Apis is a Latin for bee, and apiculture is the science and practice of keeping Honeybees for products production and food crops pollination. The words ‘apiculture’ and ‘beekeeping’ tend to be applied loosely and used synonymously: in some parts of the world, significant volumes of honey are today still obtained by plundering wild colonies of bees – this ‘honey hunting’ cannot be properly described as ‘beekeeping’. In some parts of the world apiculture forms part of the work of hunter-gatherers, while elsewhere apiculture is practised by highly industrialised agriculturalists in the world’s richest nations.
The product that most people first associate with bees is honey, although beekeeping generates much more than just honey. The maintenance of biodiversity and pollination of crops are the most valuable services provided by bees. Honey is just one of several different products that can be harvested: others are beeswax, pollen and propolis, royal jelly and venom, and the use of bees in apitherapy, which is medicine using bee products. It is still possible to harvest high quality, excellent products from bees using simple equipment and techniques.
The resources available, and the reasons why people want apiculture, vary tremendously from place to place. Apiculture is diverse, varying greatly in the way it is practised from one region to another: in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, bees are often kept inside the walls of people’s homes (and are often not noticed by visitors); while in India, over 50 percent of honey is still harvested from wild-nesting bees.
People practise apiculture not only in different ways, but also for different reasons: some farmers want to have bees to ensure that crops such as fruit, oil seeds, Almond tree and coffee are pollinated adequately; others keep bees to harvest honey and wax; some farmers keep stingless bees for their honey, which is especially valued for medicinal properties. Recently there was a report from Laikipia Plateau in Kenya of bees being used as a ‘living fence’ to keep elephants away from smallholdings (Vollrath and Douglas-Hamilton, 2002).
Honey hunting and beekeeping, i.e. keeping bees inside man-made hives and harvesting honey from them, has been practised by humans for at least 4500 years – so human societies have long been aware of the worthwhile benefits to be gained from bees. These benefits include the pollination of plants, harvests of honey and beeswax, as well as a number of other useful products.
Today, apiculture plays a valuable part in rural livelihoods worldwide, and this blog aims to provide an insight into the many ways in which bees and beekeeping contribute to these livelihoods, and how to strengthen this contribution. While the rationale for the sustainable use of tree resources is widely appreciated, by contrast the sustainable use of bee resources is poorly promoted and appreciated.
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