Beekeeping is a long-established and sustainable activity that can be adapted to environments across the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, it is one of the first types of intervention to be implemented because of its complementarity with livelihood activities in development projects. In this article, we will explain how beekeeping improves livelihoods, demonstrating why this is a key MHEurope project supporting local communities in Syria. 

A sustainable multipurpose activity

Beekeeping is an activity that yields various outcomes, ranging from honey to a multitude of secondary products such as royal jelly, pollen and propolis. All beehive products have beneficial health properties. For example,  honey and  propolis are antiseptic and healing, while fresh pollen and royal jelly are, respectively, remineralising and revitalising. This means that beekeepers can establish beehives and continue to build its production and subsequent income over time. With proper training and comprehensive care of the hive, beekeeping is a scalable activity able to generate a stable income, even within low resource settings such as Syria.  

A significant potential for improvement 

In development projects, the beekeeping sector can be positively transformed. Usually, in developing countries, beekeepers lack technical expertise due to limited access to training, equipment and essential logistical means to produce honey such as packaging and transportation. The keys to sustainable production  is providing teams with a complete beekeeping starter kit and training to empower beekeepers with the fundamental knowledge and insights to continue funding solutions to context-specific obstacles on an ongoing and independent basis. Thanks to appropriate training, both theoretical and practical, the beekeepers are able to make important progress within a short period of time and continue to grow their business independently. In this way, the provision of even a small amount of technical training can greatly improve honey production and its by-products. 

Benefits of beekeeping on the environment

As Albert Einstein said, “[i]f the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man”. Bees play a crucial role in our ecosystem, especially the agricultural chain. Indeed, our diet relies on the pollination process. This process involves bees transporting pollen from a stamen (the flower’s male organ) to the pistil (the female organ). For example, out of 100 species of cultivated plants used for alimentation, 71 plants are pollinated by bees. Therefore, the beekeeper contributes to maintaining and ensuring the healthy management of biodiversity including through the essential caretaking the bees, whose development is closely linked to the quality of the environment. Nowadays, the challenge that most beekeepers experience is the use of toxic phytosanitary substances designed to protect plants in the agricultural sector. These products are harmful to the bees and it negatively impacts honey production both qualitatively and quantitatively. This is why promoting sustainable farming with organic products is complementary to safeguarding the environment. 

Thus, beekeeping improves livelihoods because alongside conserving biodiversity and traditional practices of local communities, it allows them to generate a sustainable income, with a large range of possible outputs and a high potential for ongoing improvement with the help of providing appropriate knowledge and technical training. 

Consequently, Mercy Hands Europe is proud to lead a beekeeping project in Syria in the regions of Qabasin, Bizaa and Al-Bab. During the first year, we succeeded to train 50 beneficiaries, including 10 women beginners in a conservative area and to create three beekeeping cooperatives in the three cities of the area. Now, we are in the second year of this project and focusing on biodiversity activities to restore the environment which has been severely impacted by the war, through the cultivation and distribution of flowering plants. We will also create the first artificial insemination centre for queen bees in Syria which is crucial for honey production. In addition, we will train 50 additional beneficiaries, with gender equality, so as to eventually reach 100 direct beneficiaries. 

Claire Mérilhou