Emerald Forest Farm Reserve: How Beekeeping is Supporting Biodiversity

Emerald Forest Farm Reserve: How Beekeeping is Supporting Biodiversity

April 4, 2024
A photo of a group of beekeepers in bee suits in the Emerald Forest at the MAMIE Foundation project

The Origin of the MAMIE foundation and Emerald Forest

In 2004 a group of siblings with memories of growing up around nature in Nigeria purchased 300 acres of pristine rain forest with the aim of protecting it. Nigeria has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, and with many pressures contributing to forest loss, the ambition to protect their forest was not an easy undertaking.

The siblings named the area ‘The Emerald Forest’ and registered a charity called the Margot Abayomi Memorial Evergreen (MAMIE) Foundation in memory of their mother. 

The siblings set out to protect this precious forest taking a holistic approach to food production, community well-being and forest protection, with beekeeping as an important tool in their multifaceted toolbox.

Aerial photo of the MAMIE Foundation Emerald Forest Farm Reserve, Nigeria. A river runs through green forest with some green patches of land visible
Forest (in green) and deforestation 2001-2023 (in pink) around the major city of Ibadan, Nigeria

Protecting the Emerald Forest

The Emerald Forest Farm Reserve is near the main city of Ibadan. In the 20 years that the siblings have owned the farm, they report that the surrounding areas have become barren the result of deforestation, illegal logging, poaching, unsustainable harvesting of forest goods and pollution, which are all major problems in the area.

With little habitat left, the Emerald Forest has become a sanctuary for local wildlife and could soon qualify for being designated as an important biodiversity and bird area. Pangolins, the world’s most trafficked wildlife species that are threatened with extinction, are one of the creatures that call the Emerald Forest home.

The MAMIE Foundation's approach to protecting the Emerald Forest

The MAMIE Foundation projects cover youth education, economic empowerment for rural people, promotion of organic farming, forest conservation, preservation of traditional art, batik dyeing, cultural food processing, eco-tourism, beekeeping & honey projects, medical out reaches, art & culture projects, and supporting the elderly. These projects are mainly based in the Emerald Forest Reserve (EFR) at Ikoyi-Osun.

“We have created small forest farms where we introduce various citruses, mangoes and pineapples in areas where the forest canopy is less dense”

Organic farming in the form of agroforestry and beekeeping are two of the main activities used to protect the Emerald Forest. In 2010 The Emerald Forest was designated as organic farmland and in

In 2014 MAMIE applied to Bees Abroad for assistance in beekeeping. Six months later, in July 2015, the local Bees Abroad representative, Mr. Babatunde Oreyemi, delivered the first beekeeping training.

 

A photo of a group of beekeepers in bee suits in the Emerald Forest at the MAMIE Foundation project
A photo of a group of beekeepers in bee suits in the Emerald Forest at the MAMIE Foundation project

Beekeeping in the Emerald Forest

Bees are very important to the ecology of the rain forest. By pollinating flowers, they play an essential role in producing seeds for the growth of new plants and the food chain in the forest. Traditionally, in the wild, beehives are usually established in tree hollows or on branches. MAMIE with support from Bees Abroad sponsored top bar beehives in the forest in 2015 as an additional income source for those who live in the forest, in particular women.

Bees Abroad beekeeping training was offered to all those connected to the Emerald Forest – employees and their wives and children, the local carpenter, the local iron smith, the farm electrician, the plumber and driver and one farmer from a neighbouring village. There were practical sessions for the carpenter and iron smith to make new hives, including the use of the mid-rib of palm-tree branches as hive bars.

How beekeeping strengthened the Emerald Forest Farm Reserve

Emerald Forest farm has noticed an increase in the harvest of palm nuts, pineapples and other food crops in the area since the introduction of beekeeping. These products are an important revenue stream – they are sold to maintain the income of the forest reserve community. Of course, the honey itself is also a revenue stream and is certified organic.

“We are producing organic forest honey, we have set up our own beehives in order to house the bees to produce the honey. The interesting thing about our forest honey is that it never tastes the same, each bottled honey has a different taste, even a different colour.”

