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Honey from Ethiopia

Beekeeping has a long tradition in Ethiopia. The indigenous knowledge of the practice is inherited from generation to generation and traditional beehives still represent 97% of the total hived honeybee population. Honey is primarily produced by the smallholder farmers, nevertheless, Ethiopia became a leading honey and beeswax producer in Africa. Ethiopia has extensive apicultural resources because of its diverse climate and vegetation that offer numerous possibilities for honey variants, produced from a range of flowering plants from garden to forest.

Nutrition and bioactive compounds

Honey contains 80-85% carbohydrates, 15-17% water, 0.3% proteins, 0.2% ashes, and minor quantities of amino acids, vitamins, dietary fibre and fat. One hundred grams of honey provides app. 300 kcal of energy with no significant amounts of essential nutrients. The predominant enzymes in honey are diastase (amylase), invertase (saccharase) and glucose oxidase. Others, including glucosidase, catalase and acid phosphatase, can also be present, depending on the type of floral source.

Honey components like methylglyoxal, hydrogen peroxide, and royalisin (also called defensin) are being researched for their potential antibiotic use. Some evidence suggests that honey helps to heal second degree burns and post-operative infections faster than other treatments. The World Health Organization recommends honey as a treatment for coughs and sore throats. It may also be useful for mitigating the side effects of radiation- or chemo-therapy used to treat cancer.

Biology and production

More than 400 plant species have already been identified as the major honey plants among more than 7000 species of flowering plants in Ethiopia. Honey can either multifloral (from several different species of plants) or unifloral, where the major part of the nectar is derived from a single plant species. Four different types of beekeeping are practiced in Ethiopia: traditional forest, traditional backyard, transitional and improved.

There are generally two honey harvesting seasons: the major one from October to November and the secondary one from April to June. In addition, there are many small harvesting periods which depend on the type of flowering plants and rainfall patterns. Migratory beekeeping is practiced as well, based on the natural behaviour of bees that search for the areas with higher floral abundance.

Many beekeepers are working towards organic honey production, for example in the forest biosphere reserves. Beekeeping does not require much land or high starting costs and is a sustainable way to exploit woods for non-timber products. Bees are also important insect pollinators and increase yields of agricultural products.

Market and production

Production of natural honey in 2020: world 1.77 million tonnes, Eastern Africa: 74.000 tonnes, almost 13.000 tonnes Ethiopia (66.000 tonnes in 2017) (FAOSTAT). In recent years, Ethiopia has become one of the top ten honey and beeswax producers in the world, but still plays only a minor role in the international honey trade (FAOSTAT 2020). Special honey, like forest honey from Sheka Forest Biosphere Reserve or unifloral honey, allows beekeepers to reach the international market, and to access premium prices. It has been evaluated that Ethiopia has the potential to produce up to 500,000 tons of honey and 50,000 tons of beeswax per year (Fikru et al. 2015).

Uses

​Honey is one of the most widely used sweeteners in food industry and is used in a large number of processed food products. It is frequently subjected to adulteration, but in Ethiophia, extensive research and development is performed to establish the high-quality, possibly organic, production.