A few hours west of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, the road begins to climb up between pastures and fields of grains and ensete – a tree similar to the banana tree, whose leaves and roots are used widely as an intricate part of the Ethiopian diet.
After a while, it reaches the magnificent landscape of Wenchi, a crater with steep green sides and a deep blue lake at the bottom. In recent years, this area has been home to an association that organizes ecotourism activities and manages natural resources in the area of the volcano.
It organizes activities such as horse treks around the slopes of the crater, lake trips in small wooden boats, and visits to a monastery built on a small island. Thanks to its warm thermal waters, regarded as therapeutic and thus appreciated by the Ethiopians, Wenchi has been a popular tourist destination for many years.
Ethiopia is one of the largest honey producers in the world, and number one in Africa. Beekeeping, and honey and beeswax production is a longstanding family activity. And the Wenchi area is no different.
The rainy season, Between June and September, allows for wildflowers to showcase a blanket of colors in full bloom. The main flowers identified are Egynia abyssinica (Kosso) and Erica arborea (Hasta). These and many other wildflowers allow the bees to feed on nutritious pollen before migrating; because the particular subspecies of bee present in this area have a strong migratory instinct and little attachment to the nest; it is also very aggressive. Therefore, the beekeepers have to collect the honey during hours of darkness and use a lot of smoke, which changes the flavor and quality of the product.
The honey from the area is collected at the end of the rainy season, between October and December. It is amber-yellow in color with a very fine texture. Its aroma is intense with a floral fragrance and notes of lightly roasted caramel.
Until now, the honey has mainly been produced using traditional hives. These are large cylinders made of interwoven bamboo covered by banana-like leaves, closed at one end by a circular piece of wood that allows bees to enter through two lateral openings. The other end is closed with straw.
Once the honey has been extracted using a wooden spatula, knife, and bowl, the beekeepers bring the honey, still in its hive, back to the village, and place it on a plate. Passers-by, children, and family gather round before, as tradition dictates, the person who collected the honey and brought it home has the first taste.
Slow Food promotes the protection of this small-scale honey production, which respects the environment, and protects bees and other pollinators, through the Presidium project. A group of 40 beekeepers has created an independent association called Wenchi Beekeepers Association.
The presidium has helped the beekeepers to rationalize honey production so they can obtain a pure product that is recognizable, of high quality and suitable for sale. To achieve this objective, it has provided the association with the necessary equipment in order to practice modern apiculture, has organized training courses, and has improved the final presentation of the honey, now sold in glass labeled jars.
The producers are also assisted by technical experts from Conapi, and since 2009 the Wenchi Volcano Honey has been part of the Honeys of Ethiopia network, a project with the aim of supporting the best artisan kinds of honey of Ethiopia; symbols of the richness of the local biodiversity.