Three years after taking up beekeeping with the support of Bees Abroad, it has become an integral part of the Emerald Forest Farm reserve activities. MAMIE presented their progress in beekeeping at the ApiExpo Africa 2018 conference in the capital, Abuja. They exhibited a modified hive with glass sides for educational and tourist activities that they use at the Emerald Forest farm. In January 2020 the Slow Food International Executive Committee officially recognized the MAMIE Emerald Forest Beekeeping community as an integral part of the Slow Food network.

MAMIE continue to invest in beekeeping and have planted more flowering plants in their agroforestry system such as sunflowers and other trees such as palms and citrus for the bees.

 

Join us for a live event with the MAMIE Foundation

Dr. Modupe, co-founder of the MAMIE Foundation that protects the Emerald Forest will be speaking at our live event!

Dr. Modupe will be speaking at our event ‘Slow Food, Slow Beekeeping?’. Are you interested in how beekeeping can be integrated into sustainable food production and used as an advocacy tool? This event is for you!

Join this event to hear directly from the team in Nigeria on their work on Slow Food and beekeeping.

Aerial photo of the MAMIE Foundation Emerald Forest Farm Reserve, Nigeria. A river runs through green forest with some green patches of land visible
Bottles of honey from the Emerald Forest, MAMIE foundation, surrounded by flowers

Slow Food, Slow Beekeeping?

Slow Food, Slow Beekeeping?

March 28, 2024

 

In 2019 Bees Abroad formalized a working relationship with Slow Food International around collaborative working in Nigeria. This relationship recognised the shared aims between the two organisations in particular around sustainable production that builds capacity to enable local people to improve livelihoods and, conserve the local environment.

About Slow Food and agriculture in Nigeria

The Slow Food movement started in Italy in the 1980s following the protest of the opening of the fast-food restaurant and a desire to save local food traditions and taste. Since then, the movement has gone global.

Agriculture is historically an important part of Nigeria’s economy. Up to the 1960s it was the main contributor to GDP. Although oil and gas has displaced its macro-economic importance, agriculture it’s still a major part of the economy and honey is being touted by some as a $10m export opportunity.

Around 70% of the population of Nigeria grow some kind of crop. Nigeria has an arable land area of roughly 36.9 million hectares, to put that into perspective, the total area of the UK is 24.5 million hectares. Farming is still dominated by smallholders with 80% of farmers being small holders, the same is true for beekeepers. Before the 1970s agriculture was taught in schools although it was dropped from formal education for a long time, it is increasingly being added back into the curriculum. Slow Food Nigeria are working to make guidance on sustainable small scale healthy food production widely available and Slow Food and Bees Abroad beekeeping communities are working to integrate sustainable beekeeping into the training and resources available to communities.

Slow Food has an initiative called 1000 Gardens for Africa (see video for more on this), in Nigeria they have a version for schools – the Slow Food School Garden Network which aims to reconnect youth with their food by teaching them how to grow, cook and enjoy real food. Through increased confidence, knowledge gain and skill building, the aim is to empower children to become active participants in their food choices. With the support of Bees Abroad, Slow Food Nigeria are adding beekeeping to this initiative to take beekeeping in to schools.

Abotokio beekeepers in Nigeria inspect a hive in lush green setting

Slow Food Beekeeping communities in Nigeria

Signing up as a Slow Food Beekeeping community shows a deep commitment to supporting and enabling sustainable beekeeping practices. We gave an overview of the environmental side of Bees Abroad’s approach to sustainability in our last blog. Being a Slow Food Beekeeping community means not only producing high-quality unadulterated honey and integrating good practice but advocating the approach with others too. 

The formalised relationship between Bees Abroad and Slow Food that came about in 2019 meant that members of the Bees Abroad beekeeping network in Nigeria could register as beekeeping communities with Slow Food. Beekeeping communities registered with Slow Food International commit to the Slow Food priorities on (bio)diversity, education and advocacy as applied to beekeeping. Communities sign up to this commitment because they believe in the cause, often because they themselves have seen the benefit to not just their livelihoods and quality of produce but for the local environment too.

One of the practises that Slow Food Beekeeping communities commit to is to act as a central coordinator and resource centre on information around sustainable beekeeping practises. These resource centres provide information on the conservation of the local environment, the advantages of bee pollination as natural way to increase crop yield, the dangers of inappropriate pesticide use and benefits of quality honey.

