Beekeeping for the good of mangrove trees

Khamis Omar shows some of the beehives within mangroves in Mida Creek, Kilifi County. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

On splendid breezy evenings on the beach of Mida Creek in Kilifi, the magical blends of fiery-red and bright sheds of orange and yellow casts upon the sky are enchanting.

Often, visitors spend their chatty evenings seated along the beach where silhouettes of mangroves are cast, sometimes, watching the silvery gleams reflected on the seawater. But during the day, tens of fisher folks and tour guides are making a kill for the day, fishing, and guiding visitors along the boardwalks. Often, within breaks, they sneak into the mangroves to check on their beehives, a venture they engage in both to boost their revenues and to conserve the mangroves.

“Having the highest concentration of mangrove species here means this place is unique not only to researchers and visitors but also to us as a community. For that reason, we realised we needed to boost the protection of mangroves as a community. Bee-keeping within the mangroves has been a more sustainable way to do this,” Khamis Omar, a member of the Mida Creek Conservation and Fishing awareness group, says.

Mida Creek is a tidal inlet that stretches across 32km square and hosts some of the world’s rare concentrations of mangroves. It hosts eight mangrove species, making it one of the largest preserved mangrove ecosystems in the world.

It is an important breeding and feeding ground for rare fish species, including Parrotfish, Rabbitfish, Jacks, Snappers, Groupers, Emperors and Barracuda.

The creek is also designated as one of the largest ornithological reserves in Africa, hosting hundreds of migrant and resident bird species, among them those regionally and globally threatened. It is recognised as an Important Bird Area and a haven for water fouls and other migrating birds from Europe and Asia.

Together with the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, they form a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, meaning they are jointly recognised internationally as areas of terrestrial and coastal marine ecosystems, which demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development.

Mida Creek, the tidal inlet expanding across 32 kilometres square from the sea into Arabuko Sokoke forest. Besides being globally recognized as of international importance, it remains one of the secret gems tucked within Kenya’s East Coast. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

Importance of mangroves

But despite the importance of mangroves in Mida Creek, it is the major source of energy to communities living around, being a source of firewood and charcoal. This, however, threatens the sustainability of the mangrove forest.

“Besides advocating good fishing practices, we realised we need these mangroves because they offer critical breeding grounds for fish too, and we took an initiative to do clean-ups and bee-keeping so that it eases monitoring of these forests. You will not miss one of our members checking on the beehives whenever they get breaks,” Omar said.

While the majority initially use to practice bee-keeping in dryland forests, changing weather patterns characterised by longer dry periods experienced over the past few years resulted in bees keeping off the beehives because of lack of flowers and water. “But within the mangroves, there is water although salty and the mangroves thrive in such an environment. As part of adapting to changing weather patterns, we realised we have to start keeping bees within the mangroves too,” Omar says.

While honey from terrestrial forests has a sweeter taste, those from mangrove forests have a tinge of saltiness.

The group of 28 members currently owns 15 beehives and has undergone training on beekeeping to bring the disappearing honey back to the market.

The farmers are taught on observing the behaviour of the bees, observing when they are colonising and when to harvest. “It is no longer a secret that impacts of climate change are being felt almost everywhere. This means that communities have to adapt. As part of a partnership with the communities, we supplied beehives and linked the farmers to training and so far they are doing great,” Francis Kagema, Coast Regional Coordinator for Nature Kenya said.

 He added that while Mida Creek consists of rich complex biodiversity that supports the adjacent communities, it is a haven for hundreds of rare species that include those Red Listed by the International Union of Conservation and Nature.

Although Omar said the production of honey is the same as in the terrestrial forest, the group is yet to formally package the honey from mangroves to attract more customers. “We sell our honey at Sh1,000 per litre to clients around, mostly visitors within Mida Creek,” Omar said.