Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Beekeeping in Koraro, Ethiopia
Nicholas D. Kristof - A New York Times Blog
January 19, 2010, 5:36 pm
Beekeeping in Koraro
By NEW YORK TIMES
The following is the third in a series of reports from the Ethiopian village of Koraro, an important testing ground for the Millennium Village Project, an experiment in global development strategy spearheaded by economist Jeffrey Sachs. The reports, written by Jeff Marlow, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, consider which parts of the project are working and which ones aren’t, and what can be learned from it to help billions of people escape extreme poverty.
On a steep hillside overlooking a dusty creekbed, several dozen bright yellow boxes stand on wooden legs, conspicuously out of place against the red and brown soils that dominate the Koraro region. The telltale smell of honey, a welcome change from the manure-littered scrublands used for cattle grazing, gives it away: beehives.
DESCRIPTIONTyler Miller Beehives are providing a new income source for farmers in Koraro.
Traditionally, the people of Koraro have depended upon their crops and animals for survival, toiling year-round to scrape enough food from the rocky, unforgiving land. One objective of the MVP is to identify new ways for farmers to generate cash, allowing villagers to invest in costly items like water pumps or farming tools during good harvests, while providing a financial buffer for the leaner years.
Beekeeping appears to fit the bill, and although the program is still in its pilot stage, initial results are promising. With minimal time commitment (chores include keeping rodents and ants away from the hives), Debalkew Weres was able to produce 35 kilograms of honey in each of his four hives. The viscous white honey fetches 25 Ethiopian Birr (approximately $2) per kilogram at the local market, and the accompanying wax can be molded into candles.
The real potential, however, lies in cracking foreign markets, a job that falls to Rustom Masalawala, the Director of Business Development for Millennium Promise. “Beekeeping is an easy way for a farmer to vastly increase his income,” he says, “and with the right marketing, the honey could demand an extremely good price internationally.” Koraro produces a viscous, opaque honey, which, with the right marketing (“exotic white honey from the highlands of Ethiopia” anyone?), could hit paydirt among foodies in the West. Even more promising is the Middle East market, where honey features prominently in nearly every meal.
Given the early successes, planners are scaling the beekeeping project up, hoping to include 1500 farmers and produce 230 tons of honey in the district. However, the ecological implications of introducing millions of bees into the ecosystem remains unclear. If the region’s plants can’t support the sudden influx of bees, many farmers may find themselves in debt, struggling to pay off the $120 up-front cost for each hive.
Nonetheless, the program looks promising, and it could not have started at a better time for Mr. Weres. During the harsh 2008 drought, his crops withered and died in one of the worst harvests in recent memory. “Right now the honey is my only source of income,” he says, “and fortunately I can buy food. Next year I will buy the more modern hives in order to produce even more honey; then my children will be able to go to school.”