This is coordinated by Bees Abroad Nigeria team members, one of whom is Mr Elijah Asade.

Mr Asade – Slow Food Beekeeping advocate

The relationship between Slow Food and Bees Abroad is unique to our work in Nigeria and is driven by the communities and individuals we work with there.

Mr Elijah Asade is one of these individuals. Mr Asade is a graduate of Agricultural Education from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. As a student he practiced beekeeping, building on knowledge gained of traditional beekeeping from his maternal Grandfather using locally produced pot-hives commonly used among the Ketu Indigenous People in Nigeria. In 2019 the Abotokio Agro Village Farmers Association, a group that Mr Asade is spokesperson for, received beekeeping training from Bees Abroad.

Mr Asade is the leader of the Advocacy thematic for Slow Food in Nigeria. Following the training he formerly registered his farmers association with Slow Food as ‘Abotokio Slow Food Beekeeping Community’. Mr Asade is a passionate advocate of Slow Food Beekeeping principles and practices and since 2019 he has supported eight beekeeping groups to register as Slow Food Beekeeping communities and extended his scope to Slow Food School Garden and Apiary Initiative for curriculum enrichment among the secondary schools in Ogun West.

Mr Asade has also taken his work on Slow Food Beekeeping international. In 2022 as part of his role as Advocacy leader for Slow Food Nigeria, Mr Asade participated in the Slow Food International conference. He shared how Slow Food communities in Nigeria, with the support of Bees Abroad, are using beekeeping as an advocacy tool. The presentation was on public display at the Activism Square in Terra Madre, Italy

Mr Asade, Advocacy lead for Slow Food Nigeria and passionate beekeeping advocate with Bees Abroad rides a motorbike in his bee suit
Slow Bee Advocacy on Curriculum Enrichment for the Secondary School Teachers organized by Abotokio Slow Food Beekeeping Community Abotokio NIGERIA at Owode Secondary School Owode Yewa Ogun State Nigeria on Thursday, 22nd December, 2022 led by Asade Elijah
Slow Bee Advocacy on Curriculum Enrichment for the Secondary School Teachers organized by Abotokio Slow Food Beekeeping Community Abotokio NIGERIA at Owode Secondary School Owode Yewa Ogun State Nigeria on Thursday, 22nd December, 2022 led by Asade Elijah

Success in Bees Abroad Slow Food Beekeeping communities

Bees Broad and Slow Food Nigeria’s partnership has been a successful one. In the four years since the formalisation of the relationship there have been some remarkable achievements.

These achievements include:

    • The inclusion of slow food principles and sustainable beekeeping in school curricula of eight local schools;
    • Securing a royal patron, Kabiyesi (traditional ruler), for the Abotokio slow food beekeeping community;
    • Working with the local government to incorporate slow food ideologies into the local economic well-being plan;
    • and the registration of eight new Slow Food Beekeeping communities since 2019.

 

We asked Mr Asade what the future priorities are for Slow Food and beekeeping in Nigeria. His response shows that Slow Food and Bees Abroad beekeeping communities are ambitious with their aims. They have some big topics to tackle including biosecurity and bee health management, crop pollination services, climate change mitigation, products packaging and branding and certification by the regulatory agencies.

Slow Food, Slow Beekeeping - live event coming soon!

This story is part of our Food, Sustainability and Social Justice campaign. Join us on the 18th of April at 18:00 for a live online event with the Bees Abroad Nigeria team to hear more about their work on Slow Food and sustainable beekeeping, including remarkable stories from projects such as the Emerald Forest.

The event is part of the Green Match fund campaign, we are aiming to raise £5,000 in donations to support projects in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Sierra Leone. You can find out more about what we aim to do with the funds in each of the countries on our campaign page.

Abotokio beekeepers in Nigeria inspect a hive in lush green setting
Mr Asade, Advocacy lead for Slow Food Nigeria and passionate beekeeping advocate with Bees Abroad rides a motorbike in his bee suit

How Bees Abroad’s approach supports the local environment

How Bees Abroad’s approach supports the local environment

March 22, 2024

Bees Abroad sustainable beekeeping: supporting the local environment

‘Food, Beekeeping and Social Justice’, that’s the title of our latest campaign for the Green Match Fund (GMF). This is the second year we have been accepted to take part in the GMF, a campaign that supports charities that play a role in influencing environmental issues.

