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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 17:44 GMT
Ethiopia: Stuck on honey
More than 13,000 hives were burnt recently in Ethiiopia
Bees are responsible for one of Ethiopia's success stories
By Ellene Mocria

Ethiopians like their honey and over the years have exploited bees to the full.

The country's famous national drink is a sweet wine known as Tej - made from honey.

Apytherapy is used in hospitals to treat a variety of ailments.

Fires have been raging in the south for weeks
And Ethiopia is a major producer of beeswax, only surpassed by Mexico and China.

It is also the world's 10th biggest honey producer.

But fires raging in southern Ethiopia could prove a severe setback for an industry which was fast becoming a major foreign currency earner.

The livelihoods of many honey farmers have been ruined by the fires in Bale and Borena Zones.

More than 13,000 beehives have been burnt and local ecology has been devastated, with rare wildlife and much vegetation threatened.

Pesticide threat

Ethiopia's honey industry is also facing another threat.

Mr Desselign Begena who runs a protection unit at Ethiopia's only Bee research centre in Holeta, 50 km west of the capital, Addis Ababa, says the indiscriminate use of pesticides is increasingly worrying.

The government has promoted them and uses them intensively in state farms, he says.

The research centre trains beekeepers
And he says there are many obsolete pesticides in the country.

"Pesticides are imported from different directions, legally or illegally, whether it is certified or not.

"Our farmers cannot understand the labels because these are written in foreign languages," he said.

"And really, pesticides are imported into our countries having a short life span. This means they are expired at the border areas before arriving!"

He says this threatens not only bees but also the country's own ecology.

Hope for bees

In spite of these problems, the future for the honey industry remains bright.

Honey products
Food preservative
Tej wine
Researcher Mr Edossa Negerasays says one of the reasons why is the nature of the product itself.

As a food, honey is an excellent source of carbohydrate. He says it also has health benefits, improving the capacity of blood to carry oxygen, and preventing dehydration of the intestine and the softening of bone.

As a medicine "honey is used in hospitals as Apytherapy, for surgical dressings, high fever, burning skin, intestinal and gastric ulcers, colds and coughs, bronchial disease and diseases of the mouth and mucus membrane".

Honey is also used as an ingredient in cosmetics.


Another common product is beeswax.

According to the Holeta Bee Research Centre Manager, Mr Deregy Woltegi, the export of beeswax now competes with coffee, the green gold of the country.

Beeswax is one of the most successful products
"Even though 24.000 tones of crude honey is harvested, not more than 10% of this is exported due to quality and lack of accessibility," he said.

The research centre, which was established 35 years ago and trains future beekeepers and promotes best practice, is seeking to introduce modern bee management systems that will boost the industry's potential.

And the centre is hoping the government pays more attention to the whole industry in the future.

"A National Apiculture Research Strategy has been prepared ... and various technologies will be developed and training will be given in all regions. The future has good prospects," Mr Deregy said.

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09 Mar 00 | Africa
SA to fight Ethiopian fires
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