Clove Honey Production on Pemba Island, Tanzania (2001)
Antony Ellman

Pemba is the northernmost of the two islands that make up Zanzibar.It lies off the east coast of Tanzania, 5 degrees south of the equator.It is approximately 60km x 20km in size and has a population of some 300,000 people, plus perhaps 30 million bees.As well as being important for honey production, Pemba is the centre of Tanzania’s clove industry (cloves were introduced to Pemba and Zanzibar from Mauritius in 1818, but the plantations on Zanzibar were largely destroyed by a hurricane in 1872).A range of other spices are grown (cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, turmeric, vanilla, etc), and fruit trees many of them bee-pollinated and honey-producing such as mango, citrus, rambutan, coconut and cashew.The main food crops are yams, cassava, sweet potato, millets and rice, as well as fish and other sea foods.Communications with Tanzania and with the outside world are poor, making access to markets for agricultural products as great a constraint as increasing production itself.

Pemba has strong ties with Oman - the Omani sultanate ruled Pemba and Zanzibar until the revolution of 1964.More recently the island has become the centre of the opposition party Civic United Front (CUF), leading to political as well as economic isolation.Population growth, particularly in rural areas, has placed increased pressure on scarce agricultural land and forest resources.Poverty is thus growing among the rural population: there is an urgent need for intensification of land use and for more reliable sources of cash income, to enable farmers to sustain their standard of living and to conserve their environment. 

Evergreen Trust
Evergreen Trust (ET) is a small NGO established on Pemba in 1995.It has a staff of ten who work with small-scale farmers and village groups.Initially the primary focus of ET’s programme was on forest conservation and agroforestry development.However, it soon became clear that measures to increase agricultural production and improve farmers’ access to markets wereessential if the programme was to have a sustainable impact. 
The writer was recruited to undertake, with ET staff, a survey of agricultural production and marketing opportunities suitable for small scale producers on Pemba, and to propose a strategy by which the producers could take advantage of these opportunities.Prime emphasis was to be placed on beekeeping.The survey was conducted in February and March 2000: it encompassed visits and discussions with farmers, beekeepers, fishermen, traders, service providers, development agencies and Government officials.A project proposal is in preparation which links the production and marketing opportunities identified with the resources required for accessing new markets. 

Beekeeping on Pemba
There is a long tradition of beekeeping on Pemba, particularly in combination with clove production since clove honey commands high prices and is much in demand in Oman.The clove industry has declined in recent years, due to competition from Indonesia and to monopoly marketing by the Zanzibar State Trading Corporation, and honey production has declined with it.However, clove honey is one of the few commodities produced on Pemba for which demand exceeds supply: steps to raise the quantity and quality of clove honey production can, therefore, not only generate increased rural incomes with relatively little investment but also give farmers an incentive to improve neglected clove plantations by adding value to the products. 

  • The issues identified as constraints to more productive beekeeping on Pemba include:
  • choice of the most appropriate hive type for small scale beekeepers, in terms of cost, productivity and manageability; 
  • selection of optimal colony management and honey harvesting techniques; 
  • improved procedures and channels for marketing honey and other bee products. 

Hive type
Traditional - most bees on Pemba are kept in open colonies up to 1.5 m long, with combs drawn down from the branch of a tree and minimal protection against wind, rain and invaders (particularly ants).Sometimes the beekeeper places a plank, baited with wax, across two branches to encourage a swarm to settle.Though the cost of such “hives” is negligible, productivity is also low - not more than 10-20 litres of honey per year - primarily because of the energy the bees need to expend to maintain the temperature required in the brood nest.Exposure to the elements also makes it difficult for bees to ripen the honey, which is therefore likely to ferment if kept for any length of time.A lot of wax is produced in this kind of hive, but very little is marketed.Despite low productivity, bees in such traditional colonies appear to survive the rainy season: some sites have been continuously occupied for more than five years. 

Log hive - to increase productivity the Forestry Department, with help from the Finnish aid agency FINNIDA, has over the last ten years promoted adoption of split log hives, mostly hollowed out coconut logs 1.0-1.5m long and 0.3-0.4m diameter, hung from a branch or placed on a stand.Although the bees are protected from the elements, experience in such hives has been poor: theft is a major problem and the bees have a strong tendency to abscond, perhaps because of over-heating or shortage of space and forage.In one village visited, only 2 out of 18 log hives distributed by FINNIDA in the mid 1990s remain and neither has bees.One beekeeper visited on Zanzibar, however, keeps bees in mangrove swamps in larger log hives (0.5-0.6 m diameter) made from indigenous timber species: his experience is much better, probably linked to his careful harvesting technique (see below). 

