BLOG: Innovation and Youth Livelihoods, March 2016

The MasterCard Foundation

Insects, Innovation and Youth Livelihoods

Skills training in beekeeping and silkworm farming for youth in Ethiopia

Can insects provide solutions for youth employment in Africa?

By applying the latest research and technology on silkworms and honeybees we believe we can. Through our recent partnership with The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), we are transforming the ancient Ethiopian practices of beekeeping and textile weaving to create new solutions for youth employment and food security in the region.

In partnership with icipe we are embarking on an innovative project called “Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey.” The project will create employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for 12,500 young people in beekeeping and silk farming in Ethiopia, all of whom are between the ages of 18-24, unemployed, out of school and earning an income of less than $2 a day.

Ethiopia is the leading honey and beeswax producer in Africa. However, honey production is largely traditional, amounting to about 10 percent of production potential. Ethiopia produces dozens of honey varieties that are in great demand in local, regional and international markets.

Silk, on the other hand, is a new product for Ethiopia. Cotton spinning and weaving is a traditional craft and highly specialized skill among Ethiopian men in the southern regions of the country. Silk offers a more lucrative opportunity and there is demand for it locally and internationally. The government of Ethiopia anticipates that demand for Ethiopian silk yarn will grow 5 percent annually (Ethiopia Embassy, 2008).


Mulunesh Ena holding the moths she uses to generate new silkworm larvae

What’s urgently needed is an expansion of market opportunities for honey and silk farmers. The more markets expand, the more these young farmers will become “opportunity entrepreneurs”.

As part of the project, a training facility and processing and market centers will be established to ensure that these young entrepreneurs can process their honey, beeswax, royal jelly and bee venom, and tap into local and international markets. Youth participants will make the best use of innovative technologies, such as boxed (Langstroth) hives that produce six times more honey compared to traditional tree hives, and silkworms that produce high quality silk. They will also acquire tools and resources such processing equipment to develop their own enterprises.

Ensuring that 40 percent of participants are women is an important component of the project. In many African societies, notably in Ethiopia, beekeeping tends to be male dominated. Traditional hives require climbing trees to reach them, not socially acceptable for women The modern boxed beehive developed by icipe sits on the ground, is accessible and highly productive, ensuring that women can benefit from beekeeping and honey production.

At the core of this project is the Foundation’s, youth-focused, holistic approach to youth livelihoods, involving a comprehensive package of technical and life skills training, access to financial services and links to local and regional markets. We’re excited to incorporate this with icipe’s 20 years of experience in applying insect research to ensure food security, improve environmental health and alleviate poverty.

icipe has worked in 29 African countries and have had success with beekeeping and silk farming projects in Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt and Mozambique. These successes proving that it’s possible to address barriers to young people’s unemployment or underemployment in a cost-effective way.

The Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey project has the potential to create jobs along the entire value chain for surrounding communities. For example, there will be an increased demand for the “inputs” or materials required for beekeeping and silkworm farming (e.g. bee suits, gloves, silkworm trays, spinning wheels). It is also expected that opportunities for an additional 25,000 people involved in the value chain from harvesting, to processing, packaging and marketing honey and raw silk will be created.

This partnership is broadening our perspective and imagination on what is possible for youth livelihoods development.

Originally posted by: The MasterCard Foundation