Saving the bees and supporting sustainable honey in Morocco and Palestine

In the small town of Er-rich, nestled in the plains of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, a group of local men and women settled in a packed room when an FAO beekeeping training kicked off one March afternoon.

The room was full of excitement and anticipation; Er-rich’s beekeepers were eager to learn and did everything they could to save the region’s bees from extinction.

During the training, the beekeepers learned about the Sahara yellow bee, a particularly resilient and non-aggressive species well adapted to the local climatic and breeding conditions of the Atlas Mountains.

“Don’t be afraid,” the instructor, Mohamed Aboulal, reassured the beekeepers. “This is the softest variety. That makes its northern neighbour, the black bee, ‘yellow’ with envy,” he said with a smile. “Not only is he beautiful in his long yellow dress, he is also docile, produces great honey and is a better collector, because it can travel up to 8 kilometers compared to just 3 kilometers for the common bee.”

Despite these traits, the Sahara yellow bee is facing extinction due to a combination of successive droughts in the region, the knock-on effects of pest control, and the impact of the introduction of other bee breeds to the area.

Learning how to protect the Saharan yellow bee was critical to this community of beekeepers in Er-rich; many of them relied on the bees as an important part of their livelihood.

They wanted to learn everything from Mohamed during the training and asked him many questions, from the best methods to produce more queens to learning the techniques of artificial insemination.

Beekeeping: a childhood passion

Caption: The Sahara yellow bee is important for the environment and for beekeepers. They strengthen and protect the local agro-biodiversity, improve the incomes of small farmers and provide employment for women and young people.

Photo: © FAO/Hassan Chabbi

Mohamed, the instructor who led FAO’s bee training in Er-rich, dates his passion for bees back to when he was a young boy, and his father let him and his siblings taste honey straight from the wooden hives.

Today, as chairman of the regional Chifae Beekeeping Cooperative and a national beekeeping association, Mohamed spends much of his time providing training and helping to build greater knowledge and understanding of the Sahara yellow bee.

Caption: FAO, the government of Morocco and other partners have established a beekeeping technical center with the mission of improving beekeeping skills and selecting, multiplying and distributing queen bees to secure the future of the yellow bee breed in the Sahara Desert.

Photo: © FAO/Hassan Chabbi

Mohamed is a regular visitor to the nationally acclaimed Beekeeping Center, which provides extensive training on protecting and preserving important bee species.

Together with the support of the Moroccan government and other partners, the FAO has set up a new technical beekeeping center which, in addition to the national center, is working to protect the yellow bee in the Sahara, improve beekeeping and aid in the multiplication and insemination of more queen bees.

Protecting the Saharan yellow bee plays an important role in protecting local agro-biodiversity, improving the incomes of smallholder farmers and providing employment for women and young people.

Plan in Palestine: Honey Sweetens Prospects for Farmers

Caption: Aisha’s honey production is an essential source of income for her family.

Photo: © WFP/Nizar Khadder

For communities in Palestine, such as the Er-rich beekeepers, honey production is also an essential source of income.

Aisha, who lives near the hills of Jericho in the West Bank, has always been fascinated by beekeeping. She started out keeping bees as a hobby, but after training at the Ministry of Agriculture a few years ago, Aisha now runs a profitable business from her two beehives. With the income from the honey, she was able to send her daughter to law school and take care of her elderly mother.

“I haven’t finished my education, but I want to work,” she says. “I want to contribute to an income for my family. My husband’s work doesn’t bring us enough money,” she says. “Now I am proud of myself. I am working with my own hands on a project that will help me provide for my family.”

Recently, Aisha’s business has grown even more with support from the World Food Program (WFP) and partner organization the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem.

Caption: The beehives are a short walk from Aisha’s house.

Photo: © WFP/Nizar Khadder

In addition to beehives, WFP supports other small food producers in Gaza and the West Bank, including wicks, greenhouses and livestock. So far, more than 6,000 people have benefited from these interventions, increasing household incomes and helping businesses adapt to climate-related shocks.

Combined with years of protracted conflict and economic stagnation, these extreme weather events are taking their toll on Palestinian beekeepers and food producers.

“The heat isn’t good for the bees, so I built cardboard shelters and sprayed cold water on the ground around them to keep the temperature cooler,” Aisha says.

Caption: Aisha’s bees are an important source of income for her and her family.

Photo: © WFP/Nizar Khadder

With the support of WFP and partners, Aisha plans to expand her honey business to make candles and cosmetics.

“I encourage every woman to find a hobby, start a project, and stay committed,” she says. “Nothing brings more peace than being able to support yourself.”

This piece is based on two stories originally published here and here. Editorial support by the Development Coordination Office (DCO).

Read the latest UNSDG Chair Report on DCO to learn more about our work in this area and beyond.

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