Fate of the bee season in Hadramout [Archives:2008/1208/Last Page]

November 17 2008

Majed Saleh Ba-Amran
For the Yemen Times

Scores of medical studies have found that honey boasts regenerative and healing properties, in addition to its cosmetic and aphrodisiac qualities. Yemen, which boasts some of the world's best and priciest honey, is no exception. However, honey production is under threat after floods destroyed thousands of beehives in the southeast regions.

More than 37,000 beehives in the area were destroyed by the floods, according to police reports submitted by Wadi Doan residents. Many beekeepers were killed and others are still missing.

Deadly floods last month that killed dozens and forced thousands to flee hit the honey-producing provinces of Hadramout the hardest and decimated beekeepers as thousands of hives were washed away.

Honey is one of the main exports of Yemen. The Hadramout honey business alone is worth YR 2.25 billion riyals (USD11.3 million) and represents 26 percent of total honey production of Yemen. Prices vary according to type of honey. Al-Sedr honey, usually produced in November, is the most expensive and is primarily exported. According to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, about 17 percent of the honey produced by Yemen's more than one million beehives is exported, generating USD 9 million per year. Honey merchants have said that the floods will double the prices of honey next season.

Bees usually live in swarms in long cylindrical wooden or china houses called beehives that contain many honeycombs dangling from the roof. Honeycomb consists of several six-sided holes made of wax. Bees produce a sweet sticky substance called honey which is very expensive good and it is extracted from nectar.

The first days of bee season, which starts in September, are the best chance for beekeepers because they can sell a single beehive for at least YR 10,000, but at the end of the bee season the beehive is sold for around YR 3,000. The bee season is only forty days long because that is the time when the flowers the Sidre tree blossom. As the reaped honey is from one tree only, it is extremely pure and of the highest quality. It is called Sidre or Baghyih.

Because bees will return to their owners especially when the distance is very short, when bee tenders intend to buy beehives from beekeepers they opt to fetch them at night to arrive at their destination before the light of the morning.

In the countryside, most people are fond of chatting about the factors of erosion and weather which have fundamental impacts on the honey harvest. Those who have a lot of honey present it as gifts to their relatives and neighbors. During the forty days of the bee season people prepare three tools for reaping the honey: cotton ropes for smoking, long knives for separating the honeycombs from the roof of the beehive and a tub with its lid to hide the honey from the bees.

The reaped honey is prepared in two ways. It is collected in a sieved barrel to be mashed and sifted out of the black wax, or it is put in pairs in suitable cans and this is the white-waxed one.

Honeybees are not only important for making honey, but are also an important factor in the cross pollination of other plants. Grain staples are wind-pollinated, but most foodstuff that adds vitamins and antioxidants to our diets)apples, pears, cherries, plums, melons, cucumbers, zucchini, almonds, macadamia nuts, and so on)rely on cross pollination. Plants like lettuce, carrots, broccoli, and onions, which don't make edible fruits but need to make seeds for next year's supply, also rely on bees.

The joy of bee season is only partly interrupted by the presence of their hostile enemies the wasps. Although bees defend their hives fiercely sacrificing their lives their lives in the process, beehives owners search for wasps nests in the mountains in order to eliminate them.