I Guess We’ll Just See Who Takes Home More Honey

On Saturday, I experienced my first “field visit”, where a group of foreigners go to a place where a program is taking place and get the chance to talk to some people in the program, hear how it’s going, etc. It’s a bit of a bizarre experience that I’ll blog about later. Today, the number one takeaway is BEES.

In the program I am evaluating, individuals have the chance to participate in one of four types of income-generating activities: goat fattening, oxen fattening, petty trading or bee keeping. The question of the day was why wasn’t everyone choosing the bee businesses.

Bees seemed like what economists call the “dominant” option, meaning they were better in every respect. The income from harvesting honey is higher than from other income-generating activities, they require less work—you have to make sure you choose a place where bees can forage, but unlike livestock, which you have to help graze, bees are pretty capable of fending for themselves. Finally, the price is much more stable, because the honey is exported, meaning it is less subject to day-to-day fluctuations in the market. Our partner organization even offers training on the practice.

However, only about 10% of participants chose this activity. 72% chose the less profitable goats, and 22% the oxen. One lady we spoke to, who did choose bees, explained that the reason she didn’t choose goats was because she didn’t have enough children to herd for them.

After talking with some staff, it seems the answer isn’t an especially exciting one. It basically comes down to comfort. Everyone knows the basic principles of fattening animals. Moreover, looking around at neighbors, it’s possible to see others who have been successful. Beekeeping comes across as a bit stranger. You have to wear this crazy clothing. You have to extract the honey late at night, with smoke. And there just aren’t that many others doing it.

We are testing this theory in part by seeing how individuals respond to ambiguous situations, in the form of games. It’s hard to ask someone, “how do you do in the face of an uncertain situation?” and get a meaningful response. Instead, we are asking, would you rather have $0.50 for sure, or $5.00 if it rains in Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia, about 20 hours away by bus. Most will have no idea if it rains there tomorrow) and no money if it doesn’t. We’re interested in seeing, is the sort of person who intuits “well, I don’t know if it’s going to rain, but that’s a huge payoff, and I’m only sacrificing a bit (the certainty of $0.50) to take this risk, so I’ll do it”, the same sort of person who picks the “unusual” but profitable beekeeping business?

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3 Responses to I Guess We’ll Just See Who Takes Home More Honey

  1. GOB says:

    Don’t you worry. It’ll take a lot more than a heart attack to kill that old bear. Old bear! He likes the honey! He never got a chance to see my bee business take off.

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