Bee products: Honey exports take off in Africa

The African beekeeping sector – via recent organisation and modernisation initiatives – has created a favourable setting for honey exports while also partly meeting domestic demand.

Exports of honey jumped 613% between 2000 and 2013 in Africa © Joerg Boethling/Alamy Stock Photo

The African beekeeping sector is experiencing a boost in production and export volumes with the advent of innovative techniques. This is good news for African agriculture overall, and for the environment, as bees are the linchpin in the pollination process. The situation also augurs well for the diversification of income sources, especially for women farmers, through honey sales. Moreover, increased honey production is having a positive impact on trade balances. Nigeria only fulfils 10% of its total domestic consumption demand (380,000 t), while it annually imports €1.84 billion worth of honey, according to David Victor Musa, general manager of Barg Natural Honey (Nigeria) and United States Agency for International Development consultant. Overall, Africa currently consumes three times more honey than it produces.

Exports soar

In 2013, FAO estimated that Africa accounted for roughly 9% of global honey production (155,789 t), representing a 10% increase since 2000, which has since increased to 13% by 2016, states non-profit organisation ApiTrade Africa. Ethiopia (50,000 t), Tanzania (30,000 t), Angola (23,300 t) and Central African Republic (16,200 t) are amongst the world’s top 20 producing countries. Interestingly, Ethiopia is also the fourth largest beeswax producer in the world.

Honey exports throughout the continent grew sharply by 613% from 2000 to 2013, which represented an increase to 3,195 t, worth €8.9 million. Whilst overall production is low in Egypt, most of it is exported (1,202 t in 2013), ahead of Ethiopia, which exported 904 t in 2013, up from just a single tonne in 2000. Zambia (388 t) also stands out, like Tanzania (210 t) and South Africa (290 t) for increasing exports. Furthermore, Africa could take advantage of its image as a ‘natural’ continent to increase its market share in the organic honey sector.

A recent continental trend

Honey has always been produced in Africa, but the sector has not been the focus of much interest due to the sparse production volumes, high prices and lack of competitive advantage over imported honey. The African Apiculture Platform, which was launched in 2014, with the support of the African Union, has called for the creation of multi-stakeholder platforms in all producing countries. So far, 25 countries have launched national platforms, including Ghana and Mali, in early 2017; all are geared towards development of the sector, especially honey production, bee health and pollination activities.

Conventional honey extraction methods in Africa are not very productive and sometimes lead to the extermination of bee colonies, especially when straw fires and fumigation are used to drive out bees and harvest their honey. According to Demisew Wakjira Akessa from the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture, conventional mud and clay beehives (90% of all used in this sector) generate, on average, 7 kg of honey/colony each year, temporary beehives made of suspended bars without frames generate 15 kg, while beehives with frames generate 33 kg, with a record of 80 kg/year.

“In Africa, people traditionally sought honey in tree trunks, for example, and then harvested what they found,” says Robert Grace Kisenyi from ApiTrade Africa. “Then bee domestication gained popularity in Africa. Kenyan top bar hives are currently the most widespread, but Langstoth hives, with vertically removable frames, are increasingly popular.”

Honey harvesting is also being modernised. In Chad, spotlights are used instead of conventional fumigation to attract bees and collect their honey without the unpleasant smoke odour, while also not stressing or killing the bees. ‘High-tech’ beehive management is also becoming popular. In Kenya, the Swarm Database app issues a smartphone alert signal – transmitted via sensors installed on beehives – when a hive has been knocked over. This enables farmers to manage their scattered beehives remotely.

The use of more modern techniques often helps producers gain access to lucrative markets in the EU and elsewhere. However, the EU imposes stringent quality standards that force producing countries to set up national plans to control residue levels (antibiotics, pesticides, heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, etc.). Some African countries such as Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia are already meeting these requirements.

Bénédicte Châtel

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.