Project Renitantely: Developing Beekeeping as a Sustainable Livelihood in Rural Communities

Project location: Madagascar
Project start date: September 2017 - Project end date: February 2018
Project number: 2017-023
Beneficiary: Seed Madagascar (formerly Azafady)

In the remote Anosy Region of southeast Madagascar, poverty is at its most extreme. Most people live on less than US$0.5 per day, significantly below the poverty line of US$1.90.

Across the region, there is a strong tradition of honey harvesting amongst small scale farmers. However, a lack of infrastructure, training and resources makes it difficult for people to produce honey efficiently and also makes it harder to get their honey to markets. Renitantely (renitantely meaning honeybee in Malagasy) is developing beekeeping as a sustainable livelihood in Anosy by trying to increase the value of honey and building regional resilience to pests and infestations. The project is increasing incomes, reducing dependence on natural resources and improving biodiversity in threatened forests.

Project Renitantely is designed, planned, implemented and managed by SEED Madagascar (SEED). The Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation has awarded a grant for the project.

Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries, ranking 158/187 in the UNDP 2016 Human Development Index. In rural Anosy, both poverty and environmental damage are extreme. Chronic poverty and food insecurity are associated with limited livelihoods, and repeated drought and failed harvests are common in the climate.

With limited alternative livelihood opportunities, communities are forced to rely on unsustainable practices that exploit forest and marine resources. This leads to habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity. Beekeeping is an activity that takes little time or labour, and compliments the farming techniques used by communities. Beekeeping also creates an extra income stream, which reduces pressure on natural resources (Bieger, 2014). Due to bees’ role in pollinating plants, the overall value of beekeeping is at least ten times more than the value of honey the bees produce (GIZ, 2014).

While beekeeping has great potential as a sustainable, alternative livelihood, it is important to address the challenges of limited infrastructure, training and resources amongst beekeepers in Anosy. The varroa mite, a destructive pest that can destroy bee colonies, was first found in the region in February 2016. This highlights the urgent need to build beekeeping skills and enable beekeepers to identify, prevent and treat diseases and infestations. Project Renitantely, which started in September 2016, aims to build beekeeping capacity and offer a solution to these beekeeping challenges. Activities in project year one (PY1) have included: setting up communal beekeeping sites, introducing hives that make it easier to manage pests; delivering of training to primary beekeepers; and education for the wider community. The activities SEED has conducted so far have laid the foundations for better beekeeping in the region, showing that the training model is effective and communities are highly motivated.

Since September 2016, Project Renitantely has worked across six rural villages to develop beekeeping as a sustainable livelihood practice. It aims to increase the value of honey, strengthen routes to market and improve disease prevention and treatment in the Anosy Region.

The six villages targeted by Renitantely are home to subsistence farmers who grow rice and cassava. The project has directly supported 18 primary beekeepers in PY1. This will increase to 48 in PY2 and 78 in PY3. Led by SEED’s Local Beekeeping Technician and International Beekeeping Specialist, the project provides an intensive and productive programme for beekeepers through regular training. This enables beekeepers to experiment with different beekeeping techniques and equipment that can increase productivity without exposing beekeepers to risk. Training is supported by Visual Learning Aids (VLAs), learning materials designed to be used easily by people that might not be able to read. In PY2 and PY3, the beekeepers from PY1 will be trained to teach the new intakes of beekeepers in PY2 and PY3 through a ‘Train the Trainer’ model. This will help beneficiaries work together and cooperate while sharing beekeeping skills within the community.

Alongside training for primary beekeepers, education events are delivered to the wider community, reaching up to 1,500 households. Education is designed to build knowledge of modern beekeeping techniques, whilst also informing communities of beekeeping benefits. Equal Opportunities Workshops are held to increase access to beekeeping amongst vulnerable or marginalised groups, in particular women. The project works with regional and national stakeholders, including government bodies and the Anosy Regional Beekeeping Platform. This includes gathering crucial data on the spread of varroa and researching sustainable alternative varroa treatments. Stakeholder collaboration also improves sustainable routes to market for honey products in line with increased honey yields. In PY2,
SEED will help beekeepers to build business models and communicate with regional honey suppliers and cooperatives. A major obstacle to increasing the value of honey and strengthening routes to market in southeast Madagascar is the remote locations of beekeepers and their hives. This has been addressed by setting up communal beekeeping sites. The centrally located hives not only overcome barriers to harvest and transport honey, they also promote collective innovation and collaboration amongst beekeepers, enabling them to trial new techniques and increase honey yields. The visible benefits of beekeeping are also presented clearly to the wider community, in turn promoting wider uptake. Additionally (in the context of beekeeping in Anosy), the approach taken by SEED Madagascar has enabled beekeepers to start building stronger colonies by identifying and using equipment best suited to their local environments and specific needs. The success of this unique approach has been seen with primary beekeepers selecting and sharing their equipment and practices with each other and wider community members.

The overarching objectives of Project Renitantely are to:
• Develop beekeeping as a practical and sustainable livelihood practice in impoverished rural communities;
• Support livelihood opportunities, reducing pressure on limited natural resources and contributing to improvements in biodiversity;
• Economically empower marginalised and vulnerable individuals, particularly women, through beekeeping, addressing inequalities in southeast Madagascar.

The detailed project goals are to:

i. Establish a network of primary beekeepers able to share resources, equipped with the training and resources to apply modern beekeeping techniques
ii. Strengthen the prevention, identification and treatment of infestations and diseases through uptake of modern hives and techniques, supported by regional and national stakeholder coordination
iii. Improve beekeeping knowledge and techniques, through capacity building training, equipment investment and local ownership, leading to 300% increase in honey yields by August 2019
iv. Increase access to beekeeping amongst vulnerable or marginalised groups, including securing 50% female representation in the second and third year intakes of primary beekeepers, and educating the wider community (of up to 7,500 individuals) on the benefits of beekeeping
v. Strengthen routes to market for honey and honey by-products in collaboration with regional, national and international stakeholders, and increase price received per litre of honey by 250% August 2019

Project Renitantely will develop beekeeping as a sustainable livelihood in the chronically poor, rural Anosy Region of southeast Madagascar. Despite strong traditions of honey harvesting in the region, limited resources, knowledge and market access has resulted in low honey yields, weak colonies and unfair prices for beekeepers. Since September 2016, Renitantely has been working to overcome these barriers through providing equipment, training, information sharing and route to market development. Over the next two years the project’s success will be seen through the economic empowerment of some of Madagascar’s most vulnerable individuals, in turn reducing pressure on natural resources.
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