Nature Based Beekeeping

What is NBB?

Nature Based Beekeeping

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Nature Based Beekeeping is an approach to keeping bees, that combines knowledge of honey bee ecology with local techniques, to combat poverty and hunger. It enables millions of farmers in developing countries to increase their quality of life.  

Nature Based Beekeeping is currently practiced in over 100 countries, and in Africa is the approach which delivers the highest volumes of surplus honey. Honey bees are part of nature and thrive everywhere where there are flowering plants and they readily produce surplus honey. For people to harvest this natural bounty from nature they need a low-cost beehive, and knowledge of beekeeping.

The Nature Based Beekeeping approach depends on keeping the cost of beehives as low as possible. Why low-cost? Because with low-cost hives the barrier to becoming a beekeeper is removed, making beekeeping accessible to more people. This means more people can keep more bees.

How does NBB work?

The Nature Based Beekeeping approach is simple, but it does require a very good understanding of the local context and requires investment in skills, knowledge and mentoring between practitioners – and pays close attention to the economics of the beekeeping system and access to markets. It is not an equipment-centric approach. Communities tap into the potential of their natural resources – namely honey bees, floral resources and hive-making materials, rather than relying on donated equipment.

 

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There are two main benchmarks for a successful Nature Based Beekeeping project:

Case Study

Nature Based Beekeeping in practice

Hear experienced beekeeper Patrick Ayebazibwe in Uganda explain how beekeeping financed his education, and that of his siblings. Patrick has worked in the beekeeping sector all his life and has a real understanding of the advantages of low-cost hives, “Local hives are made from available materials, such as bamboo and reeds. Even if you can’t make your own, a local hive can cost just UGX 5,000 compared to UGX 200,000 for a so-called ‘modern’ hive.”

Patrick Ayebazibwe

"There are so many donated hives in Uganda – but they have not helped people. Too many hives are left to rot and money, donated by well-meaning donors, is wasted."

Beehives in a field

Who can benefit? Everyone

Nature-based beekeeping approach depends on low-cost, own-made beehives and wise use of natural resources including bees, flowers, forests and hive-making materials.

Low-cost, own-made beehives remove the ‘beehive barrier’ and unlock the potential of nature’s surplus honey. Low-cost hives = more bees can be kept by more beekeepers. Everyone can benefit.

Greater honey harvests.
Significant beeswax yields

Accessible to everyone regardless of economic status. Less donor dependency.

Suitable for forest beekeeping, so supporting forest conservation.

Greater income earned. Community support for habitat conservation. Climate change mitigation through protected forests for bees. Greater and better crop yields as a result of pollination. Accessible to the poorest of the poor. Healthy bees.

Increased household resilience.

Stronger communities and healthier natural environment.

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What benefit does it bring?

There are numerous tangible outcomes from Nature Based Beekeeping. The greatest benefit is that the opportunity to ‘harvest money from nature is accessible to many people in difficult circumstances. In addition to honey which beekeepers can readily sell, beeswax is also harvested. NBB creates a strong synergy between habitat conservation and forest maintenance and supports climate change mitigation. NBB is adaptable to differing contexts and is accessible to people in remote areas and those who have no access to conventional beekeeping supplies and equipment. NBB builds on local expertise and knowledge and empowers people to connect with their local traditions and cultures.

Reality Check

There is an enormous problem of unused and empty donated beehives in Africa. These are the product of inappropriate beekeeping projects which pay insufficient attention to the local context. Behind the scenes, donated beehive projects are sometimes driven by stakeholders who have a vested interest in selling beehives regardless of whether they really help people. Nature Based Beekeeping empowers people to use their own resources and to develop their own skills to achieve transformational, sustainable change – even after the donor project ends.

Nature Based Beekeeping follows an extensive, rather than intensive approach to keeping bees. This is more sustainable than Western methods which rely on medication and fancy equipment.

Professor Tom Seeley, Biologist, Cornell University.

Evidence Base

The strongest evidence for the success and sustainability of NBB is the total volume of honey harvested and sold and the number of people benefitting. The regions in Africa which produce the largest surpluses of honey, sufficient to support a thriving honey export business, are also those regions where NBB is practised most widely, and include north-west Zambia, south-west Ethiopia and northern Tanzania. By contrast conventional beehive donation projects, whilst delivering some benefits for some people, rarely transform apiculture to such an extent as to underpin significant beeswax and honey trade.

Nature Based Beekeeping FAQs

Nature Based Beekeeping is an approach to using natural resources – notably bees, flowers and hive-making materials to making a living in a way that is profitable, sustainable and accessible for people with very limited financial resources. The approach empowers beekeepers to be self-sufficient with regard to accessing hives e.g. by making their own. This is an essential attribute which makes it possible for poor people to do beekeeping ‘at scale’.

The purpose is quite simply to enable farmers to earn money, without investing capital upfront so that small-holders and the rural poor can earn their way out of poverty without getting locked into unsustainable practices that rely on ongoing donor support or harm the environment
Yes. It is often said that for beekeeping to be accessible for women, beehives must be ‘taken down from the trees’. Whilst Nature Based Beekeeping includes forest beekeeping, it is not only about forest beekeeping. NBB is an approach built on key principles, and is not a single beekeeping system. There are many, many examples where women make their own beehives using locally available materials and set these on hive stands in back-yard apiaries. Provided this back-yard beekeeping system is accessible, sustainable and fits with the local ecology – then this meets the principles of a Nature Based Beekeeping system.

Conventional beehive donation projects place too much emphasis on donated equipment in the belief that giving someone a so-called ‘modern hive’ can change people’s lives. This belief is misplaced and thousands of donated hives end up empty and wasted. The reasons are many and include: 

  • Giving hives without skills achieves nothing 
  • Donated hive types are often expensive models – meaning it is hard for recipients to scale up by themselves, beyond the 1 or 2 hives they are given 
  • Frame hives are designed for colony manipulation, yet tropical bees quickly abscond if frequently manipulated 

Development programmes, governments and NGOs whose objective is to help people work their way out of poverty by building stronger and more resilient livelihoods, whilst also maintaining the environment. For any given budget, NBB can reach more people and change more lives than conventional beehive donation projects.  

Value for money advantages of Nature Based Beekeeping 

  • More cost-effective than conventional beehive donation project 
  • Achieve sustainable change, even after the end of the project 
  • Taps into latent potential in terms of local skills and locally available natural resources 
  • Creates an economic incentive for forest conservation, because Nature Based Beekeepers rely on large forest interiors for their beekeeping and not just forest margins 
  • Maintains the essential genetic fitness, health and resilience of local honey bee populations, so using nature, instead of medicines, to maintain bee health 
  • Does not rely on imported equipment 
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