honey bee

Small Scale Beekeeping
by Curtis Gentry

Table of contents

adapted for the web by Conrad Bérubé
Island Crop Management
email: uc779(at)freenet.victoria.bc.ca

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Copyright © 2007 Conrad Bérubé, site design, concept and scripting. All rights reserved worldwide.

web version copyright © 2002 Conrad Bérubé, site design, concept and scripting

Printed material from Small Scale Beekeeping (by Curtis Gentry. 1982. Peace Corps office of Information Collection and Exchange, Washington, DC. Illustrated by Stacey Leslie) may be freely reproduced, without changes, for non-commercial purposes (education and development). The html version is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in electronic form without the consent of the copyright holder (but as long as you're not selling it permission to duplicate will be granted upon request-- contact me at the email address in the banner above)


Chapter 1


Interest in bees started with the hunting and robbing of wild colonies in hollow cavities in trees or rocks. Until the refining of sugar cane developed in the 19th century, honey was the only sweetening agent widely available. It was prized not only as food, but for its uses in folk medicine.

People have observed and studied bees with the object of increasing the production of hive products and making it easier to gather them. Bees have also intrigued many people because of their highly social nature. Analogies have often been proposed between the sociality of bees and humans.

The accumulated knowledge on bees allows the modern beekeeper to manage them. The beekeeper can gather hive products with an ease and efficiency far greater than the honey hunter or gatherer.

Although humans have learned much about bees and how to keep them, the bee itself has not changed. Unlike most of the animals and plants used in agriculture, the honey bee of today is the same as it was thousands of years ago. In short, humans have not domesticated the honey bee.

The bee is still essentially a wild animal. People can keep bees and manage them for greater production, but control over bee genetics and behavior has not been achieved to the same degree as with domesticated animals and plants.

Bee-killing, Bee-having, Beekeeping:
The scope for development

There are three basic stages in the historical development of the bee-human relationship. These are bee-killing, bee-having, and beekeeping. Modern beekeeping is the most developed stage. The most basic stage, or bee-killing, is still common in some parts of the world.

Bee-killing is the killing of the bees in a colony so that the combs containing honey and brood (larval and pupal stages) can be taken. Left without honey stores or brood, any surviving bees are doomed. Honey hunters usually regret having to kill the colony, but they know of no other way to obtain honey or wax.

Wild bee colonies are common in many regions of the world, and the gathering of honey from these colonies is an occasional activity for many local farmers. This often occurs when trees containing bee colonies are felled during the clearing of forest and bush for planting crops. Honey hunters or gatherers usually use fire to kill the bees. They are thought to be responsible for many bush fires in some areas.

The honey obtained is used for household consumption or marketed locally. It is often of very low quality as it is mixed with bits of old comb, brood, and ashes. Even so, there is a ready local market for honey in most regions. In some areas, honey is fermented either alone or with palm wine to make an alcoholic drink. Honey is also used by some groups as medicine.

The brood is sometimes eaten by children and is considered a treat. The 30 per cent protein content of the brood is a bonus in their diet. However, since brood is only available when wild colonies are gathered, it is not a significant nutritional factor.

The value of the beeswax is often unknown where bee-killing is practiced; it is usually thrown away or used for fuel.

Bee-killing, or honey hunting, is a traditional activity in many regions of Africa and Asia. in most other regions of the world it is an incidental activity. It is often not considered worth the effort as easier ways of getting hive products are used.

A variation on beekilling is traditional in some regions of Africa. Straw containers or clay pots are hung in trees to attract wild colonies. After the colony has been in the container for sufficient time to have built up honey stores, the container is lowered, the bees killed, and the -hive products taken. Even though the bees are attracted to a man-made container, this is still bee-killing.

Bee-having is an intermediate step between bee-killing and beekeeping. in bee-having, bees are housed in hollowed sections of tree trunks, clay pots, gourds, bark hives, or straw-and-mud containers. Combs are fixed to the containers which allows for little inspection and no manipulation (management) of the colony. Combs containing honey are removed periodically, and those containing brood are left. The wax is recognized as having value and is used locally or sold.

In bee-having the farmer provides protection to the bee colony in return for periodic harvests of honey and wax. The idea is to maintain the colony for future harvests instead of destroying it for a one-time harvest.

