Version classiqueVersion mobile

Savoirs locaux et agriculture durable au Yémen

 | 
Frédéric Pelat
, 
Amin Al-Hakimi

AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES

History of beekeeping in Yemen

Mohammad Saeed Khanbash
Traduction de Saeed A. Ba Angood

Texte intégral

  • 1 Abdul-Latif, M.A., M.S. Mahboub, and N.S. al-Barbari, 1998, Honeybee, Alexandria (Arabic).

1Honeybees appeared on earth long before human beings. Bees started life in mountains and forests, where they built their hives in caves and the hollow trunks of trees. Bee colonies attracted the attention of early man looking for food in mountains and forests—the honeybee has long been familiar to human beings. Prehistoric rock art in Spain dating back to the 7th millennium B.C. showed ancient man taking honey from bees. Egyptian inscriptions going as far back as the 4th millennium B.C attest to Egyptians’ awareness of honeybees, and to offerings of honey they made to please their gods.1

  • 2 Ingrams, W.H., 1937, Aden Protectorate: A report on Social, Economic and Political Life of the Had (...)

2Beekeeping and honey production were one of the traditional skills of Yemen. The history of beekeeping in Yemen goes back at least to the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. The practice was related to the prosperous economic life of Yemen at that time.2 Over the centuries since then and continuing today, Yemenis have been interested in beekeeping.

  • 3 Arab Organization for Agricultural Development and Islamic Bank for Development, 1985. A study of (...)
  • 4 Khanbash, M.S., M. Makkawi, and G.M. Ali, 1998, Studies on the popular characteristics of Yemeni h (...)
  • 5 Central Statistical Organization, 1997, Annual Statistical Book 1996, Ministry of Planning and Dev (...)

3Yemeni honey, particularly casal al-cilb from the flowers of the cilb (or sidr, Ziziphus spina-christi) in Wādī Gardān (Shabwa Governorate) and Wādī Dawcan (Hadramawt Governorate) has developed a very good reputation, and its attractive characteristics make this honey among the most expensive in the world.3 Yemeni beekeepers compete to produce honeys that satisfy consumer tastes both inside and outside Yemen.4 Foreign trade statistics show that honey earns a lot of foreign currency and plays an important rule in the economy of the country.5

4This paper studies the history of beekeeping in Yemen in order to make use of the experience that Yemeni beekeepers have gained over centuries in developing current beekeeping practices.

Developmental stages of Yemeni beekeeping

5The development of Yemeni beekeeping has passed through three main stages.

Primitive beekeeping

6Wild honeybees lived in caves, mountains and tree trunks ever since God created them and guided them to places in which to live. Bee colonies built their hives from wax, and fed on pollen grains and nectar of the plants around. The Yemeni beekeeper looks for these hives to collect honey. He could find the hives by one of these methods:

  • follow the honeybee workers to the hive,
  • follow the trail of bee faeces to the hive,
  • follow the warwar bird as a guide to the hive.

7When the beekeeper discovers where honeybees live, he can extract honey by:

  • burning the hive, a method that kills many bees and also burns neighboring trees and shrubs,
  • using heavy smoke to force bees out of the hive,
  • inducing the colony to abandon the hive (e.g. by closing up the entrance of the hive at night when all the colony is inside the hive and dripping water from a pot onto the entrance; when the entrance is re-opened after a day or two, the bees flee).
  • 6 Khanbash, M. S., 1996. Beekeeping and honey production in Socotra Island, First International Scie (...)

8These methods only obtain honey, and do not reveal an interest in keeping or managing honeybee colonies. Elements of bee-keeping emerged when the beekeeper started burning bunches of grass to protect himself from the swarm while he cut out combs of honey with a knife. This primitive stage of beekeeping no longer exists in most areas in Yemen except on Suqutrā where people living near wild bee colonies consider themselves the sole owners of these hives, protect them until the honey harvest. 6

Traditional beekeeping

9Human control of honeybee colonies involves the creation of hives similar to those that the bees themselves make. Refinements to natural hives allow people easier access to the honey, and also help protect the colony from dangers. The simplest man-made hives are made of plant debris, stems of plants, clay, hollowed logs, the hives constructed according to materials at hand and the peoples’ skill. Here are some types of traditional hives in Yemen:

  • Khayzarān hives: These are cylindrical hives, 100-125 cm long and 20-22 cm across, made of small sticks. The hive has two openings, the rear opening closed with cartonage, leaving a small hole to allow bees to move in and out. The hives are surfaced with clay mixed with dung.
  • Hives made of logs: Tree trunks are cut in 120-125 cm lengths and hollowed out to make a cylinder with interior diameter of 20-22 cm. The ends of the cylinder are covered with a net of date palm leaves and thick cloth. A small hole is made at the front to allow bees to enter and leave the hive.
  • Clay pipe hives: The famous traditional hives of Yemen, these are made of a mixture of clay and dung, moistened with water, left to dry for some time, and then fired. The clay hive consists of four or five cylindrical sections, each 22.5 cm. long and 22.5 cm. in diameter, to which is fitted the head, pointed at the front (the lip) and about 50 cm long and 22.5 cm in diameter. These pieces are fixed to one another by clay or by cloth saturated with clay. The hives are covered from outside to protect them from the heat of the sun. A front opening allows the bees to access to and egress from the hive. The rear opening is closed with hard cardboard, cloth or wood.
  • Wooden box hives: These hives are commonly made of pressed wood (MDF). They are 90-120 cm long, 20 cm wide and 16-18 cm high, the box designed to allow the front or the back to be removed. A small opening allows for the bees to enter and leave the hive. A net of date palm leaflets covers them.

