Ekye Beekeepers Union – changing lives for fishing and farming families

Trisha Marlow, volunteer Partnership Manager for Ghana, explains the background to the selection of this community for funding.

First Impressions

After two days’ travel south on local transport, the stifling heat and bouts of torrential rain in northern Ghana are already a distant memory. I meet up with Michael – my regional trainer – who has come from the capital, Accra. We charter a taxi from Nkawkaw. The road is surprisingly good, but the winding section up to Kwahu Ridge is a daunting and dangerous challenge for the dozens of truck drivers with over-laden charcoal trucks and wagons piled with yams, maize and other goods. We are heading now for Adawso and from there catch the late afternoon “pontoon” (ferry) to Ekye-Amanfrom.

As we drive, Michael brings me up to date with the challenges faced in Ekye. I am already aware of the harsh issues with the fishing industry. Incomes are dropping and child slavers* on the lake are being sentenced. But that means that some small children will now drop out of school to help their male relatives, doing the most dangerous jobs. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Afram Plains some farmers are doing very well with introduced irrigation and improved seeds transforming their lives – but not here. Health issues from the lack of a balanced diet continue. If we can succeed with beekeeping all this could change with hard currency and improved pollination. And we are a determined team.

From Ekye, the Volta Lake Transport Company’s ferry carries harvests from the fertile Afram Plains across the 1 ¾ mile expanse of the River Afram en route to Accra. The river is now subsumed into Lake Volta, the world’s largest artificial reservoir covering an area half the size of Wales! And so, as the sun sets we reach Ekye and finally stumble across our guesthouse amid the maze of small houses to the left of the road. The power is out and remains so for most of our visit with heavy tropical downpours dictating our schedule. Procuring food in the evenings under these circumstances is twice as hard with the street vendors unable to sell in the open and solar torches faltering.

Ekye is in fact two adjoined communities with people from at least six tribes, and also Muslims and Fulani herders. Passing through as a tourist, the villagers might appear to be relatively well off. The smarter, painted, wooden “canoes”, powered by outboard engines, are moored by the ferry slipway. Women sell a variety of locally smoked fish by the shore, a tailor’s shop is a hive of activity, a well-stocked general store has expensive roller shutters, other small food businesses line the road. As night falls, the go-to “spot” for a cool beer fills with often fashionably-dressed youths, with coloured flashing lights and (the only local) generator for when the power fails, as it does, often.

But venture off the tarred road and the stark contrast of the lives of the fishermen who scrape an income from the lake is readily obvious. Many of the mud-built, often single room, family houses are in very poor repair. Erosion is obvious causing subsidence and much of the land is held together with discarded fishing nets. Sanitation is limited and piglets rootle amongst the litter while children play. Income from fishing is steadily falling – they blame climate change, but, whether climate change or over-fishing matters little when it is your living and there are families to feed.

If you take time to visit the market stalls near the quay, even the essential tomatoes, chilli and onions for everyday cooking for sale are in poor condition, and an indication that few vegetables are grown locally. To us it seems unbelievable that healthy green vegetables and fruit are not in abundance near the lake, but it all comes down to economics. Although a fortunate few farmers in the Afram Plains districts can now take advantage of both larger and more productive farms thanks to irrigation pumps and improved seeds this is still an unattainable dream for most of Ekye’s subsistence farmers. Beekeeping will not only boost pollination and harvests, it can provide hard currency for irrigation equipment and a route to better health.

The Assessment

Emerging after the storm the following morning, Michael and I locate simple breakfasts and then meet up with some of the members of Ekye Beekeepers Union (EBU). A needs assessment is a vital part of any potential project – finding out all the facts we need to know to see if the project should succeed coupled with finding out what the potential participants want from us. In the frame also are the impact the project could have, the hard facts of potential business growth and productivity, the overcoming of any obvious challenges at this early stage and ensuring that donor funds are optimally spent. This is, as with all parts of the project ahead, a partnership activity. Michael can speak freely in the local language and pick up things I cannot while ensuring we hear all the participants wish to say, and will be responsible for practical and theory training and much more besides.

Meeting with the executive of EBU I am struck by their drive and enthusiasm. Piecing together strands of beekeeping education from high school agricultural classes and from trial and error – especially risky with “hot” African bees – a very few have accumulated some hives. As luck would have it there is a promising apiary site, “a mile by a mile” of dense small trees of species mainly suited to bees and honey. We travel along with paths to the site by “market truck” (a trailer with motorbike at the front) and discuss supplying water for colonies in the dry season. No problem they say, and I believe them. After assessing many potential groups, a buzz of sustained enthusiasm and the feel of a competent executive are indicative of rapid progress. This feels good.

