Rira is the last village along the road that climbs up the western slopes of the Sanetti Plateau in the Bale Mountains National Park. The plateau reaches 4,000 meters above sea level and includes Ethiopia’s second-highest peak, Tulu Dimtu. As the road winds up along hairpin bends, the landscape gradually changes. From the lush Harenna Forest, where a prized wild coffee, a Slow Food Presidium, is harvested, the vegetation becomes sparser, characterized by the presence of Hagenia abyssinica, a tree native to East Africa and a member of the rose family, and Erica arborea, a member of the heather family.
The Arsi-Oromo people who live on the plateau raise sheep, grow vegetables and grains (mostly barley and wheat) and keep bees. Apiculture has deep cultural roots here: Some of the trees are hung with hives that have been passed down through three or four generations.
The hives are assembled in the traditional way, by weaving together bamboo and vines, and have a conical shape, with one side completely closed and the other end filled with straw. They are positioned on the highest branches of trees like Hagenia, Podocarpus and Cordia africana.
The bees make honey from the nectar of many different plants; over 20 have been identified. The flowers that are most popular with the producers are from garamba (Hypericum revolutum), badesa (Syzygium guineense), gale (Erica arborea) and heto (Hagenia abyssinica). This impressive biodiversity makes Rira multi-floral honey unique, and according to the community it has an important medicinal value thanks to the pollen from trees like heto. Heto is in fact used in rural communities as a cure for intestinal parasites like tapeworms, for both people and livestock.
It rains for nine months of the year in Rira, particularly during the summer, and in fact this is said to be the wettest place in Ethiopia. The honey is collected at the end of the rainy season, between April and May, and is traditionally stored in animal-hide containers called ‘okole’, then shared among the family members. Like all African bees, the bees here are very aggressive, so the honey is collected only during the night. It’s always a battle, and requires great experience, appropriate clothing and the skilled use of smoke to chase away the bees without jeopardizing the product’s quality.
Rira honey is pale hazelnut in color with a creamy texture, an intense flavor and a fruity fragrance, with notes of caramel and malt.
In the village, the honey is traditionally offered to guests along with a special soft flatbread called ambasha and various vegetables, like potatoes and carrots and particularly the famous local black cabbage, an Ark of Taste product. The Arsi-Oromo women in the village produce woven vessels, decorated with animal hide and colored beads, used to hold food.
Rira honey has extraordinary potential, thanks to the unique local ecosystem and the community’s knowledge, but it is not currently being packaged, labeled or sold. A few problems with how the honey collection is managed still need to be resolved. This crucial phase must be carried out at exactly the right moment, to avoid moisture problems.
The aim of the Presidium is to bring this high-quality honey to the national market by providing training, technical assistance, help with buying equipment and marketing
Rira village, Bale Mountains National Park, Oromia region
Asmelash Dagne Datiko
Tel. +251 910076630