We chose the theme of ‘Food, Beekeeping and Social Justice’, because the issues of the environment, food production and human wellbeing are intersectional and affect many communities we work with.

We have a holistic approach to sustainable beekeeping that covers the three pillars of sustainability: environment, social, economic. Enabling communities to continue the work after they graduate from our support is paramount and supporting the local environment is a key part of this. After all, the health of a bee colony, and quality of honey harvest is inextricable to the health of the local environment.

The upcoming Green Match Fund is a great opportunity to share more about the environmental side of our sustainable beekeeping approach.

Bees naturally increase food production

Many of the communities we work with have reported increases in crop yields after taking up beekeeping. Bees Abroad supported research on the effects of beekeeping on crop production with a local partner in India. The study found that beekeepers with Cerana boxes saw a 282% increase in cashew production compared to the control group. You can read the full report here.

Another example of this comes from Rwenzori rural talent, a farming community on the slopes of the snow-capped Rwenzori mountains in Uganda. One of the many crops this community grows is coffee. After taking up beekeeping following training from us, they reported around 20% increase in their coffee yields, which is in line with research on the effects of beekeeping on coffee production. We wrote about this in the green campaign last year, you can find the full story on our blog.

Providing forage for bees to ensure good honey production and reduce pressure on existing forage that other pollinators may depend on is an important part of our approach to sustainable beekeeping.

Improving the local environment by providing forage

We work with rural communities but in some of the locations the local environment has been significantly degraded. Local environment degradation is often the result of an acute need to earn income to meet basic human needs for example cutting down trees to sell or use as firewood for cooking. In these locations there may not be enough forage to produce a good quantity or quality of honey and the introduction of beekeeping would pressurise an already struggling environment. In these cases, we will adapt our core training to include recommendations on how to improve forage, such changes to the crop mix to have crops that flower at different times or planting bee friendly flowers and trees.

Not all project locations are environmentally degraded, some are verdant and rich in vegetation and forage, in these locations, activities around providing forage for bees may not be necessary.

Locally appropriate

A locally appropriate approach is at the heart of what we do.  Related to forage availability, we will only approve new projects if it doesn’t put undue pressure on the local environment and existing beekeepers and only approve projects with appropriate aims for apiary size.

Forage is one of the many factors that affect what beekeeping practices are best for a particular environment. The eco-regions of the locations the communities we work with vary significantly, from mountain slopes to tropical rainforest to semi-arid regions. The eco-regions effect the timing and number of harvests appropriate for the location. We use trusted local trainers who understand the local conditions and can provide specific, tailored advice on beekeeping specific to the area.

Improving the local environment by providing ecological training

Practices like slash and burn, honey hunting and use of pesticides are unfortunately sometimes used by members of the communities we work with, or by others in the area. As well as training on forage awareness where necessary, we will provide information on the impact of these practices on beekeeping and the local environment.

 Our trainers are often passionate advocates, for example, Daniel, one of lead trainers in Uganda has spoken to the National Park about their slash and burn practices. He has also reached out to the local government entomologist to advocate for bees and other pollinators, as their work often focuses on pest control to the detriment of pollinating insects.

It’s not just the trainers who are passionate about this, many community members become proactive advocates for bee-friendly practices that benefit the local environment. We will share an example of a community doing this in Nigeria later in the campaign.

Sustainable hives

Building bee hives is obviously a critical aspect of our work. Offering options for hive types, and options for production needs to be appropriate to the area and offer a solution that can work long after the projects have graduated from our support. 

Hive production is a big topic and deserves its own article. We are working on said article and look forward to sharing more of this aspect of our work.

Food, Beekeeping and Social Justice

We’ll be sharing more on our work on the theme of Food, Sustainability and Social Justice throughout this campaign. Stay tuned for more!

We are aiming to raise £5,000 in donations to support projects in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Sierra Leone. You can find out more about what we aim to do with the funds in each of the countries on our campaign page.

You can have your donation DOUBLED April 18-25. Any donations via the Big Give platform for one week from Thursday 18th to Thursday 25th of April will be matched by the Big Give foundation. You can turn £10 in to £20, £25 in to £50, £500 in to £1,000, you get the idea! One donation, double the impact. We can only provide support to the communities we work with because of your generosity.  

