An Exploratory Case Study of Beekeeping In Kenya: The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Achieving Sustainability

Open Access
Righter, Greta Bishop
Area of Honors:
Interdisciplinary in Community, Environment, and Development and Entomology
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Maryann Tomasko Frazier, Thesis Supervisor
  • Theodore Roberts Alter, Honors Advisor
  • Michael Craig Saunders, Honors Advisor
  • beekeeping
  • Kenya
  • indigenous knowledge
  • international development
  • sustainability
  • precautionary principle
The people of Kenya have been keeping bees for centuries. Beekeeping provides an important source of food for rural communities, contributes to many pastoralist and nomadic livelihoods, and holds an important place in Kenyan traditions and rituals. In recent decades western development agencies have targeted beekeeping as an activity that holds the potential to reduce poverty in rural Kenya. The general attitude towards beekeeping development focuses on increasing production and marketability of honey and wax products so as to generate income and thus alleviate poverty. The ideology that supports this development work is largely driven by economic indicators and often measures success by an increase in production. The traditional style of keeping bees in hollowed logs hung from trees is widely viewed by development agencies as inefficient and backwards. Due to this perspective on traditional beekeeping, technology transfer has dominated the efforts of many development agencies under the assumption that the western method of keeping bees with moveable frame hives (Langstroth and Kenyan Top Bar Hives) is more efficient and profitable for honey producers. However, the extent to which new beekeeping technology has improved rural livelihoods and alleviated poverty is not fully understood. Many questions remain regarding the sustainability of western technologies being adopted by rural Kenyans and the environmental and biological impact of introducing these potentially incompatible technologies. Development that is approached through a purely economic lens risks overlooking the cultural and environmental dimensions of beekeeping. There are many reasons to believe that there should be a greater focus on developing environmentally sustainable practices for Kenyan beekeepers. As with any livelihood strategy that relies upon the health of another organism, whether plant or animal, beekeeping can only be sustainable for humans if it is sustainable for the bees as well. Working towards a more productive and environmentally sustainable method of beekeeping requires a profound and complete understanding of the local history and culture. Engaging with local communities and gaining insight through their experiences, practices, and knowledge should be of the utmost importance. It is also necessary to understand and respect the biology and nature of the African bee. Indigenous beekeeping knowledge in Kenya is largely underutilized, and there is little unified effort to preserve and propagate the practices of traditional beekeeping. There are various examples of successful development projects around the world that utilize indigenous knowledge in their efforts, some of them even focusing on beekeeping. I will argue that the same approach should be taken with beekeeping in Kenya in order to encourage more sustainable, and environmentally conscious development.