Across Tanzania’s Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem, more than 1,350 environmentally friendly beehives – hanging from giant baobab and acacia trees – represent much more than meets the eye. Installed by members of the Women’s Beekeeping Initiative, these environmentally friendly hives help to preserve habitats for big cats and other wildlife while generating a sustainable revenue stream for rural women.
Lions, leopards, and cheetahs — all classified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species — face a variety of threats in this region, including the loss and fragmentation of critical rangelands. By hanging beehives in strategically placed locations throughout grasslands and corridors, Tanzania People & Wildlife (African People & Wildlife's sister organization) is helping to conserve the vast landscapes big cats depend on to thrive. Under Tanzanian law, trees holding beehives cannot be cut down, and surrounding areas benefit from increased protections. The Women’s Beekeeping Initiative currently helps to protect an estimated 439,847 acres of vital rangelands.
Habitats also benefit from the honeybees themselves, which colonize and regenerate degraded pastures. “Healthy honeybee populations cause native plants to flourish,” said Samson Beah, Beekeeping Program Officer at Tanzania People & Wildlife. “The beehives in this program host more than 50 million bees.”
Tanzania People & Wildlife intensifies its big cat protection efforts by layering beehives from the Women’s Beekeeping Initiative with its human-wildlife conflict and sustainable rangelands initiatives. The result? “Big cats appear to be resurging in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem,” said Laly Lichtenfeld, co-founder and CEO of Tanzania People & Wildlife. “We’ve observed increasing numbers of lions along with numerous sightings of leopards and cheetahs over the past several years.”
As the female beekeepers—many of whom are from the male-dominated Maasai ethnic group—become financially empowered and more aware of environmental issues, they turn into powerful advocates for conservation. More than 1,260 participating women across 77 groups in nine communities are inspiring their families and fellow citizens to become environmental protectors. The women also lead local projects like cleanups, tree plantings, watershed restoration work, and environmental education outreach.
To date, Women’s Beekeeping Initiative members have harvested 11 tons of crude honey to sell in their communities, at local stores, and at tourism camps. Beekeepers use the revenue they earn for the greater good of their families and communities and to develop additional enterprises, thereby increasing their income even more.
Tanzania People & Wildlife prepares women to be successful entrepreneurs over the long term through initial and ongoing training. As their businesses grow, participating women’s groups support one another through mentorship and knowledge sharing. In 2019, Tanzania People & Wildlife provided 198 women with new skills in entrepreneurship, project management, and beekeeping. And in the district of Simanjiro, 300 women from 21 groups began construction on a new Women’s Enterprise Center, which will serve as a local entrepreneurial hub and a model for people from other parts of Africa and beyond who want to learn about sustainable honey production and distribution.
The Women’s Beekeeping Initiative’s win-win approach to conservation and community development stands to benefit many more people and wildlife in the coming years. Plans to expand the initiative are on the horizon, and Tanzania People & Wildlife’s premium honey line, Mama Asali, is poised to become a national brand. “The women are so motivated to take on new challenges,” said Catherine Nchimbi, Conservation Enterprise and Program Officer at Tanzania People & Wildlife. I am excited to work hand-in-hand with them to make this a reality.”
This project is supported by IUCN Save Our Species and co-funded by the European Union.