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Saturday, 21st January 2023

Building capacity in beekeepers: a community-based approach

By Noëlle Krans

In southeast Madagascar, beekeeping is one of the few livelihood activities that provides rural households with an opportunity to generate income. Since 2016, SEED’s Project Renitantely (meaning honeybee in Malagasy) has been working to improve the viability of beekeeping in rural areas around Fort Dauphin. In early 2022 the project partnered with two beekeepers from the communities we work in, Pierros and Fidson. Following a community-centred approach, Pierros and Fidson use their local expertise to improve beekeepers’ skills and knowledge by providing hands-on support. Last month, we spoke with Pierros and Fidson to discuss their role in the project, the challenges local beekeepers are currently facing, and how they are improving the sustainability of beekeeping in their community. 

Introducing our beekeeping technicians, Pierros and Fidson

Both originally farmers, Pierros and Fidson first began beekeeping through SEED’s Project Renitantely in 2016. Over the years, Pierros and Fidson have gradually built their skills, and have now joined the project as technicians to share their expertise with fellow beekeepers.

Around 30 kilometres north from Fort Dauphin lies Vatambe, a town surrounded by mountains. Here, Fidson lives together with his wife and six children. In the seven years that Fidson has been a beekeeper, he has expanded his apiary to 20 hives!  

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Fidson checking a beekeeper’s hive

Based in Tsagnoriha, Pierros lives together with his wife and daughter. When Pierros first became a beekeeper in 2016 he started with only one hive. Now, he has successfully grown his business to 40 hives.  

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Pierros harvesting honey

Addressing local challenges

According to Pierros, beekeepers in southeast Madagascar are facing many challenges, including “climate change, the lack of flowers, the lack of bees in the forest, the high cost of equipment, and many different bee diseases.” Scarcity of flowers is a problem particularly worsened by climate change, as increasingly longer droughts are leading to widespread crop failure, resulting in a lack of forage for bees. 

Fidson adds that for beekeepers to become more resilient, they require equipment, training, and a high quality product to strengthen their business. Providing beekeepers with personalised support, Pierros and Fidson conduct monthly monitoring visits to each beekeeper, putting their expertise at the centre of the approach. What does this look like in practice? Pierros and Fidson explain. 

Maintaining healthy hives 

The Varroa destructor, a parasitic mite, is a recurring challenge for beekeepers which has severe implications for the health of bee colonies all over the world. Every month, Pierros and Fidson work with beekeepers to check the hives for pests and insects, helping beekeepers to effectively clean the hives and finding new strategies to improve pest management. To combat the varroa mites, Pierros and Fidson have successfully been trialling various adigasy methods – local natural treatments – as a solution. 

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Pierros (right) is inspecting Elercene’s hive for varroa. 

Apiary expansion 

Supporting beekeepers with growing their business and increasing their income, Pierros and Fidson also help beekeepers with expanding their apiaries. When beekeepers increase their hive numbers, they become less vulnerable to setbacks, ensuring that beekeeping businesses are more resilient and become a more reliable livelihood activity long term. The technicians help beekeepers with adapting and fixing their hives, as well as teaching them how to build new ones. 

Fidson (left) is building new hive frames together with beekeeper Eugene (right).

Feed the bees

Ensuring that the bees remain in the hives is an additional challenge. Fidson mentions that “(..), actions of people in forests, fires and floods, and the practice of Tavy,” are factors contributing to deforestation and a lack of available forage. Tavy, translated as slash and burn, is a farming method that consists of burning forest area to generate new farm land, while other activities, such as large-scale mining projects, also accelerate the rate of deforestation in the region. 

When deforestation is high, forage becomes scarce, which impacts not only the health of the colonies, but also risks the bees leaving the hives in search of food. To address the lack of available forage, beekeepers received fruit and vegetable seeds to plant near their hives, including tomatoes, courgette, eggplants, green beans, and lychee. These plants all need pollinators to fruit, making it a good choice for both insects and people. Each beekeeper now has a vegetable garden, and Pierros and Fidson - both experienced farmers - conduct regular check-ins to troubleshoot any problems. 

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Beekeeper Naita tending to her vegetable garden.

Improving knowledge and skills

With many years of experience, the technicians provide training for beekeepers to build their skillset. In the past year, Pierros and Fidson have delivered training to beekeepers on how to populate empty hives and how to measure honey water content, improving the quality and value of their product. Pierros and Fidson have also supported beekeepers with making homemade wax foundation sheets – used by the bees to build their honeycomb on – which have the potential to increase honey yield. 


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Pierros (middle) and Project Coordinator Juve (right) teaching beekeepers how to use a refractometer to measure the water content in honey.

What’s more, by bringing the beekeepers together, the technicians noticed that collaboration between beekeepers has improved: “[They] share experiences, [and] help by giving each other bee colonies”, says Fidson. One of the ways Pierros and Fidson further encourage this is through the establishment of communal bee banks. Managed collectively, bee banks provide beekeepers with a shared source of bee colonies to populate empty hives. 

The community at the centre

The success of Project Renitantely is to the benefit of the entire community, explains Fidson, as honey provides both financial and cultural benefits; “Honey is one of the sources of income (..) for the region. Honey is a medicine, [and] it promotes fruit production”. Through adopting a community-based approach, Pierros and Fidson’s knowledge of the local context and years of experience has proven to be invaluable for beekeepers to improve their business potential, ensuring a more sustainable future for beekeepers within their communities.