Published on: March 8, 2022, Submitted by Laura Becker on: March 8, 2022
“This is the first time something like this has been done in Uzbekistan—never before have women beekeepers been involved in developing an app”, reflected a woman beekeeper in Tashkent. In 2021, the AI-Driven Climate-Smart Beekeeping for Women (AID-CSB) project worked with women beekeepers in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan to localize the Beekeeper’s Companion app, a decision-support tool for hive management. On this Women’s Day, we take a look at what women beekeepers in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan had to say about their challenges and goals, and explore in which ways the AID-CSB project is getting involved.
First, we must understand the challenges that beekeepers face in order to design solutions together. In both Ethiopia and Uzbekistan, we learned about the threat of agricultural pesticides on local bee populations, local hive management practices, and unique challenges to women beekeepers. One beekeeper in Ethiopia shares her experience:
“As a woman beekeeper, it is challenging during colony swarming [when bees leave the hive and try to create a new colony]-- with natural swarming, the swarm will climb on the top of the tree and that will be difficult for me to catch the swarm. In that way, I need to have support from others. Another challenge is the apiary location, which sometimes is surrounded by crop land where farmers are spraying chemicals. A third challenge is if I attend my colonies less, this is poor management on my side, which will lead colonies to abscond.”
The latter challenge is minimized through the Beekeeper’s Companion app, which tracks the beekeeper’s hive inspections, and will send them push notifications based on the time of their last visit, the health of the hive, and current weather conditions to recommend when to revisit the hives.
Nearly all beekeepers told us that agricultural pesticides are a challenge, yet there is a huge dearth of communication and information for beekeepers on this topic. To better understand and collect data on bee health symptoms, we are working with beekeepers this year to co-design a Symptom Checker feature in the app. Rather than directly asking beekeepers the diagnosis, which some beekeepers may not know, the Symptom Checker focuses on assessment of honeybee symptoms to guide beekeepers to potential problems and solutions. On a broader scale, the collection of this data can be used for future research on the relationship between agriculture pesticide use and honeybee health, and inform policy.
Photo: A beekeeper in Uzbekistan with her hives. Credit: Farida Kuldasheva (ICARDA)
Beekeeping is an exciting business opportunity for many women, as it provides the potential for additional income and can often be done from home. In Uzbekistan, several women beekeepers shared their entrepreneurial goals and suggested ways in which the app could help:
“I’m actually interested in making a business out of it. I want to have more hives, produce more products, and sell and export them. This is my interest. I need more information; how beekeeping is done abroad. I want to compare the products and the honey, and see how it is sold, packed, and marketed abroad. I am looking for an educational network where I can learn more about how to grow my business, how to make my bees more productive, compare honey, and have more information related to growing a business.”
The AID-CSB project supports the peer-to-peer exchange of beekeeping questions and knowledge, in-person field assistance, and digital decision-making support at each beekeeper's fingertips through the Beekeeper's Companion app. While the project does not yet integrate market data, there are future opportunities.
While 2021 focused on the localization of the app with women beekeepers, this year a key focus is to encourage uptake and use of the app. We are continuing our work with beekeepers from last year who helped inform the app features and functions, and are also adding new groups of beekeepers to pilot the app in both countries and participate in digital literacy training in Ethiopia. We will continue conversations and interviews with women beekeepers to inform project activities and co-design the new Symptom Checker feature.
Follow ICARDA MEL @MEL_CGIAR and HiveTracks @knowyourbees on Twitter for project updates, along with information to join our 2021 report launch webinar later this month!
AI-Driven Climate-Smart Beekeeping (AID-CSB) Environmental Health for Human Rights