Women's Collective Action in the Honey Sector in Ethiopia | Beekeeping

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At first glance, the honey sector in Ethiopia seems an unlikely place in which to find women forming collective action(CA) groups, taking leadership positions, and benefiting from increased income generation. Beekeeping and honey production are largely male occupations. Over the last decade, however, women have begun to participate in CA in the honey sector in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, and to benefit from their involvement in these groups. This change has been enabled by a number of factors, driven by the growing global demand for honey and bee products. The sector has become an attractive investment opportunity, opening up a space for women and other marginalized smallholder producers to engage with market and state actors. The WCA findings from Ethiopia are particularly exciting, as they suggest that focused interventions by government and development actors really can make a difference when it comes to reaching more marginalized groups of women.
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  Summary  At rst glance, the honey sector in Ethiopia seems an unlikely place in which to nd women forming collective action (CA) groups, taking leadership positions, and beneting from increased income generation. Beekeeping and honey production are largely male occupations, partly because harvesting honey from traditional hives requires climbing trees, which is not socially acceptable for women. Women’s ability to engage in producing and marketing honey and bee products has also been hindered, however, by a lack of necessary assets, such as land and equipment, and limited access to market services and functions, including nance, marketing and technical training. Over the last decade, however, women have begun to participate in CA in the honey sector in Amhara region of Ethiopia, and to benet from their involvement in these groups. This change has been enabled by a number of factors, driven by the growing global demand for honey and bee products. The sector has become an attractive investment opportunity, opening up a space for women and Women’s collective action in the honey sector in Ethiopia Involving marginalized women in collective action Making a difference through NGO interventions other marginalized smallholder producers to engage with market and state actors. Modern hive technology has also overcome a barrier to women’s engagement in the sector, as the hives are relatively cheap and can be kept at ground level, close to homesteads. Crucially, external actors taking advantage of this enabling environment for women’s collective action (WCA) have specically prioritized the participation of marginalized women in CA, supporting them to join and benet from groups.  As a result of these factors, younger and unmarried women in Amhara have been able to access and benet from CA. This is in contrast to Oxfam’s ndings from Mali and Tanzania, which showed that, in those contexts, it was usually older, married women who were more able to participate in CA activities. The WCA ndings from Ethiopia are particularly exciting, as they suggest that focused interventions by government and development actors really can make a difference when it comes to reaching more marginalized groups of women. 1 February 2013  Figure 1: Map of West Gojjam and Agew Awi zones, Amhara region, Ethiopia. Background Over the past decade, Ethiopia has become one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and it is the agricultural sector which is leading this economic growth. Beekeeping (apiculture) is an important economic activity, employing up to two million people, and the honey sector is now beneting from government investment and interventions. However, while Ethiopia is the largest producer of honey in Africa, current production is limited to only 43,000 tonnes of honey and 3,000 tonnes of beeswax, approximately 10 per cent of potential output. 1  Meanwhile, globally, there is large and growing demand for honey, as well as for beeswax and other bee products with nutritional or medicinal qualities. In Ethiopia, women play an active role in family-based agriculture, and female-headed households make up 21 per cent of all households. 2  However, until recently they have had limited public recognition as farmers within the national agricultural development framework. Structural barriers, such as the heavy burden of domestic drudgery, reinforced by local cultural perceptions, have limited women’s participation in ofcial agricultural extension activities to a large extent. In addition, women’s lack of access to land, nance, technology and decision-making power have critically impeded their ability to take part in protable market activities.The WCA research was carried out in Dangila and Mecha woredas 3  in Amhara, a region in the north-west highlands of Ethiopia, which accounts for nearly 25 per cent of the country’s total honey production (see Figure 1). 4  Traditional beehives remain the dominant technology (96 per cent), despite producing lower yields and lower quality honey than newer hives. 5  Due to limited market access, producers tend to sell their honey locally for a low price. The main form of recognized CA in Amhara is the ‘multipurpose farmers’ primary cooperative’ (MPPC). MPPCs provide access to inputs and services, as well as marketing support for various commodities. Cooperative members can also be members of informal groups or self-help groups (SHGs). The latter have been established especially for increasing women’s participation in cooperatives. 6  There are 42 honey cooperatives in Amhara, with an average of 10 per cent women members. 7   Seven of these cooperatives are members of the Zembaba Union, an umbrella group which supports them to market honey. Meanwhile, in the two cooperatives studied in-depth,  Agunta cooperative in Dangila woreda,  and Meserethiwot cooperative in Mecha woreda,  women members constitute almost half (49 and 45 per cent respectively). In addition, a total of 14 smaller, women-only SHGs have been established in the two woredas,  whose members sell most of their honey to their respective honey-marketing cooperatives (see Table 1 for more information). The key development actors supporting interventions in the area are international NGOs Oxfam and SOS Sahel, Ambrosia PLC (a local private sector company trading in honey products) and district and zonal government agencies, including extension services and ofces for cooperative development and women’s affairs. SomaliOromia AmharaTigray Afar   Addis AbabaDire DawaHarariSouthern NationsNationalitiesand PeoplesBenishangul-GumazGambela West GojamZone Agew AwiZone CountryEthiopia RegionAmharaDistrictDangila and Mecha woredas (West Gojjam and Agew Awi zones)SectorHoneyExisting types of WCAUmbrella unions; MPPCs; formal marketing cooperatives; savings groups; SHGs; traditional informal groups. Enideg group Year begun2010TypeWomen’s SHGLocationGirargie Warkit kebele, 8    Dangila woreda.  