10Traditional beekeeping is most concentrated in Hadramawt Governorate, particularly in Wādīs Dawcan, cAmd, Shachūh; in Shabwah Governorate, particularly in Wādīs Gardān and Al-Sacīd; and some wādīs in Lahj Governorate. Some beekeeping is also practiced in Sanca’ and Ibb, in al-Zaydiyyah, Anis and Haddah.

11Traditional Yemeni beekeepers characteristically move their hives in search of suitable and desirable sources of food for their bees. Diversity of climate and topography plays an important role in diversity of plant cover, and a given species of flowering plant has different flowering time in different areas. So beekeepers change locations accord to the environmental rhythms of their bees’ food.

Modern beekeeping

  • 7 Ba-Hakim, G.A., 1987, Beekeeping in Wādī Hadramawt and positive indexes for modern beekeeping. Sei (...)

12Yemeni beekeepers developed sophisticated skills over centuries. Traditional beekeeping is still practiced by a way or another, as beekeepers in most areas of Yemen are not aware of modern beekeeping methods. Modernization of beekeeping started in the 1970s when Langstroth beehives and other modern techniques were introduced to some areas in Yemen. First trials were not successful in some areas due to the absence of trained personnel.7

  • 8 Khanbash, M.S., 1996, The status and future of beekeeping in Yemen, First International Conference (...)

13The use of wooden hives started on a limited scale in the 1970s, and during the last 15 years many beekeepers have come to prefer such hives. In recent years some workshops started specializing in beekeeping tools locally made or imported for Langstroth and Kenyan hives. Some advisory offices for beekeepers opened during the same period, promising further development of honey production in the future.8

Importance of beekeeping in Yemen

  • 9 Ingrams, op. cit., 1937.
  • 10 Arab Organization for Agricultural Development, 1988, A survey of honeybee races in Arab countries (...)

14Beekeeping and honey production played an important economic role in Yemen from early times until the present. During the time of the Sabaeans and the other South Arabian states, beekeeping was concentrated in Wādī Thaqabah (Hadramawt Governorate) and Wādī cIrmah (Shabwa Governorate).9 At that time trade in honey ranked fourth in importance to the economy of Hadramawt. More generally, Yemen was a prosperous country at that time due to its fertile land and the heavy rains the enhanced agriculture. Yemenis developed very good knowledge of proper sowing dates, rainfall seasons and amounts, and crops suitable to each season and to each part of Yemen. The Yemeni beekeeper also developed sophisticated skills over centuries. Yemen at that time was famous as a country of good materials and honey.10 Honey trade was famous at that time due to the high reputation of the Yemeni product.

  • 11 Arab League for Agricultural Development, op. cit., 1988.

15The Hadrami interest in beekeeping continued after the message of Islam arrived in Yemen, and its products gave Yemenis very good returns. Ibn Sacd reported that the Prophet Muhammad (prayer and peace be upon him) wrote to Rabīcah bin dhī Marhab al-Hadramī and to the latter’s uncles and brothers that their money, honeybees, slaves, wells, trees, all belong to them, etc. (until the end of al-hadīth).11 This report shows that the Prophet Muhammad (prayer and peace be upon him) placed honeybees directly after money, an indication of how important beekeeping was at that time as one of the main sources of income.

16Beekeeping today continues to play an important role in the economy of the country. Data in Table 1 show that:

  • the number of hives almost quadrupled during the 1980s and early 1990s;
  • total honey production exceeded 1 700 tons by 1994, a 4.5-fold increase over 1984 levels;
  • exports of honey reached 293.5 ton in 1994, nine times more than 1984 exports;
  • the number of beekeepers increased from 5 665 in 1984 to more than 8 000 in 1994, and the average beekeeper owned three times as many hives in 1994 as he did in 1984.

17These data show that beekeeping is developing and that the contribution of beekeeping to the economy of Yemen is increasing year after year through:

  • foreign currency earned from honey export;
  • the key role of honeybees as pollinators in the productivity of horticulture and agriculture;
  • increasing new employment opportunities.

18In the latter regard, it is worth mentioning that most of those recently involved in the beekeeping business are returnees following the Gulf war.

Factors that promote a thriving beekeeping

19When we trace the history of beekeeping in Yemen, we noted that flourishing honey production is always related to the economic improvement of the country. This relationship might be due to several factors, the most important of which are the following.

