South West Ethiopia in general and Bench-Sheko Zone in particular has huge potential for beekeeping. It has very suitable climatic factors and natural resources. There are intact and conserved forests in the zone out of which flows a number of rivers and streams. These forests consist of diversified honeybee plants that serve as food for the bees all year round and for honey production. However, the production system is dominated by the traditional forest beekeeping (98%) that is exercised by the indigenous communities in the region.
In forest beekeeping, only the males travel far from their homes and hang their traditional log hives on very tall (up to 40 meters) to trap swarms of bees and to produce honey. This practice has been causing loss of lives of many beekeepers and also permanent disabilities from falling from such heights during placing hives or honey harvesting.
In addition, farmers are not doing any kind of support and inspection for the bees except travelling to harvest once a year through the brutal way of honey removal. This way of production system doesn’t allow colonies to survive more than one harvesting season and hence hinder the farmers from fully exploiting the potential to harvest up to three times per year. As a result, the average productivity of the traditional log beehives is 8kg crude honey per hive per year.
Majority of the small holder farmers are currently harvesting small quantities from many hives. This is mainly due to the cultural forest beekeeping practice that hinders use of any improved beekeeping technologies, inaccessible to any kind of beekeeping extension services. Therefore, beekeepers lack knowledge and skills of improved beekeeping management techniques that are important to increase productivity and improve the quality of the hive products.