Back in the community we discuss course participation – should we gain funding. Giving this project a secure and dynamic start will mean yet another few thousand pounds to be raised, a challenge in itself. Here, there are single mothers, fishermen, young educated men who will be lost to insecure, menial jobs in Accra the capital unless they can earn enough locally, other youth both male and female struggling to complete their education. We can make a difference here. Our Partnership Managers are usually expert beekeepers and have access to over 20 years of practical experience and success working in challenging environments.

Even better my newest trainer, Michael, is not only a bee farmer and equipment trader, but an effective role model. Michael built up his business from nothing as a teenager so he could complete his school education, but he also knows the community and has already has their trust. And so the seeds of a project are sown, and, in time, a tangible difference can be made here with honey money. Imagine improved diets and attainment through being able to purchase the infrastructure for even modest market gardens along the shore, pollinated, of course, at least in part by honeybees. Imagine reduced fishing and children being in school rather than at grave risk on the water.

And you can help. Just a few pounds – the price of a high street coffee and cake – towards this project will help boys like Simon, now 18, who began school just last year after helping his father fish throughout his childhood, to complete his education and secure his future.

*Until very recently, some fishermen here were guilty of using child slaves to work on their boats as elsewhere on the Lake, an unbelievably dangerous and unacceptable practice, but specialist NGOs the police and the navy are working hard to drive through prosecutions and heavy fines to end the practice. Providing alternative or additional incomes – through beekeeping for example – are critical in this fight because otherwise some fishermen will be forced to pull their own young children out of school to help instead.

https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/beesabroad2019

One-third of honey sold is NOT produced by Bees

Research presented at Apimondia, the international beekeeping conference held in Montreal, Canada this September showing that one-third of all internationally traded honey is not made by bees from flowers. As a result the price of genuine honey is being depressed forcing commercial producers out of business. The effect is particularly serious in those countries which export large quantities of honey such as Argentina. As a result the number of bee colonies worldwide is reducing and with it their contribution to crop pollination. Some argue adulteration is a greater threat to World bee populations than are pests and diseases.

In the past adulteration was carried out using syrups made from plants of the C4 group such as corn and sugar cane which can be detected by current tests. Now substitutes from the C3 plant group which include rice, wheat and beet syrups are being used. This group includes the plants used by bees for forage and are not detected by current tests. Precise quantities of pollen, diastase and the amino acid proline are added to mimic genuine honey.

These adulterants are widely available on Asian internet sites such as Alibaba where they are advertised as intended for use as counterfeit honey able to pass international tests as honey. Google ‘rice syrup pass’ and see the results for yourself. The price of this counterfeit honey is around US$500 tonne compared with an international average of US$3,800 for the real thing. The price of Chinese honey (or what purports to be Chinese honey) is around half the international average price for honey. In 2018 the 47% of the honey entering the EU from China came to the UK. Sophisticated tests carried out on samples of cheaper, mostly own brand, honeys from UK supermarkets found the honey sold in UK to be the most adulterated in Europe.

How can we measure the success of beekeeping projects?

A Case Study of a Cluster of Three Diverse Poverty Relief Projects and Their Local Lead NGO in Kasese, Western Uganda

Bees Abroad presented a paper on Monday 9 September at Apimondia, the bi-annual international beekeeping conference, held in Montreal, Canada. Jane Ridler described a study which was designed to test an approach to establishing participant led outcomes for beekeeping projects.

Too many beekeeping projects are reported to have failed. Success is difficult to assess, and objective measurements can be simplistic. Success is best defined by the participants themselves.

This paper presents a methodology for establishing success criteria of poverty relief beekeeping projects which could be used as a template for projects in other localities.
Jane described a case study of a beekeeping course in Western Uganda attended by three diverse poverty relief projects, how they defined success and how measurements might be made.

The methodology used was a group interview, conducted in a discursive classroom environment and incorporated into a 2-day residential beekeeping course. There were three representatives from each of three beekeeping projects, initiated by Bees Abroad. One was a women’s group, another a youth development group and the third a group of already established beekeepers benefiting from further development. A fourth group, with more of an overview, were the representatives from our delivery partner NGO, LIDEFO. The twelve participants represented a social, gender, age and educational cross section. All discussions were conducted both in English and the local language. The groups established their aims and objectives, differing in detail, but with many similarities. They then described ways that they, or others, could assess the achievement of each criterion, or if it was impractical or immeasurable.

