The first step in planning a beekeeping project is to become familiar with the bee-human relationship in your area. Talk with those in the area who are involved with bees. Accompany them when they work with bees.
If you have no experience working with bees, it is possible to learn a lot by working with local beekillers, bee-havers, or beekeepers. By knowing how they work, you can make suggestions for improvement with more credibility, and it will be easier to adapt an appropriate beekeeping technology to the area.
Also, you should get through a couple of stinging incidents before committing yourself to beekeeping. Bee stings are an integral part of beekeeping. A beekeeper has to deal with them.
Once you become familiar with the local bee-human relationship, ideas for introducing improved methods should be formulated. Whom to work with? What equipment to use? Where to market hive products?
If you are just beginning with bees you would probably be better off working with just one or two individuals in the area. By selecting farmers who have the respect of their peers and have good contacts in the community, your efforts will be multiplied. Keeping bees yourself and using methods different from those used in the area is a step in the right direction. Word will get out, and sooner or later you will be talking with your friends and neighbors about beekeeping.
Always start beekeeping with at least two hives. This gives an opportunity to compare the progress between a number of hives, and more importantly, it allows the project to continue should one colony die out. Also, management aimed towards an apiary instead of individual hives can be stressed.
In planning a project, set realistic goals. A small project which succeeds is more meaningful than a large one which is attempted but fails.
Change is slow. It must start with an idea. The successful presentation of an idea is a realistic expectation for introducing improved methods to the bee-human relationship in some areas.
The equipment to be used in a project depends on the local situation. You should assess the availability of needed inputs as well as the technical aid available in choosing what type or types of hive equipment are appropriate.
Identifying people in an area who can make beekeeping equipment and getting it made can be success in itself. it can require a lot of patience to coordinate getting the equipment together.
Local outlets for marketing are available for hive products in most areas. Check for those people who are already using honey or beeswax. Often, they are eager for a steady supply of a good quality product. If not already using honey, local bakers and candy makers are a potential market. Check also with those who may provide potential markets for beeswax.
Beekeeping as an Integrated Activity
Beekeeping is an activity which meshes well with other agricultural and rural development projects. Regional development projects also offer possibilities of implementing beekeeping ventures.
Certain crops planted in such projects can yield honey for the beekeeper as well as benefit from the pollination activities of the bees. Beekeeping can provide additional income to small farmers who plant these crops or have their bees nearby.
The following crops are known to benefit from insect pollination. Those marked with an asterisk are also good nectar sources for honey bees.
Plants benefit from insect pollination by an increased seed set. This results in increased seed production and better quality fruits. Honey bees are beneficial as pollinators in those areas where natural insect pollinators are lacking or are insufficient to pollinate large areas devoted to a single crop. (Remember though, honey bees are not attracted to all crops.)
People involved in forestry projects are often interested in beekeeping. Beekeeping is an income-yielding undertaking based on a forest resource, yet it is not destructive to that resource. Someone who is earning an income from beekeeping quickly becomes an advocate for preserving the forest resource. Beekeeping also lessens the likelihood of brush fires being set by honey hunters when they burn bees out of a wild colony.
Tree species used in reforestation efforts which are also good bee forage can be instrumental in the establishment of a beekeeping industry. Beekeeping is a part of the utilization of a multi-purpose forest resource.
The following trees which are used for other purposes such as firewood, shelter belts, and shade also secrete sufficient nectar to produce yields of honey in some regions. As nectar secretion is dependent on many factors (climate, weather, and soil), a tree may not be a good nectar producer when introduced into a new region. Check to see if a tree species is a good nectar producer under the conditions which it will be growing before advocating its use as a nectar source for bees.
(For more information on planting trees see PC Program and Training Journal Manual Series Number 5, Reforestation in Arid Lands. This is available from the PC Office of Information Collection and Exchange.)
Beekeeping as an Educational Activity
Vocational and agricultural training centers and rural teacher training institutes make good sites to mount beekeeping projects. The trainees can have a multiplier effect in introducing beekeeping at the village level and the centers themselves serve as excellent demonstration sites.
Beekeeping is also a good school or youth group project. Students and members of youth groups are the farmers of the future. They are receptive to new ideas and methods and can be helpful in conveying these to their parents.
A demonstration apiary at a school not only provides a good educational opportunity, it can also provide some revenue.
(Lesson Plans for Beekeeping, PC Reprint Series Number R32 available-from the PC Office of Information Collection and Exchange, is useful for teachers.)
Exhibits of bees, equipment, and hive products in regional fairs and meetings also serve to promote beekeeping and honey sales. Demonstrations actually working with colonies can help counter many popular fears of bees. An especially attention-getting demonstration is making an artificial swarm and then rehiving it (Appendix E).
A glass-sided observation hive can create a lot of enthusiasm for bees. It affords a chance to study the bees at their hive activities, thus it is a great educational tool. since such a small hive often needs close attention and care to maintain, it gives many opportunities for teaching the management needs and practices of the colony. (See Appendix B for plans of an observation hive.)
Beekeeping as a Cooperative Activity
Beekeeping also works well in cooperatives. Many cooperatives have beekeeping projects as part of their activities. in some coops, beekeeping is the sole activity. These coops supply needed inputs, access to technical aid, and markets for honey and beeswax. In some cases, beekeeping coops have been very successful.
(For more information on the organization and functioning of coops see PC Information Collection and Exchange Resource Packet P-5, Cooperatives, and Reprint R-14, Guidelines for Development of a Home Industry.)
Funding for beekeeping projects can be sought from the types of institutions mentioned above. Many missions and private donor agencies involved in small scale agricultural projects are often interested in beekeeping.
Records of your experiences--both successes and failures--in setting up beekeeping projects are important for others who may want to start projects. A project report left behind when you leave will serve to encourage further development of beekeeping. Your report should include sources of bees and equipment as well as information on those who are involved in beekeeping in the area.
The information that you gather about beekeeping in your area is valuable. Time spent on preparing a report will allow your information to continue to be useful.