives.Two different types of hives are been used not only in Ethiopia, but through the whole  of Africa. The Top Bar Hive (TBH) and or the modern, Langstroth wooden box hive are the most popular and allows farmers increasing production of honey with 100% to 200% as compared to the traditional beehive. Top Bar Hives are simple in design and can be constructed for free using locally available materials. In addition, since it is located in the backyard, it is highly suitable for woman beekeepers.  The trend of adoption of box and top bar hives, as well as transition hives, is increasing along with the productivity.












Kenya Top bar Hive manufacture from different material












A apiary with Langstroth hives and removable frame hive in the South- Western region of Ethiopia

Unfortunately, frame hives are generally not suitable for African beekeeping conditions and are not readily adopted because of price and the need for precision parts. If not crafted precise enough working with these hives becomes a nuisance. Ethiopia already has experience with such a transition program to modern frame hives. For example, a few years ago NGO’s, together with the government, initiated the construction and distribution of 150’000 frame hives. To this day, the legacy to this ambitious program could not be seen in Ethiopian beekeeping. The hives simply disappeared.

In Africa, apiculture using frame hives is only feasible if the beekeeper can self-produce an appropriate hive and fitting frames that can be lent to farmers. Beekeeping training for these farmers are also required. Payment by the farmer are made, using honey.

Honey is traditionally consumed by Ethiopians in small quantities, and most honey is diluted with water, mixed with herbs and fermented in big pots. So-called tejtis a very popular honey drink in Ethiopia, and is consumed by people across the country. There is no need to harvest ripe quality of honey to produce tejt. Thus, beekeepers are often not aware of any differences in quality of honey due to water content.












Tejt – Ethiopia honey wine

Honey businesses operating on a larger scale and aiming for export, or at least marketing in Addis Ababa, collects honey from farmers/beekeepers over a wide area. Usually, collection centres are established to collect and extract honey from a distinct area. Farmers harvest the honeycombs at night and carry the honey on plates or in baskets to the centre for extraction. They have to follow a strict delivery plan to cope with the capacity of the extraction facilities.Honey is extracted by pressing combs or by using a commercial honey-extracting machine to remove honey from intact frames. After sieving, the honey is filled in buckets or drums.














Basket that are used to carry honey to the processing plant













Honey presses are used to press honey out of the combs

With the help of SNV (Netherlands Development Organization), the business Apinec was created to perform a very strong honey production chain, in Ethiopia. The company has a carpentry workshop capable of producing accurately machined box hives and frames. Beekeepers are given the boxes in exchange for their honey. Apinec has established a very effective training for its beekeepers. In addition, they provide all necessary apiculture tools, such as protection gear, hive tools, smokers and transport baskets to their affiliated beekeepers. Apinec supports and improves beekeeping with a selection and breeding program of the local honeybee race. They have their own queen-rearing program and provide members with mated queens.

Apinec is ISO certified and fulfils all the EU Third State requirements for honey. Respective Honey analysis is performed in Hohenheim, Germany. This is the easiest, and at the moment, most economical way to fulfil the sampling requirements for exporting to EU. In the future, a national Ethiopian honey lab should take over this responsibility.

Ethiopia, alongside with very few other Africa countries, is listed for the export of honey to the EU and began exploiting this opportunity in 2008, with first exports to Europe and Yemen. Africa has become a promising supplier to compete with the Chinese, Brazilians and Southeast Asians in the honey export market. Efforts to introduce Ethiopian suppliers to the mainstream market channels have been very positive. Ethiopian suppliers are learning the requirements of the markets and are developing production targets to enter the world bulk market. While Ethiopia’s prices are currentlyabove world price, most foreign buyers are enthusiastic about Ethiopia and tend to differentiate Ethiopia honey from the rest of Africa, especially for specialty honey, which trades in an elevated pricing structure. The unique floral sources of Ethiopian have very desirable and unique flavours, colour and viscosity.














Ethiopia honey and bee products for the export market

Ethiopia with its diverse landscape, nectar rich forests and large potential areas for beekeeping development, is for sure a country to be look out for in the future,  playing a major role in honey production and bee products exports ,to the rest of the world..

By Jaco Wolfaardt




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