What is Nature-based Beekeeping, and how can a Farmer adopt it
While the lives of bees are wonderfully complex, beekeeping does not have to be. It can be as simple as sitting a hive, waiting days for a swarm to colonize it and knowing when and how to harvest without harm to the bees.
That is how beekeepers across Africa have been doing it for centuries, producing vast quantities of honey and beeswax while also sustaining abundant and healthy honey bee populations. Their approach is practical and cost-effective, employing local ecological knowledge about how honey bees thrive in nature and using equipment made with easily available natural materials.
For example, hives can be woven like baskets using palm fronds or split bamboo, like in this video. Inside such hives, bees build comb as they would in any cavity suitable for nesting, and they naturally store honey away from the entrance. The beekeeper has access to the honeycomb from the side opposite to where the bees enter the hive. In essence, this system and its success are not unique to Africa. All over the world and throughout history, before the popularisation of moneable frame hives*, beekeepers did well by letting bees get on with their work undisturbed.
More and more modern-day beekeepers are adopting the same principles: to let the bees take care of themselves as they know best and to focus on providing access to diverse and abundant flora and a thermally efficient hive. These beekeepers avoid using veterinary treatments against varroa, interfere as little as possible in the colony’s life cycle.
There is still a lot to learn to keep bees simply according to their nature. A good understanding of their life cycle and behavior within the ecosystem you share with them is key. A wealth of diverse skills are needed to make low-cost hives that work well for both bees and beekeepers, to attract and catch swarms, to observe how colonies are developing, to harvest and process bee products, and to build a supportive network of farmers, beekeepers, customers and neighbors around your apicultural enterprise.
To learn more about nature-based beekeeping and to access a wealth of practical resources and articles demonstrating how people practice it all around the world, visit the Bees for Development Online Resource Centre.
* Note: Frame hives forcebees to build comb within parallel frames so that the beekeeper can move individual combs easily. It’s true that frame hives, along with centrifuges and wired foundation, allow to comb to be returned to the colony, which can therefore produce more honey. This comes with two costs: expensive equipment and foregone beeswax production. There are a number of good reasons why so many beekeepers choose to use fixed-comb or top-bar hives instead.
To learn more about nature-based beekeeping and to access a wealth of practical resources and articles demonstrating how people practice it all around the world, visit the Bees for Development Online Resource Centre. resources.beesfordevelopment.