Monze Women’s Beekeeping Project

Monze Women's Beekeeping Project

January 04, 2021

Ladies of the Haamupande group

The project so far

This project has now reached it’s final phase. It has been implemented in three, yearly phases with two groups of trainees being recruited each year:

  • Phase 1: Kabwenbala and Chobaana East
  • Phase 2: Haamupande and Muloube
  • Phase 3: Lusumpuko and Nakambala

Comprising between 13 and 25 members, each group was carefully selected following an interview process by our local partner, Sustainable Rural Development Agency (SRDA), together with a representative from either local government, or from the local forestry department. All groups are located in Monze District and their members are mainly subsistence farmers, many of them unmarried or widowed, who have sole responsibility for the wellbeing of their households.

Today, each group has a core of several trainee beekeepers, and hopes that the income raised through beekeeping will help improve their livelihoods and resilience. They hope that increasing honey production and access to good markets will improve their nutrition and health. This is especially important in times of drought, when reduced rainfall has a significant effect on subsistence farming and hive colonisation rates.

Our Local Delivery Partner for projects in Zambia, SRDA, is a small rural-based NGO registered in 2006. This project was led by the SRDA director, Mr Phillip Nsakilwa, who has a Diploma in Forestry and significant beekeeping experience. He is supported by two field officers with beekeeping and social work experience. For each phase of the project, SRDA contributes 25% of its profit from its own honey-buying and honey-selling operation.

Sustainability has been firmly built into this project. One of the key goals for the groups is to establish a core of members who are able to effectively open and harvest hives independently from SRDA, and thus be able to earn useful income from high quality honey sales. Income from these sales is then intended to help them start new enterprises or develop their existing ones.

2020: A Challenging Year

Soon after the seasonal rains at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, there were signs of bees returning to the region. This led to the decision to proceed with Phase 3 of the project.

For the final phase, two new groups – Lusumpuka and Nakambala – were enrolled onto the project and eight hives were provided for each group. However the bees’ return appears to have been short-lived. The impact of the drought in 2020 is still being felt, and has created an environment in which there are fewer bees to colonise the hives. 

By January 2021, only the Kabwenbala and Chobaana East groups had been able to harvest and sell honey from their hives (harvested from two hives in Kabwenbala, and from four hives in Chobaana East). Unfortunately, most of the other hives have remained uncolonised for much of the year. The group in  Haamupande do not have any colonised hives, while Muloube only have three hives colonised. The two new groups Lusumpuka and Nakambala only have one and zero hives colonised respectively. Many of the colonies kept by some of the women in local (traditional) hives have also absconded this year.


Priming the top bars with melted bees wax

Efforts to Address the Challenges

In order to help maintain the group morale and motivation during these difficult times, SRDA has increased their visits to all six groups. This also helps ensure that each group is maintaining both their apiaries and each of their eight top-bar hives in top condition.

It is still unclear if drought is the only reason for such low colonisation rates, but the beekeepers are confident that the climate crisis has played a major factor as forage for bees has been greatly reduced in the region due to the droughts. In order to address these challenges, a significant number of interventions have been tried including:

  1. increasing the number of advisory visits by SRDA to the groups
  2. maintaining apiaries and hives in good condition
  3. providing additional water and supplementary food
  4. using swarm-catcher boxes
  5. using small log hives to help attract swarming or absconding bees.

Sadly, none have been particularly successful.

In terms of capacity building of SRDA, a number of options have been discussed during regular WhatsApp video calls and email exchanges; these include more interaction with the Cooperative Department (Ministry of Agriculture), and the Forestry department, as well as with other beekeeping associations and NGOs in the district. Just four weeks before a planned visit to Zambia, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against all but essential international travel, due to Covid-19. The onus fell on SRDA to continue reviewing Phase 2 and launching Phase 3. With typical efficiency and commitment SRDA, took over.

The major success achieved this year is the strong and developing working relationship with SRDA. Despite all the setbacks, it is heartening to hear from SRDA that the women continue to show a real commitment to the project and to beekeeping.

Much of this work could not have happened without the generous support of the Ida Davis Foundation, Zoetis UK, Kent Beekeeping Associations, and the incredible volunteers at Bees Abroad. The continued support of the local community in Blean, near Canterbury, is also much appreciated.

Into the Future...

The project comes to an end soon, in April 2021 and we want these women and amazing new beekeepers to succeed. As Bees Abroad, our future, beekeeping activities in the region will largely depend on whether the seasonal rains fall the year 2020-21, and if this leads to an improvement in the local habitat and environment that will attract bees back to the area. The first expected swarming period of the year between March and May 2021 will be carefully monitored for signs of improvement.

As for SRDA, they have proved to be a most worthy local partner and trainers for new beekeepers. Discussions will continue as to how best Bees Abroad can assist with their ongoing sustainability and capacity building into the future.

Thank you to all who have supported this and other Bees Abroad projects. As challenging as our work may be, we always learn and grow. We keep looking into the future for opportunities where our skills, knowledge and experience can benefit communities that need them the most.