Beekeeping is a traditional practice in Kenya, and one of the most important economic resources in arid and semi-arid zones, which represent around 80% of the country.
Honey is an ingredient in several beverages customarily served at weddings and to celebrate births, and is the base of many traditional medicines. Despite the introduction of modern beehives, over 80% of Kenyan beekeepers still use traditional wooden hives, their type varying from community to community. Often mud and cow dung is spread on the outside of the hives to provide insulation for the nest. The diversity of harvesting techniques and natural environments means that each honey has its own unique characteristics.
Sadly, deforestation and the intensive use of pesticides are wrecking havoc on the bees’ habitats, threatening the precious role these small insects have in preserving the equilibrium of ecosystems.
In Kenya, Slow Food is working together with local beekeeping communities to protect their products and the biodiversity of the natural environments. A Presidium has been started with the Ogiek people, a number of food communities have been identified within the Tugen and Ilmutiuk communities and several honeys have boarded the Ark of Taste. The Tugen people use traditional wooden hives and make primarily acacia and croton honey, while the Ilmutiuk live on the land of the same name and belong to the Ogiek-Dorobo ethnic group, one of Kenya’s smallest, with just 20,000 members.
From February 17 to 23, 2016, Slow Food Foundation consultants Moreno and Susanna Borghesi, Italian beekeepers and members of CONAPI, the Italian national beekeepers’ consortium, visited the Ogiek, Ilmutiuk and Tugen beekeeping communities in order to provide technical assistance and training. In particular, at the tasting session the participants learned how to evaluate the variety and quality of the honey, checking its moisture level, clarity, aroma and flavor.
The visit marked the first step towards the creation of a platform for exchange and networking for the beekeepers at a regional level. Indeed, four beekeepers from the Slow Food network in Tanzania, from the Arusha, Dodoma and Morogoro communities, also took part in the training session.
John Kariuki Mwangi
Slow Food Coordinator in Kenya