Saturday, 14 February 2009

Liquid gold helps Eritrean farmers defy the looming risk of drought

Logo Anseba is a subregion in Gash Barka. It is located in the highlands, 1,600-2,400 metres above sea level, and has a semi-arid climate. The farmers of Logo Anseba – like any other Eritrean farmer – grow crops and are engaged in horticulture and livestock activities.

Household plots range from a quarter hectare and one hectare, and barley, sorghum, millet, maize, wheat, chickpeas, beans and horse beans are cultivated. Some households have smaller plots of 0.1 – 0.2 ha, which they use for horticultural production. In addition, almost all the farmers own 3-5 heads of livestock.

These agricultural activities have helped improve the livelihoods and food security of poor rural families. Thanks to the IFAD-funded Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project and the Post-crisis Rural Recovery and Development Programme, farmers are engaged in income-generating activities and can ensure adequate food security for their families. "Logo Anseba farmers are now selling dairy products such as milk and butter and at the same time their children are able to drink milk at least twice a day", says Gebregiorgio Tekle, an extension worker.

"Another income-generating activity is the sale of livestock. Farmers are able to sell a cow for up to 7,000 nakfa and a goat for 600 nakfa."

This year, drought is threatening the livelihoods of Eritrean farmers. However local farmer Hablemikael Luul will probably be less severely hit by the drought, as he is engaged in an alternative income-generating activity. Luul is one of the 150 bee-keepers in Logo Anseba.

The practice of bee-keeping dates back to 13,000 BC and is one of the oldest forms of food production. The Government of Eritrea has been supporting this practice for the last decade. In 1998, the Government introduced a modern bee hive production system. To encourage farmers to engage in this “new activity”, in 2000, the Government offered loans with a four-year grace period to purchase beehives.

"I got my bee-hives three years go. I have eight modern hives and one traditional one", says Luul "At the beginning it was not easy, as the bees used to fly away, then slowly but surely I got a handle on the situation and now I have a pretty good business".

Luul invested 1,000 nakfa for the big bee colonies and 500 nakfa for the small ones. Within three years, he managed to establish his business. "I've been paying back my loan for the last two years and have two more years to go".

While the drought may have a lesser impact on Luul's honey business, one of his biggest challenges is to make sure his bees have enough nectar, considering that honeybees need to visit 100 to 1,500 flowers to fill their honey stomachs.

"The bees use the euphorbia, eucalyptus and cordia Africana trees in the surroundings ", says Luul. "But often this is not enough to make the necessary nectar, so I need to feed the bees with sugar and water. I dissolve a kilo of sugar, for which I pay 30 nakfa, in a litre of water and put this inside the hive".

Luul harvests honey three times a year with his modern hives. The modern hives yield 30 kg and his traditional ones 20 kg per harvest. "I sell my honey for 180 nakfa per kg in the local market and sometimes I take it to Asmara", says Luul.

Luul received training in bee-keeping and is aware of the importance of protecting himself against bee, wasp and hornet stings.

When his family in Germany found out about Luul's new activity, they sent him a full body suit. Luul's wife also made a homemade one, which is sometimes used by other family members.

"I am really happy with my new business. This is much better than working on the farm", explains Luul with a smile. "I am getting old and farm work is really drudgery. Bee-keeping on the other hand requires less stamina and I make good money."

Luul's vision is to expand his business and produce another colony by swarming. "Hopefully when I expand the business I will be able to put aside some money and pay off my loan much faster," says Luul.

Luul is banking on his liquid gold to make a better life for his family and given the growing demand, he has a sweet future in store.

No comments: