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Lebanese women find sweet success with beekeeping

Beekeeping, once a niche hobby, is flourishing in Lebanon, providing women with a means of surviving the financial crisis.

For some women, beekeeping has become the answer to Lebanon's troubled economy.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, beekeeper Nancy Assaf Naji, told the story of how she and her husband run a honey business together. 

"My husband's family has been beekeepers for generations, so I became curious to learn about it," Naji told Al-Monitor. "Originally, I was an accountant, but I’m now a beekeeper too.” She said the bees show her the charm of Lebanon's landscapes and she talks lovingly about the mountainside and her visits to the fields where her hives live. “It feels therapeutic,” Naji said.

Their business, Flavorit, is recognized for its high-quality honey and attractive packaging. It is a leading honey supplier in Rachaya Al Wadi, in the Bekaa region. Naji hopes to export honey to the international market.

Amid a stinging economic situation, beekeeping is buzzing. A number of factors are fueling interest in beekeeping, including a desire to connect to nature motivated by the pandemic lockdowns and the appeal of a successful industry. An explosion in beekeeping training is allowing women to create and manage viable and sustainable small businesses.

While the crisis-stricken Lebanese government is unable to offer much support for the agro-food sector, private organizations are filling the gap with beekeeping training programs.

A spokesperson from the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture who wished not to be named told Al-Monitor that the Lebanese Research Agriculture Institute partners with the Ministry of Agriculture on programs funded by the United Nations Development Programme, USAID and others to help helps beekeepers develop their businesses. These programs provide assistance with equipment and production.

Faten Al Masri is a board member of the Union of Arab Beekeepers, the first Lebanese woman in the union. She told Al-Monitor, “At first it was a hobby and I wanted to connect to nature more. I started with two hives and now I have 500 hives.”

Al Masri has been able to depend on her thriving business for three years, during which she said the number of women in beekeeping has increased dramatically. She offers training courses on beekeeping and said interest is booming. Many of her trainees now operate their own honey businesses.

Despite their considerable success, Al Masri said women in Lebanon still face social and cultural challenges, explaining, “Most people see it as a man's job and think that women are not capable of handling bees, but many women are proving otherwise.”

Al Masri empathized that beekeeping does not mean just extracting honey and selling it. The harvest can also be used for organic soap and beekeepers can sell beeswax, propolis and royal jelly.

All the beekeepers contacted for this article agreed that Lebanon offers a very successful environment for beekeeping with plenty of pollinator-friendly spaces. In Lebanon, the bees collect nectar from sunflowers, citrus plants, eucalyptus and cotton flowers. Lebanese honey is multifloral rather than monofloral, as the bees gather nectar from a variety of flowers and plants, makes their honey particularly rich.

Al-Monitor reached out to Nahida Reslan Salha, who said there has been an increase in both commercial and amateur hives in the past three years. As chair of a beekeeping cooperative in upper Matn, Salha supports sustainable beekeeping, builds capacities for women and local communities and facilitates communication between beekeepers. By raising awareness about the importance of reducing monocultures and pesticides, she advocates for more sustainable agriculture and educates people about the harmful effects of pesticide-treated crops on bees.

Miryam Kabbabi Daou, who originally studied finance, now runs a full-time honey business, something she says she never imagined would happen. For Daou, beekeeping started as a hobby but she soon expanded her hives from two to 130. She first started selling honey to family and friends, but now has customers from different regions reaching out to her. Every day, Daou gets phone calls from people asking to purchase her honey.

Daou has created a beekeeping training center that offers family-friendly activities as well as training.

“I would like to tell all women to step out of their comfort zone and if beekeeping is something they are interested in, to go ahead and start a journey that you will forever cherish.”

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