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Young Women Trailblazing in Ethiopia’s Honey Economy

Wudie Aymero is a 26-year-old young woman from a rural village in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. While some of her friends in the community completed their schooling, Wudie was not able to pursue her education beyond grade ten, leaving her out-of-school and without decent job prospects. In 2016, Wudie learned about the Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey (YESH) project, a partnership between the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) and the Mastercard Foundation. In Ethiopia, where more than 75 percent of the population is under 34 years old, YESH empowers unemployed youth  to establish technologically modern enterprises and increase their access to financial services and formal markets. Excited about the opportunity to learn new skills and earn an income, Wudie enrolled in the YESH beekeeping program being offered in her community.

Beekeeping is a long-standing and widely practiced activity across Ethiopia. In recent years, there has been an increase in both local honey consumption and global demand for quality honey and honey by-products. The practice of beekeeping has remained constrained by a dependence on traditional harvesting techniques that are inefficient and unprofitable. Moreover, it has remained largely a male-dominated activity. Hives are traditionally hung on tall trees far away from the home and honey is harvested after dark since it is believed to minimize the aggressiveness of bees. These practices have historically made beekeeping and honey production inaccessible for many women and girls as it is considered unsafe and inappropriate for them to travel long distances at night.

The YESH program took this into consideration in their planning and became the first of its kind to engage large numbers of young women and girls in beekeeping value chains in Ethiopia.  YESH plans to reach 10,000 young people over five years, with at least 30 percent being young women. During its first two years in operation, YESH recruited 2,900 young people to its apiculture sites of northwestern Ethiopia.

As part of the program, Wudie attended practical training sessions in entrepreneurship skills development and beekeeping best practices. Upon completion, she and 10 other participants in the village started a youth beekeepers’ enterprise. Using the starter kit they received from the project, she and her friends harvested two seasons worth of honey. Through their group enterprise they are also saving a portion of their earnings to meet future expenses and secure a bank loan.

“We are living in a village that produces high-quality eco-honey, but I have never seen females engaging in the business,” Wudie describes. “Since childhood, we were guided to believe that females are not allowed to touch beehives. YESH project has become our economic liberator.”

Wudie was also selected for a customized female-only training-of-trainers workshop organized by the YESH project. While the technical content of the training is the same as what is provided to young men, this specialized workshop is designed to address some of the social and cultural barriers that the young women are more comfortable and candid discussing amongst themselves. Wudie has not only improved her technical competencies but has also built her confidence to return to her community and continue training and inspiring other young female beekeepers.

“It has opened our eyes and supported us to directly engage in improved beekeeping practices and challenged the widely held perceptions in our communities that discourage us from practicing beekeeping,” Wudie says of the effects of the YESH project. It brought about attitudinal changes in our villages and helped us build assets through beekeeping practices and improve our livelihoods.”

Wudie and young female participants like her have become trail-blazers in their communities and are transforming traditional beekeeping into an important source of income for young women. Through the promotion of improved beekeeping practices, YESH activities encourage the participation of young women in apiculture value chains and challenge attitudes and practices that perpetuate gender inequalities in these economic activities. The communities in which YESH operates are seeing the results of young women like Wudie and recognizing the equally important role that they can play in commercial beekeeping activities for themselves and the community as a whole.

YESH is a five-year (2016-2020) project that aims to reduce youth unemployment in Ethiopia by providing economic opportunities in silk farming and beekeeping for young people through training, job creation and entrepreneurship supports. The project is supported by the Mastercard Foundation and implemented by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe). The apiculture component of the project operates in the Amhara Region, whereas the sericulture component is implemented in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. The project designed to improve livelihoods of 12,500 (10,000 in apiculture and 2,500 in sericulture) young men and women along the value chains.

Desalegne Tadesse is a Communications Officer at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and Meron Belay Alene is a Gender Specialist for the Young Entrepreneurs in Honey and Silk project.