Sweet Rewards: Women’s Beekeeping Yields Exciting Results

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
African People & Wildlife
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Harvesting honey and honeycomb in Northern Tanzania.
Erika Piñeros/African People & Wildlife

In 2021, African People & Wildlife conducted an in-depth evaluation of the Women’s Beekeeping Initiative. Our goal was to study the program’s impact on the lives of female beekeepers and identify areas for improvement and adaptation. Please read on to learn about the program and the findings of our evaluation.

When African People & Wildlife launched the Women’s Beekeeping Initiative in 2013, I knew from the reaction of local women’s groups that the program would take flight. After all, it was their idea to start small businesses that would work in harmony with nature. Together, we co-created the concept: Our team would provide the tools, training, and microgrants. The women would hang the beehives, harvest the honey, and sell it to local markets. Beekeepers would “repay” the microgrants by taking part in conservation projects like cleanups and tree plantings.

For many of these Indigenous women, it would be the first time they earned their own income – and the first time they could decide for themselves how to spend it. Due to traditional roles in the Maasai culture, men usually possess the decision-making power. Women often lack a voice – both at home and in the community – and find few opportunities for agency in their lives. When revenue from beekeeping activities began to roll in, many of the women were excited to invest the money in their children’s education, the family’s health care, and new business ventures.

Paulina, a member of the Women's Beekeeping Initiative, poses with a jar of Mama Asali honey.
Erika Piñeros/African People & Wildlife

Collectively, 104 women’s groups have harvested more than 17 tons of wildlife-friendly honey to be sold at local markets and lodges. But what are the true impacts of this effort on women’s lives?

As important as financial independence is for these women, our collective aim was also to positively impact their communities and surrounding wildlands. Indigenous women and girls are deeply connected to the natural world they treasure and rely on. They feel the direct impacts when water, trees, and grasslands are degraded or no longer plentiful. By hanging beehives in key wildlife habitats and corridors, beekeepers protect nature because trees holding beehives cannot be cut down under Tanzanian law. Resident honeybees also proliferate native plants and help to regenerate pastures. Our team teaches the women about biodiversity and all the ways beekeeping benefits ecosystems. Armed with new knowledge, beekeepers serve as important local role models and conservation advocates.

Today, 1,844 women have hung more than 1,485 beehives, gaining significant ground for lions, leopards, cheetahs, and other wildlife. Collectively, 104 women’s groups have harvested more than 17 tons of wildlife-friendly honey to be sold at local markets and lodges. But what are the true impacts of this effort on women’s lives?

Beekeepers hang beehives in wildlands.
Felipe Rodriguez/African People & Wildlife

As these conservation champions continue to thrive, nature will thrive too – at a time when it needs their protection the most.

At African People & Wildlife, our work is deeply rooted in science. We engage in a process of constant learning to maximize the positive impacts of our programs. So in 2021, our Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning, and Adaptation (MELA) team held in-depth interviews and focus groups with more than 350 beekeepers across all nine communities where the program is implemented. Our goal was to learn how we can best support the efforts of these dedicated women to grow and thrive through conservation well into the future.

A rigorous analysis of the data showed inspiring, positive impacts of the program so far. Quantitative results of the evaluation included:

  • 95% of beekeepers surveyed report feeling more respected in their community as a member of a local women’s group.
  • 83% of beekeepers surveyed report that being a member of the program has significantly changed their life for the better through dynamics such as female camaraderie in a patriarchal society and social inclusion.
  • 77% of beekeepers surveyed report high or very high decision-making power in their household, with 17% saying they are the primary decision-maker.
African People & Wildlife team members hold in-depth interviews with members of the Women's Beekeeping Initiative.
Janeth Edward/African People & Wildlife

From a qualitative standpoint, key findings include:

  • Many women reported an increased sense of purpose since joining the program along with a greater sense of agency to pursue new activities outside the home.
  • Women in the program regularly referred to decreased dependence on their husbands and an increased understanding of their rights to generate personal income and own property such as livestock and land.
  • Many women reported an increased desire for their children to attend school, particularly girls.
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Beekeepers find camaraderie and share ideas at the Women's Enterprise Center, an entrepreneurial hub in Tanzania's Simanjiro district.
Erika Piñeros/African People & Wildlife

At the same time, the evaluation revealed important information on how the program can be even more effective for women as we move forward. Key recommendations from the MELA team include:

  • Increase access to regional and national markets for honey products by hiring a senior-level sales and marketing director.
  • Actively recruit a higher percentage of young women (under age 35) to the program. Younger women demonstrate a stronger likelihood to invest in additional enterprises and can serve as significant influencers on future generations. While recruiting younger women can be challenging due to their traditional household roles in Maasai culture, we see this effort as critical to the program’s continued success.
  • Deepen engagement with existing women’s groups through additional trainings in leadership, financial management, and business development.
  • Further our support of “queen bees” – women who distinguish themselves as natural leaders – to increase their capacity to manage small businesses and become more self-sufficient.

Moving forward, these important findings will inform and fuel our efforts to create more opportunities for rural women – in beekeeping and beyond. As these conservation champions continue to thrive, nature will thrive too – at a time when it needs their protection the most.

Please contact us if you would like additional information about the evaluation results.

Beekeepers prepare to harvest their beehives.
Felipe Rodriguez
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