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Beekeeping in Africa

Beekeeping in Africa
Climate change is affecting Ethiopian honeybee’s production of white honey.

Beekeeping in Africa has been practiced from time immemorial. All African beekeepers understand that no honeybee will ever allow a beekeeper to harvest its honey without a fight but the fight is worth collecting sweet honey for food and profits.

Learn about bee loving flowers, what causes honey color and flavor, royal jelly, what is honey good for other than eating and beeswax uses.

Mention bees and most people think of honey. Almost every society on earth has traditionally known and used honey. Traditional beekeeping or apiculture of Africa used mud beehives; other traditional hives is the grass hive, gourd hive, log hive, barrel hive, and the clay pot hive.

Bee Loving Flowers

A melliferous flower is a plant which produces substances that can be collected by insects and turned into honey. Many plants are melliferous, but only certain plants have pollen and nectar that can be harvested by honey bees in Cameroon.  A plant is classified as melliferous if it can be harvested by domesticated honey bees. This is a symbiotic relationship that both organisms benefit, with bees collecting nectar, and pollen for food and useful plant substances to make a spackle like product to fill gaps in the hive. Plants benefit from the transfer of pollen, which assures fertilization.
Harvesting honey

Honey inside the nest that the bees have sealed with a wax capping is regarded by beekeepers as ready for harvest. Honey at this stage is pure and perfect, whether it is in a wild nest, a home-made hive or the most expensive factory-made hive. The subsequent harvesting and processing of honey determine whether this quality is retained or whether it will be spoiled by contamination, overheating or over-filtration. 

This means that rural beekeepers using simple equipment can produce honey of top quality. If the beekeepers are working in remote places far from roads and industry, the honey may even be certified as organic and command a premium price. Honey processing on a small-scale requires the same simple equipment that is used in other forms of food preparation: bowls, sieves or straining cloths and containers.

Honey color and taste

The aroma, taste, and color of honey are determined by the plants from which the bees have gathered nectar. Sunflowers, for example, give golden yellow honey; clover gives a sweet, white honey; a gave species give honey a bitter taste that is popular in some societies. 

Dark honey usually has a strong flavor and often has a high mineral content; pale honey has a more delicate flavor. The popularity of dark and light honey varies from country to country. Color can also indicate quality, because honey becomes darker during storage or if it is heated. However, some perfectly fresh and unheated kinds of honey can be dark in color.

Larva destined to become a queen bee develops in a special large wax cell, inside which worker bees place large amounts of royal jelly. Royal jelly is the food that worker bees give to freshly hatched larvae. It contains many insect growth hormones and is valued as a medicine, tonic or aphrodisiac in various parts of the world. Royal jelly has many different components including proteins, sugars, fats, minerals, and vitamins. 

What is honey good for other than eating

In many parts of the world, honey is used as a medicine or tonic and as a special treat for children. Modern medicine is increasingly using honey for a variety of treatments. Bee stings can treat diseases like arthritis and that bee venom is used as a desensitizer for people who are allergic to stings. 

Honey and bees are therefore used by both the healthy and the sick for any kind of weakness, particularly in the case of digestive problems. Improved growth of non-breast fed newborn infants; improved calcium fixation in bones and curing anemia and anorexia may all be attributed to some nutritional benefit or stimulation from eating honey.

In many different climates, honey is a well-known remedy for colds and mouth, throat or bronchial irritations and infections. The benefits, apart from antibacterial effects, are assumed to relate to the soothing and relaxing effect of honey. Honey may be useful for chronic and infective intestinal problems such as constipation, duodenal ulcers and liver disturbances.

Honey is used in moisturizing and nourishing cosmetic creams, but also in pharmaceutical preparations applied directly on open wounds, sores, bedsores, ulcers, varicose ulcers and burns. It helps against infections, promotes tissue regeneration, and reduces scarring also in its pure, unprocessed form. If applied immediately, honey reduces blistering of burns and speeds regeneration of new tissue. Honey is also a fundamental ingredient in some medicinal wines and vinegars. Pure honey applied three times per day has been successfully used on many sores and abrasions.

