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Zambia Abuzz With Plans for Increasing Honey Production

Over 20,000 bee farmers in Zambia are expected to double their annual production once the country's "Bee Keeping and Honey Policy" is in place. Bee farmers earn slightly more than $3,000 for a ton of honey or beeswax on the international market. The Centre for International Forestry Research is collaborating with African governments to come up with policies to guide the production, packaging and marketing of honey-related products. The Zambian government believes raising bees will help pull hundreds if not thousands out of poverty.

Honey and beeswax are among the country's major non-traditional products that are exported to Tanzania, South Africa, Germany, Libya, The United Kingdom, Botswana, Japan, Canada and the U-S. Beeswax is used in manufacturing cosmetics; honey is used as a sweetener and an ingredient in herbal medicines.

Authorities say current forestry policy is supposed to make resources available for bee keeping and honey making. But they say the policy is outdated and the Department of Forestry is working with the Center for International Forestry Research, or CIFOR, to come up with new guidelines. Dr. Crispen Marunda is CIFOR's regional coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa. He says the present day beekeeping industry is loosely organized and that there are no legal or legislative structures to monitor or control it.

Marunda explains that monitoring mechanisms will help farmers and government negotiate fair prices and markets for honey-related products. He says an official policy will have a meaningful effect on forest communities that raise bees and related products:

"By coming up with a bee keeping industry policy, the government will have a structure in terms of how they can support the different institutions who are producing, exporting or buying honey. [The beekeeping policy] will also assist some communities into some kind of bee keeping communities. The communities can have an institution at a local level, they can market their honey as a group, they can lobby for better prices, they can export their honey as a group rather than them working as individuals," he says.

Another project supported by USAID is also trying to develop Zambia's honey sector. It involves support for the Zambia Agribusiness Technical Assistance Centre, ZATAC, which provides assistance to the Smallholder Export Organic Honey Project in Mwinilunga, 500 kilometers from Lusaka.

A USAID report indicates that ZATAC's approach of providing marketing, technical and financial linkages between producers and agribusinesses is slowly paying off. Approximately, 3,000 honey farmers have been trained to harvest, handle and package certified organic honey for export. The training is expected to help the farmers take advantage of new export opportunities under the US-backed Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and new trade initiatives of the European Union. There are reportedly about 20,000 beekeepers in Zambia, producing an average 600 metric tons of marketed honey annually. Seventy percent of Zambia's beekeepers -- both men and women -- are located in the northwest.

The Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme has prepared a strategy paper for developing the honey sector in Zambia. It says beekeeping has the potential to earn foreign exchange and to reduce poverty in rural areas.

The Forestry Research Center, CIFOR, was founded in 1991 and is headquartered in Bogo, Indonesia. The research center's regional office for Eastern and Southern Africa is based in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. It has project offices in Cameroon, Zambia, Brazil and Burkina Faso. The center works with governments and universities to promote sustainable forestry management, capacity building and research in forestry.