From the study we suggest that a combination of quantitative and qualitative measurements that are defined by and can be measured by the participants themselves would best achieve the assessment of the success of a project. Examples of the former could be numbers/condition of hives or quantity of honey/products sold. One or more would be chosen and recorded on report sheets by the local leaders or beekeepers themselves, as appropriate. The interpretive measures of success, which really matter to people- whether children can be sent to school, or health improved, can only be achieved by questioning and observation of change in living conditions. A simple survey sheet could be produced, generated at the start of the specific project, for a suitable sample of participants.

Jane said, “our projects will be more successful if they are designed with a good understanding of what the participants want”. Bees Abroad has gathered many good stories about the impact of its projects on the lives of participants as projects progress. However, it expects that finding out what participants want before projects start and designing projects accordingly will be an improvement. An essential part of the changes Bees Abroad plans to make will be to ask project participants to measure and report on their progress against the criteria they have selected.

The study found that ‘getting lots of honey’ and ‘becoming trained’ were among the first two outcomes suggested. After that came love, unity and co-operation, job opportunities, crop pollination and the environmental importance of bees. Typically, honey is sold to pay for education, medicines and household essentials.

The study was carried out over two short days in February 2019 in Kasese, Western Uganda. We thank the representatives from the Kiringa United Beekeepers, the Kinyamaseke Youth in Development, the Women Resource Centre for Community Development and the Liberty Development Foundation who gave their time to support Bees Abroad in this study.

Bees Abroad are world leaders in the practical relief of poverty through beekeeping.

The Women’s Beekeeping Project, Monze, Zambia: a report on progress

Download Illustrated Report on Stuart Andrews’s trip to our Zambian project 2019

Introduction

I have just returned from Monze District, located in the Southern Province of Zambia, where I was helping to evaluate the first one-year phase of the project, initiated last year by the late Roy Dyche, and to launch the second one-year phase. I was also wanting to carefully assess the capabilities of our local partner there, the Sustainable Rural Development Agency (SRDA), a small NGO with whom Bees Abroad (BA) has successfully worked with in the past.

The main aim of the three-year project is to introduce modern beekeeping, using top-bar hives, to approximately 120 women in six groups as a source of much needed income. Each group will have been carefully selected following an interview process by SRDA together with representatives from the local Forestry Department.

The beneficiaries of the groups are all subsistence farmers, many of them are unmarried or widowed, with sole responsibility for the wellbeing of their households, which contain on average eight members. Monze District is recognised as one of the country’s least developed districts in which the levels of poverty are very high. In recent years their situation has become even more precarious as a result of the reduced rainfall causing crop failure.

The ongoing drought

As I drove around during my stay I could quite clearly see evidence of the drought and its adverse effects on crop production. As with many smallholder farmers in the district our group members tend to grow only maize, a crop which is particularly dependent on rainfall.
Articles in the local newspapers talked about a significant reduction in crop production (38% over the past eight years) and the need for the country to diversify and adopt new methods of agriculture.

Crop failure, an all too common sight
Crop failure, an all too common sight

 

One particular article caught my attention which talked about “embracing crop diversification” and highlighted the story of a local farmer that had not only started to grow other crops such as cassava and millet rather than just maize but was also involved with beekeeping and fish farming.

During my stay I had conversations with clinicians working for local hospitals and aid workers who were very interested in Bees Abroad’s project, especially as the success of such an enterprise was not so directly dependent on rainfall. Quite clearly, as well providing an income for our beneficiaries, the production of honey would become more important in terms of food security within the rural population.

SRDA

Having not met with Phillip Nsakilwa before, I felt that it was important to meet with the director of our local partner at the earliest opportunity to ensure that our working relationship got off to a good start.

Meeting with SRDA director, Phillip Nsakilwa
Meeting with SRDA director, Phillip Nsakilwa

I shouldn’t have worried, as both Phillip and I enjoyed a most productive and relaxed first meeting arranged to briefly review Phase One and to go over itinerary arrangements for the week.

Phase One: a summary of main features

My evaluation is based not only from observations made during my stay but on the very full reports that Phillip has sent me throughout the year.

