SYNAPIC: Beekeeping as a driving force for sustainable land management

Bees at the service of nature and mankind

Around the Luki Biosphere Reserve, ULB-Coopération supports the members of 6 associations within COAPMA (Collectif des apiculteurs du Mayombe). In a context of strong pressure on natural resources, beekeeping represents an opportunity to diversify farm income, while encouraging integrated and sustainable management of land and forest resources.


The Luki reserve now covers 33,000 hectares and is the southernmost relic of the Mayombe forest massif – an ancient equatorial forest stretching from Gabon to the DRC.

The turbulent history of this protected area begins in colonial times with the goal of exploiting precious woods such as Limba (Terminalia superba), going through the advent and collapse of crop plantations intended for export (coffee, cocoa, bananas), until reaching its current status as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1976, now co-managed by INERA (Congolese agricultural research institute) and MAB (Man & Biosphere).

These successive stages caused significant population movements – from the displacement of entire villages to create the reserve, to the various migratory movements that still take place today. The demographic growth observed is part of an already complex land tenure context, where the notion of property in the sense of “modern” law is superimposed on customary law still strongly enforced – and currently leads to a situation of very strong pressure on the land.


The agriculture practiced around the area is mainly done in the AIB system (slash and burn agriculture), with a preponderance of food crops, the most representative of which is cassava in various associations. For many non-rights-holding, non-native farmers, cultivating cassava over a cycle of two years on average before abandoning the plot is the only possibility given the precariousness of their access to land. The planting of perennial species is indeed often inaccessible to them as tenants for fear that this will lead to land grabbing.

With demographic development, these itinerant cropping systems see their fallow periods dramatically shorten – limiting the possibilities of regeneration and leading in the most extreme cases to a phenomenon of “savannization.” This loss of soil suitable for cultivation in turn accentuates the already existing land pressure, and then pushes the most vulnerable to turn to the forest to practice collection and hunting activities. However, above all, the most concerning is the carbonization for the production of “makala” (charcoal), the demand for which continues to grow with the development of urban centers.


The objectives of our SYNAPIC project are part of our understanding of the “integrated management of territories and resources.”

The underlying assumption is that beekeeping activities have the potential to:

  • Play a role in the diversification of the incomes of the populations living near the area, and possibly constitute an alternative to waste collection activities least sustainable, particularly with the most fundamentally precarious producers; and to
  • Integrate into agricultural and land management systems, in order to encourage a stabilization of agriculture and the duration of fallow periods, the perpetuation of closed areas, and sustainable reforestation – a rich honey-producing and diversified environment being one of the guarantors of good productivity.

The major challenge for the support actions for fruit-bearing beekeeping and for this potential impact on the territories to materialize is to integrate as best as possible the different profiles of farmers who live together around the reserve (and differ in particular by their access to land or capital allowing investment – ​​two major factors of production).

Indeed, without secure access to land, or the possibility of planting bee species there, some future beekeepers could become discouraged, leaving this activity only to those with privileged rights – which would further reinforce inequalities. In the same way, if beekeeping only becomes the prerogative of large rightsholders with extensive land reserves (“marginal” lands), the impact of apiaries on agroecosystems will be more limited than if they manage to integrate them fully into existing agricultural systems.

The project, therefore, aims above all to co-construct, with the various producers and guarantors of land management, models for the integration of beekeeping within the various production systems and an equitable definition of their access and exploitation methods.

Expected Actions and Impacts

The actions of the SYNAPIC project revolve around three axes:

