Stories from Swaziland: Bees Bring Hope – The Healthy Sweetener

Based on a report by Sibonangabo Sikhondze, Livestock Coordinator (LUSLM), Aaron Dlamini, Ministry of Agriculture extension Officer, Sandile Mkhabela, bee keeper and Magman Mahlalela, Communications student (University of Swaziland)

Smallholder farmers in Vikizijula Chiefdom, in the east of Swaziland, are turning to beekeeping as a new income-generating activity. The project is part of the Lower Usuthu Small Holder Irrigation Project of the Global Environmental Facility (LUSIP-GEF, which is financed by IFAD and the Global Environment Facility, and implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise.

Before the project, the community faced poverty, unemployment and drought. This led to many young people moving away from the Chiefdom in search of employment leaving families divided and a lack of people able to carry out hard manual labour.

The project covers both practical and theoretical aspects such as hive construction and honey processing. The keepers also receive raw materials to construct beehives and other resources such as protective clothing.

Essential items for beekeeping
Locally made hive promoted by the project

Following the training the farmers were responsible for the beekeeping with regular supervision by project staff and a refresher course every three months.


Starting in 2011, the project now involves roughly 600 beekeepers and their families in the community. The results have been encouraging.  Community members have been able to raise household income and improve their food security. Working together the project has also brought the community closer together, dispelling the local myth ''you cannot live with bees, but must destroy them'',  and ensuring bees are no longer an overlooked ecosystem service. 

 A sweeter future for the youth of rural Swaziland
A truly family affair with children helping with the practical work and the record keeping 
The people of Vikizijula Chiefdom now refer to the bees as the' insect of hope'. The bees have created income from goods such as honey, which in turn contributes to school fees and home improvements for families in the community.

The average income per hive is USD 30 per harvest. Harvesting is done 4 times per season (which lasts for 4 months) with roughly 15 hives per household. This gives an average of USD 1 500 per household per season.

“Bees are not just a business to me, they are my life. I have been able to process and sell honey by-products such as floor polish and candles from the bees wax. We share the experiences learnt from this business with other families around the community. This has improved the income of my family and my community,” says beekeeper Mrs Thandi Mkhabela.

As beekeeping expands into other communities, it is creating a thriving economy. There are now specialist businesses established for the keepers such as beehive constructors and protective clothing tailors.

Together the community has overcome challenges such as beehive theft and stigma around bees themselves (traditionally they are associated with witchcraft) by forming the Honey Council. This council consists of one representative elected from each community to look at threats and issues that keepers might be facing. It provides a platform for the keepers to ask any questions or voice concerns they were facing as well as share knowledge with other beekeepers.

Success in this project has been attributed to several factors. Firstly beekeeping does not require much start-up capital, secondly it can be managed by children as young as twelve, the elderly and women. Thirdly, beekeeping has brought the community together. Struggling beekeepers were assisted by others to overcome challenges. The bees taught the community that if they work together they can fight poverty and hunger. It is the willingness and cooperation of the community in the Vikizijula Chiefdom that ultimately made the project a success.