Excel Beekeeper members with community members of Okelagan Village as participants of the Beekeeping sensitization visit

Meet our Project Leaders

We have an expanding team of experienced beekeepers who work with small communities who require our help.  These include:

Stuart Andrews:  Uganda

David Blower: Tanzania

David Bonner: Uganda

Neil Brent: Sierra Leone

Brian Durk: Instrumental in starting the Kom Beekeeping Project in Cameroon in 1997 prior to the setting up of ‘Bees Abroad’.  In his time with us he has been Project Manager and Fundraiser.  Presently he manages projects in Adrucom, Ghana

Roy Dyche – Roy is a retired teacher, teacher-trainer and author. He took up beekeeping in the early 1990s and since joining Bees Abroad in 2009 has managed projects in Uganda and Zambia, a country he knows well, having taught there in the 1960s. In 2009 he travelled over 2000 miles around Zambia collecting material on its honey industry for a BBC radio programme. He is a long-standing member of the Dover and District Beekeepers’ Association.

Jo Hiscox: Cameroon

John Home: Kenya

Beekeeping in the Laikipia area of Kenya

Whilst at Agricultural College I was introduced to beekeeping and this became my hobby. I soon had 10 hives and a growing interest. As my experience grew I was offered a job with the largest Bee Farm in the UK and this made me realise I could achieve this for myself and led to over 30 years making my living from a successful business known as Fosse Way Honey in Warwickshire managing 350/400 hives and marketing the products around the Midlands. I became a member of the Bee Farmers Association and had the honour of twice serving as their chairman.

My retirement came when the business was sold in 2005. It was then that I was introduced to Bees Abroad by one of their project leaders who felt my skills in beekeeping and marketing were ideal to join as a volunteer and learn about helping introduce beekeeping in developing countries.

After visiting a project in Malawi with the late Pam Gregory I was hooked and with the support of my wife became project leader in Kenya. Retirement since 2005 has been so fulfilling sharing and enthusing rural farmers with beekeeping skills to create income for themselves and their families and improving their lives.

When John and I met my career was in nursing and his passion then was beekeeping as a hobby, so we complemented each other have always and been able to work together sharing our interest in the value of honey and hive products. Honey could be used in wound care and nutrition, so I was aware of its value both in the home and in nursing care.

I retired before John and we worked together going to farmers markets enjoyed talking about the hive products by then we had extended the range by adding value to honey and beeswax. These skills have been put to good use in the UK with being very confident helping with the Bees Abroad shop and talking to visitors to the various Agricultural and honey shows which the charity attends

It was beneficial to accompany John on visits to Kenya and soon realised I could help the women improve their income by adding value to the honey and beeswax and began to share recipes with them. It has been a great privilege to see them grow small businesses and create income for themselves to support their families.

Martin Kunz: India

Martin’s love affair with India is much older than his involvement with bees: He worked for 1.5 years with Non Governmental Organizations in Kolkata in the 1970s instead of doing military service in Germany. Only in 2013 did he start keeping bees in London – and then started to look for bees during business trips to India and came across Under the Mango Tree – the partner of Bees Abroad – which works in particular with Apis cerana – the ‘Indian bee’. Regular business trips (Martin sets up and manages supply chain for organic and Fair Trade products) ensure a regular contact.

Martin is also a member of the Management Committee of International Bee Research Association (IBRA), and a joint owner of Beebop Honeys Ltd. – a small company aiming to bring honey from non traditional bees the Europe.

Trisha Marlow: Ghana
Mother of five and Master Beekeeper, works as Project Manager for Ghana co-ordinating the Brong Ahafo Cashew Farmers’ projects, the Bandaman Senior High School project, the Bia Biosphere project and the Nkabom Women’s project in the Brong Ahafo and Western regions with three partner organisations and an expanding team of Bees Abroad trainers. A successful regional training in late 2017 provided 18 beekeeping associations with local mentors to improve their knowledge and practical experience, and the on-going development of Ghanaian extension workers and trainers continues whenever a gap in the schedule permits.

Adebisi New: Nigeria

Richard Ridler: Uganda

Dawn Williamson: Rwanda

Julian Willford: Mwanze in Tanzania.