Tropical forests are shrinking worldwide. This is mainly because human beings, in a bid to
obtain a livelihood, have overexploited their timber and non-timber products. At Arabuko
Sokoke Forest (ASF), Kenya, community-driven conservation projects have been initiated,
to ensure that the people can draw a livelihood from this vital ecosystem without
destroying it. Among the projects involved is apiculture in the vicinity of the forest.
Although some studies have been carried out on various aspects of honey yields and
pollination services of bees to agricultural and forested lands, none has targeted the
following question: is honey quality and quantity enhanced by the presence of a forest? To
address this question, a record was made of honey yield per harvest (kg) for hives placed at
different distances from the forest. Honey samples from these hives were also obtained and
tested for various biochemical characteristics. It was found that honey yield increased with
proximity to the forest: the yield almost doubled in hives placed less than 1 km from the
forest compared to those placed more than 3 km from the forest. All the honey samples
taken from these hives met internationally required quality standards. This part of the study demonstrated that the conservation of tropical forest ecosystems can have real local
economic benefits. The documentation of the services provided by nearby natural areas
could help make conservation of these areas a priority, even for the local communities. For
a full understanding of the potential of beekeeping as a sustainable livelihood for the local
people, knowledge about flowering phenology of plants and trees potentially foraged by
the bees is indispensable. Therefore, a floral calendar for the area around ASF was
compiled, in which timing and duration of flowering of these plants was recorded. The
calendar is especially essential because the ASF people are not traditionally beekeepers
and so there is no indigenous knowledge of appropriate timing of activities with respect to
beekeeping. Using a floral calendar, beekeepers can properly plan the establishment of new
apiaries and handling of existing ones, with the aim of increasing the production of honey.
Data were collected by direct observation and recording of flowering every fortnight for
two consecutive years (2006 to 2007) and these were used to compile the floral calendar.
Twelve common plants around ASF flowered for more than half of the year and 70 others
flowered for at least two full months. Preservation of these plants could ensure year-round
availability of ample forage for honeybees and promote increased honey production by
strengthening the honeybee colonies and preventing the desertion of a hive by the colony
(absconding). In addition, the calendar could form a basis for future studies on effects of
climate change on forest phenology and the role of beekeeping for conservation of the
local flora. Mangrove ecosystems are of particular importance from a conservation
perspective: worldwide, they are arguably a more endangered habitat than dry forests.
Furthermore, mangrove honey from ASF is prized above honey from the other portions
because of its generally preferred taste. For these reasons, the role of bees in pollinating the
mangrove portion of ASF and the properties of mangrove honey were also studied.
Although the previous two studies were very intensive and data collection lasted two years, the study on mangroves lasted a month during the flowering period and yielded important
baseline and descriptive data. Data on flower opening, nectar volume and concentration
and honeybee visits to their flowers were collected. Results showed that two of the most
abundant species, Ceriops tagal and Bruguiera gymnorrhiza, have the potential to be
pollinated both at night and during the day. There was no nectar produced by Avicennia
marina during our period of study, yet it had a strong honey-like smell which seemed to
attract bees and hence their pollination services. In B. gymnorrhiza nectar was available
throughout the day. It also emerged that mangrove honey may differ in taste from honey
produced by bees foraging other types of plants because of its higher sodium content,
which we suggest could be a result of frequent salt spray from the ocean.