Divas Matinyadze carefully inspects one of his 47 traditional beehives, which are fashioned from dead tree trunks. The hives are hidden in a dense patch of forest along a narrow dirt path beside a small river in Mpudzi Resettlement Scheme, just south of Mutare on Zimbabwe’s eastern border.
Mr. Matinyadze warns, “If you cut a tree anywhere near my beehives, you are assured of trouble from me. These trees belong to my bees.”
In this part of eastern Zimbabwe, much of the land has been cleared for firewood, which is used by tobacco farmers to cure their crop. Tobacco farmers cut down up to 20 per cent of the country’s forest every year, according to Zimbabwe’s Forestry Commission. Selling firewood is big business for rural communities because of the frequent power outages. And government efforts to promote reforestation have gained little support.
But beekeepers like Mr. Matinyadze are doing their best to protect forests in order to keep their sweet business buzzing.
Mr. Matinyadze learned beekeeping through a program by the Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services. Each district in Zimbabwe now has flourishing beekeeping projects.
Mr. Matinyadze was a successful cotton and maize farmer, but switched to beekeeping in 2014. The results have been encouraging. He says, “Beekeeping is profitable. It’s a sweet business.” He earns up to $60 per beehive and can harvest twice a year.
As weather patterns become more erratic and harvests from rain-fed farming increasingly unreliable, many farmers are looking for a new way to earn an income. But this year’s drought has affected even bees.
Mr. Matinyadze explains, “I have delayed my March harvest as there is little pollen, but the effect of the drought has not been as bad on my bees as it was on my crop.”
Beekeepers across the country face similar challenges. Nyovane Ndlovu is a beekeeper in the Lupane District of western Zimbabwe. Mr. Ndlovu has more than 20 Kenya top-bar hives and two Langstroth hives. Both types of hives are considered top quality because they get better yields and higher quality honey.
Honey complements Mr. Ndlovu’s maize and grain harvests. Last season, he harvested one tonne of maize and a half tonne of sorghum—low numbers, even for a drought year. Unfortunately, his honey business is also feeling the effects of the drought.
He explains: “Last year, I got three 25-litre buckets of honey, and this year not even one bucket. The weather changed so that the bees lacked enough flowers for food and the water was also scarce, and the hives did not have a lot of honey.”
While beekeeping does not directly depend on rain like crops do, bees still need pollen, and plants need rain to produce pollen.
Clifford Maunze is a beekeeping trainer and project officer with Environment Africa. He says planting trees is the key to ensuring a good honey harvest, in spite of the drought.
He says: “We have trained farmers on beekeeping and helped them counteract the effects of the drought by planting more trees that bees like, such as Moringa oleifera, commonly known as the drumstick tree, which flowers constantly. [We have also] promoted the development of homestead orchards, where they can have citrus trees to provide forage for bees.”
In other regions, beekeepers are ensuring that trees are not cut down for firewood. Mr. Matinyadze explains, “As beekeepers, we jealously look after the environment because beekeeping depends on good water sources and good forage for pollen. There are lots of trees where my beehives are.”
To read the full story about beekeepers protecting the forest, ‘Sweet business’ of beekeeping helps protect Zimbabwe’s forests, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20160627082604-ddjeu/?source=hpOtherNews1 
To read the full story about the impact of the drought on beekeepers, Drought dries up money from honey, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/drought-dries-up-money-from-honey/ 
Main photo credit: TRF/Andrew Mambondiyani