Ethiopia has the potential to produce 550,000 tons of honey per year, although it currently produces only 9% of that, or around 50,000 tons per year. The low prevalence of pesticides, antibiotics and genetically modified crops, have made honey from Ethiopia a preferred specialty product among international buyers in countries such as Germany, United Kingdom and Norway. Following the EU’s ban of honey from China in 2002, international interest in honey has risen. This interest coupled with Ethiopian’s vast capacity for honey production and the potential it has to boost the Ethiopian economy, has recently attracted the attention of various development partners, including the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA).

Through its Ethiopian Agribusiness Accelerator Platform (EAAP), the ATA, aims to contribute to the improvement of the apiculture sector through the introduction of competitive exporters penetrating the international market and the establishment and rapid growth of 2-3 recognized and widely-available domestic honey brands.

EAAP’s “Incubation” and “Acceleration” tracks target high potential, fast growing honey and beeswax enterprises and focuses on professionalizing them using a readily scalable approach. Currently, the EAAP’s Incubation and Acceleration tracks are hosting twenty local enterprises. Throughout the program, the enterprises are expected to benefit from four critical components:  workshops, mentorships, smallholder contract farming and finance.

A new model for Ethiopia’s honey sector

 Contract farming—an arrangement in which farmers and agribusinesses agree on the production and supply of agricultural products, often in advance of harvest—remains a relatively new concept in Ethiopia. Thus, EAAP partnered with TechnoServe to conduct a rigorous case-study analysis and leverage previous contract farming experiences to train and coach enterprises on contract farming approaches and practices. The goal of this partnership is to grow, enhance, and solidify the supply chains of honey enterprises by facilitating the sustainable sourcing from smallholder farmers.

The project currently implements four integrated interventions to establish and strengthen contract farming relationships between the enterprises and their smallholder producers: (1) a 12-month Farm College training, (2) training to strengthen cooperatives’ management capacity, (3) integration of a digital traceability platform and digital farm accounts system, and (4) contract templates and contract negotiation support.

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts agricultural supply chains across the world, ATA and TechnoServe are currently delivering timely and effective support that is improving the livelihoods of thousands of beekeepers around the country.

A proven approach to training

TechnoServe’s Farm College training approach builds on more than a decade of experience across numerous countries and multiple sectors. In the EAAP project, Farm College promotes effective beekeeping practices, including backyard beekeeping with transitional hives and encourages women’s participation. The farmers’ training is structured into 13 modules, including: women’s participation, apiary site selection, bee biology, colony transportation, honey harvesting, season colony management, hive stand and shed, seasonal colony management, and hive construction from local materials. To date, the project has trained more than 3,000 beekeepers in Tigray, Oromia, and SNNPR.

Responding to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Ethiopia at a critical time for honey producers.  At the onset of the crisis in March, Farm College participation numbers and the percentage of female farmers trained were steadily growing, and the project team was preparing farmers for the upcoming peak aggregation season in April and May, during which exporters planned to buy large volumes of honey.  However, COVID-19’s arrival destabilized the global commodity price of honey and paused engagement with farmers. While waiting for honey exporters to secure a stable market outlet, ATA and TechnoServe’s staff quickly brainstormed on ways to continue to support farmer, and practice appropriate safety measures.

Field staff began by partnering with woreda and kebele public health officers to share important COVID-19 information with smallholder farmers and delivered Farm College training to groups of ten or fewer farmers. As the crisis persisted, the team pivoted project implementation from delivering training to these small groups of farmers to providing support one-on-one or to groups of up to four farmers. These more individualized trainings have all taken place outside, on each farmers’ properties and have incorporated safety protocols, such as handwashing before and after lessons. The flexibility, dedication, ingenuity, and good working relationships among project staff, local government, and farmers have helped continue project implementation and support amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Although the pandemic challenged the team in the field to transition from delivering the trainings from larger group sessions to individual visits to farmers’ homes,  this transition is proving to be successful in engaging an increasing number of farmers. While the rate of delivery is slower, women’s participation has increased. For example, it grew from 35% to 46% in Atsibi Wenberta and Kilite Awlalo woredas in Tigray, and Farmer Trainers have reengaged several cooperatives who were previously not motivated to attend the training sessions. Now, Farmer Trainers deliver individually-tailored support to farmers and, in the process, gain insight into specific challenges individual farmers are facing.

Furthermore, field staff now have an opportunity to monitor farmers’ adoption of the best beekeeping practices at their backyard apiary sites firsthand. In Didu woreda in Oromia, field staff observed that approximately 29% of trained farmers have constructed their own hive stands and nearly 27% have built at least one transitional hive in their backyard apiary. The EAAP and TechnoServe team introduced backyard beekeeping to many farmers and it is expected that the adoption figures will increase as the Farmer Trainers continue to follow up with farmers’ households.  According to Birhan Reda, Sitaw Abreha and Silash Tadesse, two female beekeepers in Birki Egri Mitkal, Tigray,  “Seasonal colony management training was something new in the area” and extended their deep appreciation to Farmer Trainers for safely moving between households in the village to disseminate good beekeeping practices.

As Ethiopia  continues to battle the pandemic, ATA and TechnoServe will continue to find opportunities to build the capacity of honey producers and support enterprises to establish sustainable contracting agreements that provide better livelihoods to farmers, while ensuring that COVID-19 protocols are adhered to, and both staff and communities are protected. The project will also continue to build on its successes while adapting to new realities to safely support EAAP honey enterprises and smallholder beekeepers.

Figure 1- Tigray farmers at Farm College

Figure 2 – Shebedino farmers at Farm College