Sweet Synergies: Beekeeping in Malawi
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
Tiny miracle workers: bees are essential to our survival. 75% of food crops depend on pollinators, including honeybees, and agricultural systems would collapse without them. However, the agri sector, through land use change, chemical use and destruction of biodiversity, is causing a worldwide decline in pollinator numbers. In Malawi, via the Ulimi Trust investment at Gala macadamia farm, we see an opportunity to reverse this trend; through a programme which will improve livelihoods & food security in one of the poorest countries in the world, improve biodiversity & bolster bee populations, and increase agricultural yields.
Macadamias rely on bees, requiring 4 hives per ha for pollination, and providing a rich food source in return. To contribute to economic development in the area around the Gala estates, the majority of beekeeping activities will be outsourced to the surrounding communities. The prolific blossoms and long flowering season of the macadamias allows the bees to make a plentiful supply of a prized amber-coloured honey with a distinctive nutty flavour, some of which is left to the bees to maintain and grow their swarms, and some of which is harvested for sale by the beekeepers.
One of the principal benefits of beekeeping is that it is an occupation which favours inclusion of women. Women are often excluded from farming & employment opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa, but beekeeping can be undertaken by rural women regardless of their circumstances. Considering that most bees in a hive are female, perhaps it is not surprising that women also make better beekeepers – and the environmental and socio-economic impact of empowering women as earners is demonstrably more positive than when men are given the same opportunities.
We estimate that at least 4,000 hives will be needed within the next 5 years. Once these hives (which will house over 100 million bees!) are established, they will produce round 200,000L of honey per year and, with a guaranteed offtake; this will be a significant revenue stream for the beekeepers.
Many other species of wild insect also contribute to macadamia pollination – and the more species that compete, the higher the pollination rate. For this reason, Gala is committed to preserving areas of natural habitat, and to the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which focuses on the reduction of chemical inputs. The beekeepers are trained in the importance of year-round forage being available for bees, which encourages planting and discourages deforestation. In this way, the beekeeping programme is a crucial element of natural capital preservation in a country which is extremely vulnerable to climate change and biodiversity loss.