Traditional Tanzanian beehive hanging in tree with woodland landscape in background.
A traditional beehive in Tanzania.

Can Conservation Organizations Leverage the Private Sector to Help Reduce Deforestation? The Case of Beekeeping in Tanzania

By Mark Donahue, David Miller
Conservation organizations have long promoted beekeeping as an activity to sustainably generate incomes and provide incentives to protect ecosystems. Expected continued rises in world honey prices provide an opportunity to test conservation enterprises’ theory of change. A recent report identifies five areas of private sector expertise that will play a crucial role in realizing the full potential of this experiment.


Since 1998, when it enacted the National Beekeeping Policy, the Government of Tanzania has worked with partners to develop the country’s honey industry and enhance the “contribution of the sector to socio-economic development and environmental conservation”. Focused on increasing artisanal production of the miombo woodlands that cover southern and western Tanzania, the Government and its partners installed beekeeping officers in District offices, built and expanded cooperatives, and established a training center. They also conducted a national trade fair and promoted modern methods and hives.

Growing global demand for honey and declining supply resulting from declining bee populations and forage availability creates an opportunity to upgrade Tanzania’s honey sector. Despite individual success cases, growth has been slow, and the volume of export grade honey remains well below expectations. Low-yield hives limit production; inadequate handling methods reduce quality; and inefficient transportation and distribution channels raise costs and reduce reliability of delivery. The Tanzania Beekeeping Policy estimates annual national capacity of honey production to be 138,000 metric tons (MT), but the country produces only 9,380 MT.

Two landscape conservation organizations working with USAID in Tanzania, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), recognize that “bee industries” present potential benefits for the communities living in and around forest and wildlife reserves. From 2014, WCS and JGI have provided technical assistance to community beekeepers, trained carpenters to build hives, and connected community groups with urban buyers. This work is designed to generate incentives for communities to protect the forests and, at least partially, compensate for the discontinuation of unsustainable livelihood activities in protected areas, such as logging, mining and hunting.


A beekeeping group in Mbeya, Tanzania.
A beekeeping group in Mbeya, Tanzania.

In the early years of the project, WCS grappled with the challenges of catalyzing a value chain in a region with low density of forage for bees and a limited tradition of honey production. They tried to capitalize on the honey’s protected-area origin and the product’s less common taste profile. Along the way, they realized the need for business building expertise to harness the potential for income generation.

The need for private sector expertise is supported by recent examination of outcomes associated with the “conservation enterprise” approach. One study found few cases of sustained environmentally benign profitability, and even fewer examples of conservation enterprises growing to scale. To leverage rising honey prices and create incentives that drive improved forest practices, such as better control by beekeepers of brushfires, the WCS and JGI communities will need to produce and sell high quality honey, reliably, in volume, and on time. They will need to learn from the success of bee industries in Ethiopia and South Africa, and successfully apply best practices from market systems practitioners to upgrade production, collecting/bulking, processing and marketing.

A recent value chain assessment conducted by ProLand prioritized five areas of action for stakeholder groups in Tanzania:

  1. End market analysis: Increase demand and drive product upgrades by identifying and aligning with markets through focused and realistic analyses of local, regional, national, and international honey opportunities.
  2. Process and product upgrading: Improve productivity and quality by increasing hive density, harvesting on time, and upgrading hive design. Productivity growth will reduce aggregation and transportation costs.
  3. Reduce management costs and strengthen institutional capacity of cooperatives and producer groups by improving organizational and business skills and developing realistic business plans.
  4. Improve the business climate: Explore options to raise capital through innovative financing opportunities, such as village community banks, revolving funds, or loan guarantees from buyers. To address the challenge of raising capital to buy honey from cooperative members, groups like Ushirika Kibondo Cooperative (UKI) and Mfungezi Beekeepers in Kigoma are experimenting with just providing processing and marketing services.
  5. Strengthen supply chain coordination: Build trust among value chain actors through facilitating contracts/relationships with buyers, and national and regional agricultural fairs.

Effective market development requires a very different set of skills from effective conservation practice. However, conservationists can reasonably be hesitant to promote rural enterprises in economies rich in extractive industries. Fortunately, if WCS and JGI do spark economic growth that creates incentives to protect the forest, the bees of Tanzania will produce sustainable food appreciated across the globe.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Integration
Adaptation, Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Biodiversity, Forestry, Land Use, Rural
Mark Donahue

Mark Donahue

Mark Donahue is the ProLand Chief of Party (COP) and Biodiversity Conservation Specialist for Tetra Tech. He has over 19 years of experience managing sustainable forestry, agriculture, and biodiversity and wildlife conservation projects in the developing country context. He holds a master’s degree from the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development at the University of Guelph in Canada.

David Miller

Dr. David Miller has over 25 years of experience contributing to the fields of international agricultural development, natural resources management, and environment. Currently, Dr. Miller serves as ACDI/VOCA’s Senior Climate Change Advisor. As Technical Advisor to the African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) program from 2012 to 2015, Dr. Miller lead teams of experts in the implementation of over 20 climate change vulnerability assessments in Africa. Dr. Miller also currently serves part time as the Sustainable Agriculture Intensification Specialist on the USAID ProLand project. Previously, as an international development consultant, Dr. Miller employed a variety of research methods to design, implement, and evaluate a wide range of development activities and programs.

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