Initiatives for the promotion and intensification of beekeeping through the introduction of modern beehives are taking place in East Africa and elsewhere where beekeeping has been a long-standing livelihood practice. When innovations are introduced into people’s livelihoods and culture, they can trigger multiple changes, aligned or not with the original intentions.
We carried out fieldwork in the Eastern part of the Mau Forest Complex, focusing on beekeeping activities among Ogiek beekeepers involved in a project aimed at promoting honey production through the modernization of the apiculture sector. The main aim of the study was to explore the relationships, tensions and complementarity of traditional and modern knowledge and practices and the ways in which they are employed in beekeeping strategies among the Ogiek, as well as to reflect on the changes that this intensification process triggers in the livelihoods of the Ogiek and in their relationship with Mau Forest
We conducted semi-structured interviews and free listing exercises with 30 Ogiek beekeepers. Other methods included guided field walks in apiaries and participant observation. We collected ethnobotanical data about the flora used in beekeeping and ethnographic information on traditional practices of apiary management and honey harvesting and storing.
We report 66 species that are important for beekeeping purposes in 6 main use categories, namely melliferous species, and species used for making hives, placing hives, attracting bees, harvesting and storing honey. Our study reveals that the Ogiek still possess detailed knowledge of the forest’s flora and its importance and uses. At the same time, they have moved beekeeping out of the forest into open areas of pasture and crop fields, adopting modern beekeeping techniques. The two beekeeping systems have complementary roles in the livelihoods of the Ogiek and rely on different paths of knowledge transmission and on different plant species. We highlight that modern and traditional beekeeping respond to the challenges and requirements of different ecological settings.
Our study indicates a complementarity of traditional and modern beekeeping and associated knowledge and practices within the livelihoods of the Ogiek, but it also suggests that the process of honey production intensification, by decoupling beekeeping from the forest, may weaken the relationship between the Ogiek and the forest, thus impairing the Ogiek’s role as guardians of the forest, and eroding beekeeping-associated TEK. Further studies should target the promotion of forest beekeeping via the intensification of log hive production and valorisation of forest honey and associated TEK as well as floristic diversity.