The ‘Lead Beekeepers Scheme' is not only about teaching people to build and manage hives. It is about looking for the internal solutions that are so often overlooked, in order to attain and sustain food security. The scheme focuses on using the available human potential to enhance technological inputs. It is about adding and building skills, and scaling up. This pilot initiative is being implemented by the SNV Netherlands Development Organization, and provides access to beekeeping extension services through leader farmers, which is new for the sector.

The Lead Beekeeper Scheme

SNV initiated the Lead Beekeepers Scheme in 2016-2017 in four regions (Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and SNNPR) with the aim of addressing the challenges that the beekeeping sector is facing at the farmer level. The biggest challenge is the lack of expertise on beekeeping on the ground. Most extension services in Ethiopia are provided by government development agents. But very often they have limited apiculture skills, with only two hours dedicated to the subject during their college studies. Also, these extension agents have trouble reaching remote regions, and there are limited numbers of development agents in each woreda (district). This all makes access to beekeeping extension services almost impossible for those farmers who keep bees. In addition, farmers rarely consider beekeeping as a business opportunity in itself.

To start with, SNV selected interested farmers, training them as model beekeepers and equipping them with the necessary start-up beekeeping kits. These farmers then act as extension agents for their neighbours, offering a continuous and free service in their communities.

An alternative extension service

Even though it was only a pilot initiative, the Lead Beekeepers Scheme was implemented at the grassroots level and resulted in far-reaching and very positive achievements – even more than anticipated. As a result, the right information now reaches those farmers who need it. There has since been a significant improvement in honey production, and which has led to better income generation and food security.

The increase in total honey production and the number of improved hives is very promising. But what is perhaps more important is that farmers have changed their attitudes and are now more open to learn from their peers, which they were hesitant to do before. And the 20 lead beekeepers have become role models in the region. The initiative has helped them reach a total of 3,012 other beekeepers in their communities, and they are supporting their day-to-day beekeeping activities.

The newly trained farmers have in turn become local and permanently accessible role models in their own areas. And the practice seems easily replicable in other sectors and regions. It offers an alternative for beekeeping extension services, and the approach could prove to be a pillar for any rural development activity, as can be learned from the pilot in Tigray. Like teaching a person how to fish rather than giving him a fish, training farmers how to teach other farmers about good beekeeping practices has much more impact that just giving them a hive.

Written by Rahel Baffie (November 2017)
A result of Experience Capitalization training organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ethiopia, in collaboration with CTA and Guava Stories.
Pictures: SNV