Over the next two days I visited the apiaries of the two phase one groups: Kabwenbala and Chobaana East.

A well constructed apiary
A well constructed apiary

At the start of the project, each group had been helped to set up an apiary equipped with eight hives and had been given all they needed to manage their hives, for which they had to pay a proportion of the cost: a smoker, protective gear, gum boots, and food-grade, airtight containers. They had also received basic training in beekeeping. During the year SRDA’s field officers had visited the groups on a regular basis to view progress and to offer any additional support.

I already knew from regular email communication with Phillip that the Chobaana East group would likely meet the targets/success indicators so clearly laid out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Phase One, namely, that by the end of the phase: (i) most of a group’s eight hives will have been colonised, (ii) each group will have a core of members able to open and harvest the hives without any reliance on SRDA, (iii) each group will have begun to earn useful income from its honey sales, and (iv) the groups will have been using their income wisely to develop their enterprises or begin new ones.

The more immediate challenge was to try and get to the bottom of the problems experienced by the Kabwenbala group – failure to colonise more than two hives during the year – and to find solutions.

Kabwenbala: Ten of the 16 members were present at the apiary meeting, led by Judith who was present despite clearly being quite ill. I was pleased to see that the apiary was being well maintained, water was available, but disappointed that still only two of their eight hives had been colonised by bees. The empty hives were generally clean and well baited although some had quite large gaps at the gable ends due to warping of the wood, an obvious port of entry for unwanted pests. Phillip did not see this as a major problem and was of the opinion that the poor colonisation rate – a common challenge with African beekeeping – was more likely to be due to the location of the apiary, although there appeared to be ample forage in the area. It was also noted that some of the members appeared to be losing interest not only in the beekeeping project but also in their maize grinding co-operative group activities.

However, despite the disappointing slow rate of colonisation of their hives it is noteworthy that attendance at monthly technical backstop meetings during the year with SRDA has been good (typically >80%).

Looking back on an apiary through a living fence!
Looking back on an apiary through a living fence!

By the end of the day the ladies had clearly been re-energised by our visit, as much to motivate and give encouragement as to discussing the ongoing challenges with the beekeeping. On reviewing the day on our drive back to Monze I agreed with Phillip and his team that it was quite possible that the ladies were suffering not only with the hot, dry conditions but also with a general lack of energy due to reduced food intake, one of the outcomes of the ongoing drought.

In terms of the agreed aforementioned targets/success indicators, these had clearly not been achieved. However – and this is very important in terms of the long-term sustainability of the project – the group clearly had a core of members able to open and harvest the hives, as demonstrated later that week, without any reliance on SRDA. Detailed discussions were had with Phillip on how to increase the number of colonised hives in the apiary as soon as possible and these were detailed in a MoU for Phase Two.

Chobaana East: Thirteen of the 15 members turned up for the meeting. This was very encouraging; the two missing members were attending a funeral. The apiary contained eight well constructed hives which had all been colonised for some time. Four of the hives were to be harvested within a couple of weeks of my visit. This made perfect sense bearing in mind that the current honey flow was not expected to end until the end of June.

Honey harvesting

The writing of this report was delayed so that it could include some preliminary information on the harvesting of honey. Raw honey (honey plus comb as cut directly from the top-bar) has been successfully harvested but has yet to be processed into semi-processed honey (comb removed but honey still requiring filtering) at which stage SRDA will then purchase from the groups as part of their buying and selling operation at a price of approximately 19 kwacha per kilogram, paid on purchase.

Kabwenbala: harvested 10 kilograms from one hive.
Cabaana East: harvested a total of 51 kilograms from four hives.

Using an exchange rate of 15 kwacha = 1 GB pound, this initial harvest should provide the Kabwenbala group with the equivalent of about £13 and the Chobaana East group with £65.

This amount of money might not seem much but it will buy considerably more in rural Zambia than it would in the UK.

Phase Two

Having satisfied myself that, with the exception of the poor colonisation rates of the hives managed by the Kabwenbala group, that Phase One had by and large gone well and that a good working relationship had been established with all members of SRDA, it was time to venture further out into the field to meet the members of the two new groups. Getting to their apiaries required a most demanding 1-1.5 hour drive, further than for the initial two groups, along a network of tracks which all looked much the same to me and tested the navigational skills of our driver to the full. Despite having visited the groups before on a number of occasions we still managed to lose our way on more than one occasion which added to the excitement.

