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Tanzania: Sunflower farmers increase yields by keeping bees

A thick, dark cloud is slowly forming in the sky and the rain could start any minute. Emiliana Lucas sighs deeply and smiles before putting down her hoe. She has been weeding at the back of her house for close to two hours now, since six o’clock in the morning. 

The 36-year-old mother dashes to her compound to feed her chickens before coming back to prepare her farm for the next growing season.  

Ms. Lucas says: “Before the rains start each growing season, I make sure that my field is ready by weeding in good time. I intercrop sunflower, maize, sorghum, and legumes in my field because these crops depend on each other for soil fertility.”

She adds, “I also practice beekeeping in my farm because the bees pollinate the sunflowers, and also produce honey.”

Ms. Lucas lives in Kigwe village in Bahi district, northwest of Dodoma, the administrative capital of Tanzania. She has been farming sunflower for about a decade now, but for the last five years, her profits have been meagre due to poor harvests. On one acre of land, Ms. Lucas reaped less than 300 kilograms of sunflower seeds.

Everything changed in 2014, when Ms. Lucas attended a seminar where she learned about the benefits of beekeeping on sunflower farms. 

Ms. Lucas recalls: “The training was captivating. It helped me to understand the number of beehives I should put on my farm, and the budget I would need to do so. I also learned about the different types of beehives, and the tools required to set them up in my fields.”

In 2017, Ms. Lucas started keeping bees alongside her sunflowers and both her production and her profits increased. Her harvest more than doubled from 300 kg of sunflower seeds per acre, to 620 kg. 

She explains, “It is because of the 40 beehives I have on my 11-acre farm.” 

Abdallah Mdiliko is an extension officer in the area. He says bees help to increase sunflower production through pollination and are the best pollinators. 

Mr. Mdiliko explains: “There are mutual benefits between sunflower plants and bees. We are encouraging farmers to integrate beekeeping in their sunflower fields. The bees benefit by getting nectar from sunflowers, and the sunflowers benefit by being pollinated.”

Mr. Mdiliko adds, “The more bees visit sunflower plants for pollen, the more sunflowers produce. This is what we call mutualism.”

Bees can help boost sunflower seed production by 20-50 per cent. But, says Mr. Mdiliko, the disadvantage is that bees can be territorial around sunflowers. 

He explains, “The moment the bees begin to collect nectar from the plant, they could have a feeling of ownership and try to protect the plant from other insects, or even humans.”

Jeremiah Sobayii is another sunflower farmer in the village. He says that it is very unfortunate that some sunflower farmers in his area do not own beehives because they are losing out on profits. 

Mr. Sobayii explains, “Farmers should hang beehives on trees in their farms. This practice helps protect the environment, increase yields, and diversify farmers’ income at a low cost.”

He says that after learning the secrets behind beekeeping, his sunflower yield increased. Now he urges other sunflower farmers to adopt beekeeping.

Ms. Lucas says beekeeping has been a game changer for her. The money she makes from selling honey is a huge supplement to her income.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Biovision Foundation provided through the Sustainable Agriculture Practices program.

Photo: Stacks of beehives. Location unknown. Credit: Kris Fricke, 2008.