Harnessing the power of bees to benefit forest and people

To mark the International Day of Forests earlier this week, we’re sharing a story about a beekeeping project that’s helping to conserve Kenya’s Loitokitok forest and support the surrounding community. 

Brian Ochieng Otieno's picture
Brian Ochieng Otieno is a conservation consultant for the Loitokitok Community Forest Association and a MSc. student at Kenyatta University, Kenya
26 March 2020
A group of people holding a tree seedling

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Forestry, Keriako Tobiko, visits Loitokitok Community Forest Association (Photo: copyright Aloise Opiyo, freelance journalist)

Widespread deforestation, natural disasters and human-wildlife conflict are among factors that have diminished Kenya’s forests. The country’s ‘Greening Kenya’ initiative, launched last year, aims to achieve more than 10% forest cover by 2022.

The past has seen Kenya put in spirited efforts to protect its forest lands from further degradation. Nonetheless, the demand for food and raw materials from a soaring population – now reaching nearly 50 million – will weigh down heavily on the country’s forests. 

This ambitious goal of 10% forest cover calls for local communities to take up the challenge to help replenish our degraded forests. Working with relevant government agencies, communities play a key role in protecting and conserving forest lands while supporting local livelihoods.

Earlier this year, IIED launched a monthly blog series on our Facebook page where we invite our followers – focusing particularly on our younger audience – to write for us about their experiences. This month’s topic was forests: we wanted to learn more about whether and how our followers in countries across the world were getting involved...

The Loitokitok Community Forest Association (LCFA) has been active since 2005, with over 500 members from households adjacent to the forest. Over the years it has championed innovative approaches to conserve and manage the Loitokitok forest, covering 765 hectares of land on the Kenya-Tanzania border.

The indigenous sections of these forests are under particular threat since illegal loggers prefer wood from indigenous trees for timber and fuelwood.  

This year, the association has embarked on a new project. 'Bees for the forests' seeks to bring three key benefits to the forest and its people by harnessing the power of the African honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata). 

  • Protecting the indigenous trees: bees work harder and produce more honey when around highly diverse flora. Since indigenous trees create such diversity, LCFA’s programme includes measure to protect indigenous trees so the beehives can thrive. This includes a vibrant scouting system where LCFA members track and survey instances of illegal logging.

    Cases are reported to the Community Forest Association, which works with Kenya Forest Service rangers to prosecute offenders. Illegal tree logging in Kenya attracts at least a 500 dollar fine or a one-year jail term.
  • Generating community income, all along the honey chain: with its many health and nutritional benefits, there is always a demand for natural honey. Over the years, locals have used honey for healing wounds, as an anti-inflammatory and as a dietary antioxidant among others. Honey is also instrumental in aiding digestive issues such as diarrhoea.

    The demand for honey brings income generating opportunities to the women and men of LCFA who keep the bees and farm the honey. Local traders sell packaging materials for the honey to the farmers, and the trade also generates the need for local transportation so honey can be taken to the market. 
  • Increasing productivity through cross-pollination: the bees from the forest are instrumental in increasing the productivity of the adjacent farms. During pollination, bees move light pollen grains around. Good pollination boosts the stability, quality and variation of crop yield, leading to increased farm productivity.

    Yields of carrots, onions, and maize in particular benefit from the bees that are reared in the Loitokitok forest. As such, farmers will have more produce to sustain their livelihoods.

The 'Bees for the forests' project is well underway. Twenty beehives have been set up in the forest, each hosting between 8,000 and 10,000 bees. Ultimately, the project aims to have at least 200 hives strategically positioned within the forest.   

Beehives in a shelter in the forest

The next step will involve training key people on how the project will conserve the indigenous forest. Six beekeeping user groups – each consisting of around 20 people affiliated to the LCFA – will be trained on how conserving indigenous trees can help sustain honey businesses. The user groups will build skills in nurturing indigenous trees and how to set up tree nurseries to support reforestation activities. 

Using the natural power of bees, this project incorporates the knowledge and skills of local people to support livelihoods, boost the local economy, enhance environmental stewardship and – ultimately – help conserve the wider forest ecosystem.

Our activities have currently been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – but our community is hoping this will be only be a temporary pause in activities. Do follow us on Facebook for updates on how the project is developing! 

Supporting beekeeping in Uganda: IIED led a project in Uganda that aimed to develop 'pro-poor' tourism income for local people living near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The project aimed to scale-up production of honey and other bee products by supporting training in beekeeping and introducing low-cost transitional hives.

About the author

Brian Ochieng Otieno is a conservation consultant for the Loitokitok Community Forest Association and a MSc. student at Kenyatta University, Kenya

Brian Ochieng Otieno's picture