The new groups

On arrival it was very pleasing to see that with the help of SRDA both groups had already made themselves well constructed apiaries each with eight well made top-bar hives. None of the hives had been baited but this was addressed in the initial training.

Priming the top bars with melted bees wax
Priming the top bars with melted bees wax

Because one of the two swarming seasons was already well underway the importance of baiting hives as a matter of some urgency was emphasised, as was the watching out for swarming/absconding bees and methods for their catching and re-homing in their hives.

Haamupande: a rather slow start to the training session taking a good hour for eleven of the 18 members, led by Tabitha, to arrive and settle.

Ladies of the Haamupande group
Ladies of the Haamupande group

Interestingly, we were joined by a gentleman called Cornelius, the village headman, who would report directly to the traditional village chief. I’m pleased to say that the training, delivered using a participatory approach to ensure that all the ladies were fully engaged, went very well and we all had great fun. I’m confident that the village chief will have received a favourable report.

Muloube: Again, a rather slow start to the day but in the end ten of the 16 members, led by Zalos, attended. They were a slightly more reserved and quieter group. Work was still required to cut down vegetation on the ground and that hanging down and making contact with the hives, as well as adding a source of water. That a swarm of bees had already arrived and clustered in one of the trees in the apiary was viewed as a good omen and generated great excitement and hope for the future.

A swarm of bees in an apiary
A swarm of bees in an apiary

The training apiary

Located a good 45 mins drive on good roads from central Monze the visit to SRDA’s training apiary was quite a sad affair. It was clear that plans made last year to convert the building on the site into a classroom were no longer realistic. The site had been owned by a Canadian company called Family Farms Ltd., opened in 1983, but it had been abandoned for the past 20 years and nature had taken advantage. The five top-bar hives, still to be found in deep bush, all appeared to contain strong colonies ready for harvesting.

One of the hives in the training apiary
One of the hives in the training apiary

The fate of the training apiary was subject to much discussion with Phillip over the coming days and it was eventually decided to close the site and move the hives, after harvesting, to other sites including a proposed new training apiary site nearer to the centre of Monze and also to Kabwenbala’s group apiary.

The new training apiary site and plans for a honey processing plant

We briefly visited the site of SRDA’s proposed new training apiary site. Phillip was hopeful that the required paperwork to confirm ownership of the land would be completed within the next month or so allowing a start on the clearing of thick vegetation. Ten new top-bar hives have already been purchased and are currently being stored waiting to go onto the new site. Phillip has quite grand plans for the site which will obviously be dependent on securing additional funding. A first step will be building a new honey processing plant to serve our project beneficiaries as well as other beekeepers in the area. We currently have some money allocated in the Phase Two budget to get this idea off the ground, and SRDA will contribute 25% of the cost.

The site (on the left) of SRDA’s proposed new training apiary and honey processing plant
The site (on the left) of SRDA’s proposed new training apiary and honey processing plant

Impromptu meeting with group from the first project

By chance, on driving back to Monze from the training apiary, we happened to meet up with some of the original members of the first project that BA had run with SRDA (between 2011 ̶ 2015) selling vegetables on the roadside. It was very encouraging to hear their story that after almost 8 years they were still involved in beekeeping and that the income generated had helped with school fees.

Meetings with the Forestry Department

In the afternoon, having returned from the training apiary, and again the following day, Phillip and I met with high-ranking employees of the Forestry Department for the Southern Province. The department had worked closely with SRDA in identifying the groups for the new project so it was a good opportunity to thank them for their help and to develop our working relationship. Mention was made that the project would end after a total duration of three years and that the continued involvement of the Forestry Department together with SRDA was important in terms of helping to ensure the sustainability of the groups. All in all it was a very positive meeting but only time will tell if words are supported by action!

Extending the project, and future opportunities

At the end of my trip Phillip and I sat down with other SRDA officers to discuss the MoU for Phase One and to agree a comprehensive MoU for Phase Two including future targets, milestones and success indicators. In addition, we had quite a lengthy discussion on ideas we might want to consider for future expansion, each with growing complexity. These were captured and included in what was to become quite a lengthy MoU for Phase Two.
I left Zambia feeling quite exhausted but very satisfied that it had been a most enjoyable and productive trip, building on the sound foundation laid the previous year by my dear friend and mentor Roy Dyche.

