Ready... set... go! A swarm of runners throws themselves along the route, breaking the sleepy monotony of a Saturday morning in Hosanna. It's just past 10 in the morning on November 19th and the bishop of the diocese has given the starting signal for the race that marks the close of a three-day conference organized by Slow Food's "Honeys of Ethiopia" network.
From November 16th to 19th, 70 beekeepers from 17 communities and around 20 officials and government experts met in the town of Hosanna, in southern Ethiopia, for the second national meeting of the honey network. The initiative was organized by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, the Modena per gli Altri and Terra del Terzo Mondo associations and the Italian beekeepers' consortium CONAPI. Zerihun Dessalgn, the network's coordinator, ran the conference together with Alem Abraha and Sumoro Hagiso, two beekeepers who have played a key role in developing activities with the communities and honey Presidia around Ethiopia.
In recent years, a close collaboration has developed between Italian beekeepers and apiculture experts and Ethiopian producers. The Hosanna conference marked a crucial moment, the passing of the baton on to the local beekeepers, who from now on will be directly responsible for the training activities (for new producers and those already involved) and the network's future direction. In particular, they will be working to ensure that individual communities, supported by the common organization and frequent exchanges of information, can become completely autonomous in the production and marketing of honey and other bee products.
One of the new communities that has joined the network is a group of beekeepers from the Harenna Forest, where the Slow Food Foundation already works with wild coffee producers. The community was represented at the conference by Issa and Yunus Kadir from the village of Rira. Honey has been gathered and consumed for generations in their area, and it plays a central cultural role. During weddings, for example, the groomsmen bring honey as a gift to the bride's family as a symbol of future prosperity and harmony between the couple's families.
Sitting close by at the conference were beekeepers from the western region of Gambela. One of them, Mohammed Abate, started keeping bees six years ago. He taught himself by observing his fellow villagers as they harvested honey from wild hives in the forest. He placed some traditional hives near his house and began to earn some money by selling the honey. He told us that there are two types of bees in his region: small and black, tamer but less productive; and reddish ones, much more productive but also very aggressive. His white honey has a much sweeter flavor than the now-famous white honey from Tigray, a Slow Food Presidium. Gathering honey from the wild hives has long been an initiation rite in the Gambela region, but for some years now this activity has been threatened by widespread deforestation as trees are cut down to make space for extensive rice cultivation.
Many other representatives were also in Hosanna, from the Presidia for Wenchi honey and Tigray white honey and the communities from Shalala, Getche, Wolisso and the Dawro Konta mountains. The day after the event in Hosanna finished, some of the beekeepers left for Addis Abeba, invited by the Italian Embassy to an important event in the capital: a day of tasting and promotion of the honeys from the Slow Food network for an audience of 40 local entrepreneurs, journalists and association representatives.
For the record, the only three farengi (the name for white people in Ethiopia) who took part in the Hosanna race placed last, second-last and third-last, which they blame on a lack of training and the high altitudes of the Ethiopian highlands.
Slow Food International