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A Good Buzz : Beekeeping in Kenya challenges gender norms

Women in Kenya have traditionally been prevented from keeping bees. As climate change leads to drought and hunger, one project is challenging traditional norms and empowering women to earn new sources of income.

Lydia Kagendo (second right) working with group members in bee hive maintenance. Photo : Kikonde Righa / Trócaire Lydia Kagendo (second right) working with group members in bee hive maintenance. Photo : Kikonde Righa / Trócaire

Against the backdrop of drying vegetation and a small gorge that was once a thriving river, stands some well-kept beehives in Mbeere, Embu county. These hives belong to the dedicated beekeeping groups of Kariani village.

This is a very dry area of Eastern Kenya that is prone to drought. As climate change exacerbates the situation, and the resulting drought leaves many hungry, new ways of earning an income are badly needed.

Lydia Kagendo is a 29 year old Mother of two who has been a member of a local Beekeepers Group since 2016. “We were already a group rearing goats and hens, where we would each save 50 Kenyan shillings (€ 0.44) per month, but we had a desire to get into beekeeping,” says Lydia.

Beekeeping is not for women?

According to Lydia, women were not culturally permitted in Kenya to practice beekeeping due to the perceived risks that beekeeping involves.

“A long time ago, men would place hives at very high points such as above trees and hills,” she explains, thereby preventing women from accessing such points. Beekeeping was also seen as a male trade. Due to honey being an expensive product, women were not allowed to keep it, as engaging in the marketing of honey would also make them financially stable. “They wanted the woman to depend on the man,” Lydia remarks.

In 2016, awareness raising efforts were carried out by Trócaire with our local implementing partner, the Order of St. Augustine-Ishiara Parish (OSA Ishiara). This was part of a wider project funded by UK Aid Match titled ‘Community Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation’.

Beekeeping groups were advised to register themselves and get involved in the project. Lydia’s group told the project staff that they were interested in bee-keeping but needed support in procuring beehives. OSA Ishiara gave the group 10 hives, and they were trained on beehive management, agro-ecology and natural resource management.

Transformed Lives

Lydia observes how her life, and the lives of women involved in the project, have changed, explaining how the project has helped women stand on their own. She also notes the positive collaboration between men and women in the group (out of 14 group members, 10 are women) . The men help the female members in fencing of the apiary (the area with the collection of beehives) and with harvesting.

Lydia says there is no distinction between what a man can do and what a woman can do. In beekeeping, they are all equal.

“Before, I had difficulties getting food, but now we can sell the honey we produce and obtain an income” she expresses.

She also adds how learning about agro-ecological techniques for sustainable and environmentally friendly farming has helped her. For instance, she now knows how to build ‘zai pits’, a technique for conserving water. Using the new approaches she has learnt, she has increased her supply of food (potatoes, vegetables, sugar cane) and has planted trees in her farm.

Most importantly, through a local savings and loans group established by the project, Lydia has established her own business. After taking out loans in several phases, she has opened a small hair saloon business in 2019. Over the last two years, the loans enabled her to buy equipment, rent a space, and to buy hair extensions and oils.

Looking to the future, Lydia hopes that she and other community members, especially women, will build their financial management skills, since managing a business can be difficult without knowing whether you are making a profit or loss.

However, for now, with her budding new business, and the success of her organic farming and beekeeping efforts, the future is looking bright for Lydia.

This project was funded with UK aid from the British people.

Your generous support this Christmas can help families like Lydia’s in Kenya and other countries across the world.

Please consider a Gift of Honeybees for someone special this Christmas. Help them feel the buzz!

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