Stuart Andrews
1st June 2019

Under The Mango Tree – latest from our project in India

Where are the Pictures of Bees?
When I finally got around to sorting the pictures taken during my two day visit in May to some of the villages where Under the Mango Tree (UTMT – our Indian partner organization) is working, it struck me that compared to previous visits I had taken far fewer ‘bee and bee-keeping specific’ photos: Yes, there is the odd picture of a beekeeper next to a hive, or even pulling a frame – but the majority of the pictures ‘document’ that UTMT’s project has expanded far beyond ‘just’ teaching beekeeping skills: What the visit (not only as reflected in my pictures) made amply clear: UTM’s work is about creating a healthy environment for bees and humans alike, while facing increasingly high, often man made, challenges like deforestation, drought, climate weirding.

The drive from the railway station to the group of villages where UTMT has been active for years was almost apocalyptic: The forests are seriously overexploited, with only a sprinkling of almost branchless trees left standing, and with the hot season at its peak, a deepening long lasting drought, and burnt patches everywhere, the scenery looked as if a firestorm had passed through. But oddly enough, ash was concentrated in rectangles in between the blackened trunks. These tiny plots turned out to be fields prepared for planting in the monsoon: Villagers had piled dead leaves, branches and other debris onto the land they plan to cultivate as soon as the rains arrive: burning the organic matter leaves a layer of ash which acts as a fertilizer – and produces a lot of additional Greenhouse Gasses.

Which makes one of UTMT’s latest ventures (started in the summer of 2018) so promising: a tree nursery next to the ‘old’ bee training centre: A group of 10 women are in charge of growing the tree saplings. The women learn a skill that allows them to eventually start their own nursery and generate some income, farmers will be given a (subsidised) package of saplings: 5 mango trees, 10 bamboos, 5 amla (a bitter, healthy berry producing plant), 1 gulmohar (tree with huge red flowers): This will help regrow tree cover, provide bee flora and provide a source of income. There are four mango varieties in the region: Rajapuri, Kesa, Langra, Dasseri: scions of these are grafted onto ‘desi’ (native) rootstocks (grown from seed). The trees will start to bear fruit after three years, but proper harvest begins only in year six or seven; the productive life of a mango tree is 35 years.

In a cluster of villages with even scarcer water resources UTMT has expanded into a kitchen garden project. Apart from increasing bee forage, the key aims are to help villagers grow more healthy food for themselves – while making use of waste water: the water drawn from an open well is first used to clean kitchen and eating utensils, this ‘gray water’ is collected, filtered and then used to water the vegetables. The kitchen gardens are created as close to the water source as possible. And (as this is a UTMT project) there needs to be a beehive within a 500 m range. Kakdu Kharpade showed me around her kitchen garden: the family well is about 15 meters behind the house, the washing area is right next to the well, the kitchen garden sits in between. She collects the ‘grey water’ in three big steel vessels which she then empties into a big blue plastic barrel within the kitchen garden (via a piece of cloth for filtration). Now she can fill the watering cans whenever she is ready to tend to the plants. And of course one of her bee hives is right behind the kitchen garden.

The gardens follow a specific design: two rings of beds around a centre piece. The inner of the two rings is planted with fenugreek, spinach, ladyfinger, pigeon peas, chilli, aubergine, methi; in the outer one are creepers like bottle, sponge, and bitter gourd, as well as corn: The outer ring is designed to provide shade; initially the centrepiece is planted with greens, too, but in July (Monsoon) a tree will be planted; favourites are apple, jujube, guava, lemon, papaya, white jamun, or coconut: these trees will then provide more shade, bee food, as well as more food and income for the owners.

In the shade of the veranda of the 2nd, new bee training centre, the women tell me about the kitchen gardens. Before the women were trained, most just grew aubergines, tomatoes and chillies. Now they grow a huge variety of vegetables – their diet is better. Because they are now making use of the waste water they can grow vegetables even in the dry season. Before they had to buy vegetables in the market, the amount needed for a family per day was about Rs. 20 (ca. 22 pence) – money they can now save. And surplus vegetables are sold at the farm gate or in the market.

But of course: at the heart of UTMT’s work remains the attempt to increase harvests via improved pollination. Bees Abroad has co-funded a study to measure the impact. Data is still being collected, and some farmers could not even participate because their land was too dry to grow all ‘test crops’, but anecdotal evidence indicates: plots with pollination fare better even under drought conditions than those without bees. The same goes for mangoes, whether Rajapuri (seen in harvest: green, excellent for pickling) or sweet varieties straight for consumption. Non-traditional fruit like jackfruit – an ideal tree for dry areas, as it needs very little water, benefit, too.