Honey is widely used as a source of sugars for making honey wines and beers. Honey also has a high cultural value: eating honey or using it for anointing is part of many traditional birth, marriage and funeral ceremonies; this cultural connection is evident in the term honeymoon. In the Maasai society of East Africa, honey is used to pay the bride price; in Ethiopia, honey wine is brewed for weddings.

Beeswax uses

Beeswax is the material that bees use to build their nests. It is produced by young honeybees that secrete it as a liquid from special wax glands. On contact with air, the wax hardens and forms scales, which appear as small flakes of wax on the underside of the bee. About one million wax scales make 2.2 pounds or 1 kg of wax.

Bees use the wax to build the well-known hexagonal cells that make up their comb, a very strong and efficient structure. Bees use the comb cells to store honey and pollen; the queen lays her eggs in them, and young bees develop in them. Beeswax is produced by all species of honeybees, although the waxes produced by different species have slightly different chemical and physical properties.

Beeswax is valued according to its purity and color. Light-colored wax is more highly valued than dark-colored wax because dark wax is likely to have been contaminated or overheated. The finest beeswax is from wax capping, which are the wax seals with which bees cover ripe honeycombs. This new wax is pure and white. The presence of pollen turns it yellow.

Beeswax has many traditional uses in some countries in Africa, it is used in creating batik fabrics and in the lost-wax method of casting small metal objects. Beeswax is widely used as a waterproofing agent for wood and leather, and for strengthening threads; it is used in village industries such as candle making and as an ingredient in ointments, medicines, soaps, and polishes.

Beeswax is in great demand in the world market. There are more than 300 industrial uses for beeswax. Cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries are the major users, accounting for 70 percent of the world trade. Beeswax is used in the manufacture of electronic components, modeling and casting for industry and art, polishes for shoes, furniture and floors, and industrial lubricants.

Collecting honey from a honey bee hive in Cameroon Africa
Collecting honey from a honey bee hive in Cameroon Africa

Bee stings

Bees are feared not only in Africa but also all over the world. They sting painfully, but the tropical bee, in addition, can kill both man and his animals. Bees in the forest areas and those in the temperate region in the south are less aggressive than those in the savannah vegetation and in the Sahara: the least disturbance may provoke the desert bee to flee. 

Even though stings can kill, bees should not be considered as extremely dangerous. The beekeeper who is afraid of his bees is like a truck driver who will not drive for fear of an accident, or a farmer who will not go to his farm for fear of a snake bite. It is interesting to note that bee stings can treat diseases like arthritis and that bee venom is used as a desensitizer for people who are allergic to stings. Thus, a few stings that administer small doses of venom may be helpful. But too much can be dangerous, and people allergic to bee stings should not keep bees.

If a sting is inserted into the skin, it must be scraped away with the fingernail or a knife. Do not pull it out, or more poison will be injected into the flesh. If the result is itching and swelling, do not rub the spot, as this action will cause greater pain and swelling.

Treat bee stings by applying cold cloths. In extreme cases, victims should be sent to the hospital. Ephedrine may be administered when a doctor's help cannot be obtained.

What causes bees to sting

There are numerous reasons why a bee stings such as visiting a hive during the warm part of the day, disturbing them without smoke, breathing into the hive, especially if the beekeeper has been drinking any alcoholic beverage, including beer, wearing a cosmetic item which contains beeswax, talking, playing music or making any other noise when bees are busy nearby, standing in their flight path, wearing dark clothes near the hive during the daytime, making jerky movements near the hive, crushing a bee near a hive or squashing a bee body and smearing the juice on one's body and swatting with the hand to drive a bee away.

Read more facts and food recipes about Africa

African people are praised for proverbs, history, traditions, and struggles. African people are extremely diverse within each African country. Made up of numerous tribes and people of many religious, social and ethnic groups within the geographical boundaries of the African country African borders are at times arbitrary. Learn more about Africa.

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