Yemeni agriculture

20Through the centuries Yemenis built dams, canals and terraces to make the best use of water for agriculture. Fertile land, high rainfall and diversity of climate promoted the cultivation of wādīs, terraces and plateaus. These factors enhanced beekeeping indirectly through their effect on pasture and range vegetation, which are good resources for honeybees and the production of honey.

Caring for plants

21Success of beekeeping depends on other environmental factors such as the prevalence of plants rich in nectar and pollen. Due to Yemen’s diversity of climate and plant communities, the range areas for bees are characterized by the following:

  • multiple plants, most of them wild, that honeybees can visit at one time to collect nectar and pollen;
  • widespread distribution of such plants in most parts of Yemen;
  • the schedule of flowering seasons to cover almost all the year, with some dry spells during flowering seasons.

22In the past Yemenis carefully managed and conserved plants and trees most useful to honey production, and particularly sidr trees (Ziziphus spina-christi) These trees served multiple uses, including:

  • source of high quality honey;
  • wind breaks;
  • edible fruits;
  • other economic products such as wood and paper.

Experience

23Yemeni beekeepers have over the years developed considerable knowledge of bee behavior and considerable skill for beekeeping, the most important being:

  • the annual rhythms of bee reproduction and hiving off, and of honey production;
  • the flowering cycles and distribution of the plants most important for honey production, so as to make the most of these sources of nectar and pollen;
  • the competition among beekeepers to satisfy domestic and foreign tastes in honey, so producing popular honeys, and particularly the famous sidr honey;
  • the extraction of honey by different methods to satisfy consumer tastes that differ in place and season;
  • the preparation of honey for marketing (appropriate packaging, choice of combs) according to the type of honey and to the demands of different markets.

How can we make use of this traditional savoir-faire?

24From the history of beekeeping, we see that beekeeping was always coincident with Yemeni development. Flourishing beekeeping was related to the development of economic and social life in Yemen in the past. Therefore, we should take care of beekeeping and develop it for the future. Development of beekeeping could be accomplished through the following measures:

  • maintaining making use of traditional savoir-faire;
  • studying the status of beekeeping, analyzing the problems of honey production, and trying to solve these problems;
  • studying the problems and losses that affect the plants that sustain honey production, and protecting and developing these plants;
  • establishing by-laws and regulations that enhance beekeeping as well as honey production and marketing;
  • establishing quality standards for different types of honey, particularly for sidr honey.
  • 12 Khanbash, op. cit. Status and future, 1986; based on AOAD, other sources and survey data.

Table1: Development of number of hives, beekeepers and honey production in Yemen during the period 1981-199412

Period No. of beehives Total honey production (tons) Mean hive production (kgs) Honey exports (tons) Honey exported (%) No. of beekeepers Mean No.hives/ Beekeeper
1981–1984 73 000 380 5.2 32.9 8.7 5 655 12.9
1985–1989 88 300 656 7.4 37.0 5.9 7 100 12.4
1990–1994 284 298 1 706 6.0 293.5 17.2 8 002 35.5

Notes

1 Abdul-Latif, M.A., M.S. Mahboub, and N.S. al-Barbari, 1998, Honeybee, Alexandria (Arabic).

2 Ingrams, W.H., 1937, Aden Protectorate: A report on Social, Economic and Political Life of the Hadramout crown site, London.

3 Arab Organization for Agricultural Development and Islamic Bank for Development, 1985. A study of beekeeping development project in PDR Yemen, Khartoum; Arrawi, A., 1985, A study of beekeeping development project in PDR Yemen. Agriculture and Development Journal 5: 74-78; Hansen, E., 1995, The beekeepers of Wādī Du’an. Aramco World 46(1): 3-7.

4 Khanbash, M.S., M. Makkawi, and G.M. Ali, 1998, Studies on the popular characteristics of Yemeni honey. Beehoney 38-42 (Arabic)

5 Central Statistical Organization, 1997, Annual Statistical Book 1996, Ministry of Planning and Development, Sanca’.

6 Khanbash, M. S., 1996. Beekeeping and honey production in Socotra Island, First International Scientific Symposium for Socotra Island, Present and Future, Aden 24-28 March 1996, pp. 59-69 (Arabic).

7 Ba-Hakim, G.A., 1987, Beekeeping in Wādī Hadramawt and positive indexes for modern beekeeping. Seiyun Agricultural Research Center (Arabic).

8 Khanbash, M.S., 1996, The status and future of beekeeping in Yemen, First International Conference of Arab Beekeepers, Beirut 17-20 August 1996, pp. 95-108 (Arabic).

9 Ingrams, op. cit., 1937.

10 Arab Organization for Agricultural Development, 1988, A survey of honeybee races in Arab countries and its economic evaluation, Khartoum.

11 Arab League for Agricultural Development, op. cit., 1988.

12 Khanbash, op. cit. Status and future, 1986; based on AOAD, other sources and survey data.

Auteur

University of Aden, Centre for Environmental Studies and Sciences, P.O. Box 6312, Aden, Yemen

Saeed A. Ba Angood (Traducteur)

Department of Plant Protection, Nasir’s College of Agriculture, University of Aden

© Centre français de recherche de la péninsule Arabique, 2003

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Acheter

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search