4 km from Dangila town, rural settingMembership20 womenProductionIndividualMarketingIndividual, mostly to Agunta cooperativeHoney productsRaw honey Table 1: WCA groups studied 2  Andinet group Year begun2010TypeWomen’s SHGLocationBacha Barayita kebele,  Dangila woreda.  Close to Dangila town, peri-urban areaMembership20 womenProductionIndividualMarketingIndividual, mostly to Agunta cooperativeHoney productsRaw honey Agunta cooperative Year begun2004TypeFormal mixed cooperativeLocationOn the main road from Bahir Dar in Dangila woreda to the capital, Addis AbabaMembership343 women, 424 menProductionIndividual production of raw honey by members. Collective production of processed honey, wax and tej (honey wine)MarketingCollective to various organizationsHoney productsRaw honey, processed honey, wax, tej Alem Meta group Year begun2010TypeWomen’s SHGLocationKuyu community, Rim  kebele,  Mecha woreda.  Rural settingMembership20 womenProductionIndividualMarketingIndividual, mostly to Meserethiwot cooperativeHoney productsRaw honey Serto Madeg group Year begun2010TypeWomen’s SHGLocationDebir Mender community, Rim kebele, Mecha woreda.  Rural settingMembership20 womenProductionIndividual production of raw honey by membersMarketingIndividual, mostly to Meserethiwot cooperativeHoney productsRaw honey Meserethiwot cooperative Year begun2009TypeFormal mixed cooperativeLocationRim kebele,  Mecha woreda Membership527 women, 533 menProductionIndividualMarketingCollective to Ambrosia PLCHoney productsRaw honey 3  Engaging marginalized women in CA Women derive signicant benets from joining CA groups in the Amhara honey sector. Women group members surveyed in Dangila and Mecha woredas  earn 81 per cent more than corresponding women outside groups. This translates to an increase in prot of at least $35 per year for women members compared to non-members. For members of the 14 SHGs surveyed, there is an increase compared to women not in groups both in the quantity of honey produced and in market revenues, when that member also belongs to a formal marketing cooperative. Cooperatives offer 20 per cent higher prices for raw honey than other market buyers and group members have better access to these sales outlets, with 78 per cent of women members mostly selling to groups, compared to only 1 per cent of non-members. Group membership also confers increased decision-making power in some key domains such as access to and use of credit and control over income for household expenditures. Perceptions of women’s roles are also changing: a local leader in Rim kebele  in Mecha woreda  reports that “Compared to non-members, [WCA] members are assertive, can explain their feelings, give ideas, and are punctual and disciplined. Actually, there are many men who are less assertive and participate less than women in the cooperative. There is big gap between WCA members and non-members.”   These results are even more impressive given the male-dominated context of the sector, and the social norms which restrict women’s participation in economic activities in the region as a whole. Elsewhere, experience has shown that it is often women from more privileged backgrounds who are able to access the benets of group participation. Having sufcient time to attend meetings and carry out group activities, as well as support to cover childcare or household duties, are all crucial to enabling women’s participation. This pattern is conrmed by the WCA research ndings from Mali’s shea sector and Tanzania’s vegetable sector, where women involved in CA groups tend to be older and married, with a correspondingly higher social status than comparable women outside groups. For example, unmarried women in Tanzania nd it difcult to join CA groups, even women-only groups, because they are socially marginalized and lack the assets or household-management support required to participate in group activities. In polygamous communities in Mali, older wives tend to have fewer household responsibilities and greater assets, which allows them to take part in group activities more easily.In order to address these barriers, NGOs in Amhara have tailored policies and interventions to prioritize female-headed households and marginalized women. As a result, there are signicantly more unmarried women in the CA groups studied than comparable women not involved in group honey production and marketing. Seizing the opportunity  A combination of factors has allowed marginalized women to participate in CA within the honey and beekeeping sector in Amhara. Market opportunity is the main driver behind all of these factors, and the reason why government agencies, private businesses and development actors have been keen to work within the sector. This commercial opening has been used to leverage change in women’s roles in markets. Globally, there is a large and growing demand for honey and other bee products. Ethiopia is already the largest producer of honey in Africa, but the quality and yield of honey from traditional hives is often low; with support the sector could grow substantially and become more efcient and protable. Strong market demand means that the inherent risks involved in investing in the market sector are reduced – and if there is local, as well as global demand, this risk is further reduced. Alongside this market opportunity, new hive technology has been instrumental in enabling women to become involved in the honey sector. Modern hives are relatively cheap, can be kept on very little land, do not necessitate climbing trees, and so are far more accessible to women. Modern beekeeping methods also greatly improve the quality and yield of honey and other bee products. For women producers, it is especially important to identify opportunities in non-perishable, high-value products, which are less risky and more protable, moving women beyond ‘female’ crops that often have low prot margins and saturated markets. Moreover, honey can be stored and sold throughout the year to supplement household income.   Traditional hives in an acacia tree (above) and modern hives (below) in Amhara. Photo: Oxfam The economic potential of the honey sector has made it an attractive investment opportunity, in terms of both economic and social development. This has increased space for dialogue between women, other marginalized smallholder producers, and development actors, powerful private businesses and government agencies. For instance, with the 4
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