Top bar hive - some beekeepers use top bar hives - rectangular boxes about 1m x 0.5m x 0.5m - where the bees in theory draw down comb from wooden slats placed across the top of the box.Experience with top bar hives has been even worse than with log hives: the same problems of theft and absconding, but in addition the bees frequently draw comb across several bars rather than attach it to one, making inspection and harvesting very difficult.In hot weather the combs often become detached from the bars.The high cost of the hive (£10-£20) is an additional disincentive. 

Movable frame hives - there are no movable frame hives on Pemba, this system being ruled out by the cost of equipment and the complexity of management. 

Table 1: Pros and Cons of Different Hive Types on Pemba

pembaTable 1 summarises the positive and negative features of each hive type. A research project to monitor productivity in each type
will be undertaken over the coming years by the Njiro Beekeeping Research Centre, Arusha.

Colony Management
Most beekeepers prefer to keep their colonies close to the main source of forage, but this has to be balanced against the risk of theft when the forage source is remote from the village (eg mangrove swamps, forest trees) and against the risk of bees attacking children, neighbours or livestock when the forage source is near the home (eg clove plantations, fruit trees, annual crops).Many beekeepers place their hives high up in trees, but high winds and the difficulty of reaching such colonies may outweigh the benefits. 

With the simple hive types that are in use, management techniques like swarm control, queen replacement and even colony feeding are impossible.The only techniques that beekeepers can easily practice are to discourage absconding or swarming by ensuring that the bees have sufficient space to expand (particularly important with log hives and top bar hives), to keep the hive in a cool location with access to water, and to take great care in harvesting - i.e. to do it at the right time, not to disturb the bees more than necessary, to avoid destroying queen or brood, and to leave the colony enough food for its own needs.

Most beekeepers harvest as soon as there is honey in the hive (cloves have two flowering seasons, mangroves flower throughout the year, other nectar sources are more seasonal).This sometimes leads to unripe honey being harvested.Many beekeepers use heavy smoking or even fire to drive the bees away from the combs, which often leads to destruction of the colony.The best beekeepers, however, harvest frequently and gently, taking a few combs of honey almost without the bees noticing and leaving the brood untouched and enough stores for the bees.Experienced beekeepers can feel inside the hive to distinguish between brood and honey combs.Training in sustainable harvesting techniques is a critical requirement for raising the productivity of beekeeping. 

Honey and Wax Processing and Marketing
Much of the value of honey and bee products is lost to the beekeepers, and indeed to the traders and the Pemban economy, through insufficient care being taken in processing and responding to the needs of the market.Honey is usually squeezed out of the cut combs by hand, roughly filtered through cotton cloth, mosquito net or coconutfibre, and stored in bottles or plastic cans.The product, mixed with wax, pollen, dead bees and other foreign matter, is bought either in the village or in town by traders who repack it with little further refining and sell locally or export it to Oman.The price paid to the beekeepers ranges from US$2.50-5.00 per litre, while good clove honey is reputed to fetch from five to ten times this amount in Oman.Beeswax is not sold at all, though Tanzania has in the past been a major exporter of wax and high prices can be obtained in Europe and Japan. 

Pemban beekeepers currently have no organisation representing their interests; even the traders appear to have little detailed knowledge of existing and potential markets for honey and bee products.There is a great need for a central processing and marketing unit which buys honey and wax from beekeepers, pays a premium for quality, cleans and packs bee products for the market, adds value where possible by further refining and processing and sells to local or export markets.Discussions with beekeepers and traders suggest that such a unit would be best run by a local entrepreneur, with a degree of participation by beekeepers and ET.The unit could also sell beekeeping equipment on credit; it might play an additional role as a training and advisory centre for beekeepers, perhaps with aid funding. 

The Future
The high reputation of Pemban clove honey in Gulf State markets, and the opportunities that exist for producing and marketing beeswax and other bee products, indicate that beekeeping can play an important part in strengthening the Pemban rural economy.The link with the clove industry and with pollination of other crops are added bonuses. 

There is a need for an empirical study on the productivity of bee colonies in different hive types, for training in more productive and sustainable bee management and harvesting techniques, and for a honey and wax processing and marketing centre which also supplies back up services to Pemban beekeepers.The initiative taken by Evergreen Trust is a useful first step towards satisfying these needs.
Antony Ellman