  • Support for the land security of concentrated apiaries and the improvement of their melliferous environment: these apiaries constitute shared production spaces with a pooling of beekeeping equipment (smocks, gloves, etc.), but within which each beekeeper is responsible for their own individual hives. Most of these apiaries are secured for 10 or 15 years within fallow land, acacia reforestation, or even banana plantations and orchards. The host receives rental fees equivalent to 10% of the production of each beekeeper hosted and from the development of his land (reforestation, soil regeneration, pollination services) – which contributes to the sustainability of these initiatives. Nurseries have developed within each apiary. To date, there are 22 apiaries of this type, but this initiative is in full swing given the high demand resulting from their proper functioning.
  • Support for the development of the Botanical Melliferous Garden of Luki in collaboration with INERA, which aims to conserve, study, and promote local honey species. This place also serves as a central nursery to supply the nurseries of the concentrated apiaries with seedlings. INERA trainers also support beekeepers in the management of these nurseries, so that they can reforest the direct environments of their community with melliferous plants.
  • Technical support and continuous training: 3 beekeeping facilitators criss-cross collective apiaries and honey houses to support the monitoring of activities according to the beekeeping calendar, and to provide practical and active training, in situ, depending on the questions and issues that arise among the members of the associations. In addition, workshops and exchange visits complete this support and allow good practices to be shared between practitioners (fight against pests, multiplication of swarms, etc.). Finally, practical training in botany (recognition of melliferous species, cutting techniques, maintenance of nurseries, etc.) is also provided within the INERA research station, with which we are developing synergies – specifically, the establishment of a melliferous botanical garden.
  • Material and logistical support for COAPMA associations: support for COAPMA to set up a revolving fund reserved for the acquisition of hives and hivesMiel Mayombebegan in 2017 with an allocation of 180 hives and 100 hives. These hives have been distributed to members who are currently trying to repay them in annual installments to build up savings that will allow them to increase their herd. In addition, “kits of beekeeping equipment” are shared within each of the apiaries. Finally, support for the construction and equipping of “self-managed mini-honey houses” within each of the 6 associations has made it possible to improve the extraction and storage capacities of beekeeping products to increase their quality and hygiene. To date, the SYNAPIC project supports commercialization by selling half of the honey produced by beekeepers in urban markets, allowing them to receive an immediate income after harvest and not sell off the other half of the production which will be sold at local markets. In addition, beekeepers also benefit from access to cuttings and seeds via the honey botanical garden in synergy with INERA, one of whose objectives is to supply nurseries.In addition to these operational activities, a continuous work of research and capitalization is being developed with the goal of contributing to the collective identification of the integrating beekeeping methods within production systems and to evaluate them for current and potential impacts on the territories.These activities include the launch of a large agrarian and land study in collaboration with ERAIFT and WWF-DRC, the first stage of which took place via a training-action in agrarian diagnosis in 2019, which then led to several other studies.

Scheme of Peasant Beekeeping

(Training, maintenance support, income, production)

Apiculture paysanne schema

Team and Operational Partenaires

ULB-Cooperation teams implement the SYNAPIC project. Based at the Kinzau Mvuete branch, on the outskirts of the Luki biosphere reserve, a team of 4 experienced beekeepers – supported by project managers based in Mbanza Ngungu – is in charge of technical support for apiaries, organization of training, support for marketing or even enrichment with bee species and maintenance of nurseries.

This support for beekeepers is done through collaboration with COAPMA and its 6 beekeeping associations that surround the reserve.


Synergies have been developed with players very present in the area:

  • with INERA (National Institute for Agronomic Study and Research): synergy for the implementation of the Melliferous Botanical Garden of Luki, and exchanges of technical support (support of “beekeepers-nurserymen” on methods of vegetative propagation in exchange for the support of INERA employees in keeping an apiary). 20 hives have been equipped at the INERA research station with the goal of discovering this activity that could fit into the transition zone of the reserve and the defensive areas.
  • with the ERAIFT (Postgraduate Regional School for the Integrated Planning and Management of Tropical Forests and Territories) and the WWF-RDC: on the launch of joint land and agrarian studies around the Luki Biosphere Reserve, with the objective of relying on a common understanding of the territorial context and its challenges and to optimize the interactions between our projects and actions. In addition, a broader framework agreement with ERAIFT aims to welcome interns and graduating students on our projects and to carry out other common identifications.

Financial Partner

Belgian Cooperation (DGD)




2 posters to understand at a glance?

beekeeping (in french) 

The links between beekeeping and agroforestry (in french )

Want to read our studies?

Here are 5 studies (in french)  that have been carried out since 2018 and which have allowed us to deepen our understanding of the area, and to (re-)assess the relevance of the interventions of ULB-Coopération and its partners:

  1. In 2018, Dorian Dejace’s dissertation: a hard-core agronomist’s dissertation that addresses the technique of Assisted Natural Regeneration as a reforestation tool;
  2. In 2019, Training-action in agrarian diagnosis: a collective work that made it possible to better identify the issues related to land, but also to reframe the relevance of certain interventions carried out with our partners;
  3. In 2020, the continuation of the agrarian diagnosis carried out by two consultants: with a view to validating the hypotheses made in the first diagnosis, particularly by increasing the number of villages studied;
  4. Also in 2020, a Young Experts Mission led by 10 ISTOM students: on the methods of integrating beekeeping into production systems;
  5. And finally in 2021, the thesis of our colleague Jeanancy Diyazola: with a view to understanding the trajectory of Concentrated Apiaries to enable us to identify the determinants of their integration into activity systems.