Both bee-killing and bee-having are carried on with very little understanding of the biology of the bee. It is not uncommon to find bee-having among farmers who have relatively sophisticated equipment which allows for management of their colonies. They remain bee-havers because they lack the training to make optimum use of their equipment.

Beekeeping implies the manipulation of a bee colony; it is predicated on some understanding of the bee. 'Management practices can be relatively simple, low-level technologies or fairly complicated procedures, using more sophisticated equipment. Beekeeping can be lucrative at any level of technology, but the level used should mesh with the local cultural and economic reality.

Relative to most other agricultural pursuits, "high-tech" beekeeping is a soft technology. The equipment inputs needed to carry out high-tech beekeeping can be made on a local level in most places in the world. The limiting factor is the human one of lack of knowledge to profitably utilize relatively expensive equipment.


"Development" should be defined within cultural and economic realities. observing the local bee-human relationship--whether bee-killing, bee-having or beekeeping--provides an understanding of the context within which any beekeeping development effort must be directed.

These developmental stages are often discussed as distinct periods. However, in reality, like any development, the development of the bee-human relationship is a continuum.

A well-directed development effort should recognize the place on the continuum where the target program starts, and thus set realistic goals for advancing toward "development".

Why Develop Beekeeping?

Beekeeping is an activity that fits well with the concept of small-scale agricultural development. it is a labor-intensive undertaking which can be easily integrated into larger agricultural or forestry projects. Bees not only aid in the pollination of some crops used in such projects, but they make use of otherwise unused resources - nectar and pollen.

As a bee-human relationship already exists in most regions of the world, the objective of any beekeeping development effort is to introduce new and more efficient methods. The bee resource already exists; the objective is better utilization of this resource.

All the inputs necessary for carrying out a beekeeping venture can be made locally. Smokers, protective clothing, veils, and hives can be made by local tinsmiths, tailors, carpenters, or basketmakers. Thus, a beekeeping project can create work and income for these people.

A small beekeeping project can be profitable from the beginning. After a project is started and expertise is gained, it is easy for a beekeeper to increase the number of hives. A dependence on outside resources or inputs is not necessary to do this. Bees feed themselves from the existing nectar and pollen resources of the area by foraging far beyond the small amount of land on which the hives are located.

Beekeeping is a family undertaking. Although working with bees is an activity that is easily done by women, in most cultural settings it is usually considered a man's task. While men work directly with the bees, women are often involved in preparing the honey for market and in the actual marketing.

Small farmers usually consider honey a cash crop instead of a product for home consumption. Honey has a high cash value relative to its weight and bulk. Properly stored, it is essentially a non-perishable product. it is economical and easy to transport. These characteristics make honey an attractive crop for small-scale and often isolated producers.

While in most areas there is a ready local market for honey, this is not always true for beeswax. In some areas it may be necessary to create a market for the wax.

Beeswax is an easily-stored, non-perishable product. it is used in some areas by local craftsmen and artisans such as lost wax metal (usually brass) casters, wax printers and batikers of cloth, tanners and leather workers, and candle makers. Beeswax can also easily be used in the making of wood polishes.

In areas of the world where the beekeeping industry is well-developed, there are markets for pollen and propolis (tree resin gathered by bees for use in the hive). While these may be potential products for a beekeeping venture, they are not feasible for beginning projects. Production of pollen is relatively difficult, and there are few local marketing outlets for these products in most areas.

Another product of beekeeping is bees themselves. Once beekeeping becomes established, a market develops for bees. Some beekeepers can supply bees to others who want to start beekeeping.

While there are ready international markets for bee products such as honey and beeswax, any development effort should aim first for local markets. A beginning project does not produce in sufficient quantity to merit seeking an international market.

Developing a local market for bee Products insulates local producers from fluctuating world prices, and provides an accessible market for small producers.

Beekeeping is an activity which fits well with the philosophy of small-scale development. There is a great potential for developing beekeeping in many areas.

Beekeeping can:

Beekeeping is a family activity which has the following advantages over other types of agriculture:


Small Scale Beekeeping-- Table of Contents
Copyright © 2007 Conrad Bérubé, site design, concept and scripting. All rights reserved worldwide.

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