Bhikare Rama Urade not only has some of these trees and fruit giants, but also cashew and chilli fields. He has eight A. cerana hives – and three Trigona (stingless) colonies. Mr Urade is also the UTMT carpenter, and the demand for Trigona boxes is increasing – ‘living proof’ that the first grant by Bees Abroad is showing results.

Mr Urade says that in his opinion it is too early to judge the impact of Trigona on pollination, but what is already clear is that Trigona are even more cost effective to keep than A. cerana (and A. cerana are rather low cost/maintenance compared to the ‘European’ honey bee): a Trigona box sells for Rs. 1000, an A. cerana hive for Rs. 1200-1500.

UTMT is also promoting other drought tolerant plants. E.g. ‘cluster beans’ – according to the family of Ambilal, another farmer, 0.5 kg seed produced 200 kg of harvest (until the water of his well ran out and the plants died) – all recorded by UTMT organized field staff – and soon to be reported on a world stage: UTMT was given one of the coveted presentation slots at the APIMONDIA (World Beekeeping Conference, Montreal, September) to report on the study.

The last stop on the return journey is next to a ‘drumstick-tree’ – a possible ‘miracle plant’ for an area which in all likelihood will have to live with drought for a long time to come: The tree leaves provide fodder; the seeds have medicinal value; powder made of the leaves can be to cow feed, which is said to result in 40% higher milk production – a land where milk and honey flows?

Let’s have a drum(stick) roll for UTMT and its work.

A Beekeeping Course for the Murambo Beekeepers

A Beekeeping Course for the Murambo Beekeepers Catherine Ridler October 2018

The four-day residential course was run by Daniel Ngangasi and Simon Byongo from LIDEFO (Liberty Development Foundation) in Kasese some 220km from the homes of the Murambo beekeepers. It was part of an ongoing development project for them. Bees Abroad have built up a close relationship with Daniel and Simon and they provided an outline of what the course should contain. Daniel and Simon produced the course programme and taught a great course which included classroom and practical beekeeping sessions. It was the first such course run by LIDEFO.

Daniel teaching

Bees Abroad paid the course fees, accommodation, food and travel for the attendees. This was effective in removing barriers for people so they were able to attend the course and resulted in a really enthusiastic group.

An individual presentation

The group consisted of four pairs of attendees from small local beekeeping groups in the Murambo district plus two individuals representing other groups and the district coordinator, Ezra Sigirenda. The aim was for them to take the knowledge acquired on this course and disseminate it amongst the other beekeepers in their local area. They were a keen group – we started the morning session 10 minutes ahead of schedule every day! They were very focused on learning and all took copious notes and photographs.

Lunchtime

The attendees arrived on the Monday evening on the local bus after a full day’s travel. Well cooked local food was provided by the hotel. Notepads and pens were provided to all of the attendees and their first task was to write an introduction to themselves and their beekeeping experience to be presented the next morning.

Investigating an empty top bar hive

The course started with breakfast on Tuesday and moved directly on to the individual presentations. About half of the attendees were from beekeeping families. Many were using traditional basket hives, with some using Kenyan Top Bar Hives. They wanted to learn how to increase their honey production by adding more hives, managing their bees better and dealing with diseases.

Filtering Honey

Daniel spent the sessions teaching about beekeeping, such as differences between the queen, workers and drones while integrating the business information such as the amount of space needed to create an apiary and how much honey and therefore money could result from a fairly small area.

The final session of the afternoon was a small group discussion of the questions ‘what has fuelled the development of beekeeping in your community?’ and ‘how will you make changes that will promote beekeeping as a business?’

Group discussion

The practical element of the course was taught by Simon. This included how to filter honey, how to melt the wax and an introduction to Kenyan Top Bar Hives.

There was a group apiary visit and a visit to LIDEFO’s honey storage and bottling room and some hands-on bottling practice.

Apiary visit

I hope that this course has encouraged the attendees to take both small steps such as clearing vegetation around their apiaries and larger steps such as starting to set up beekeeping co-operative groups in their areas with a view towards producing commercially saleable honey.

Group with certificates at the end of the course

Success at BBKA National Honey Show

Bees Abroad Projects Win 1st, 2nd and 3rd Prizes in New Charity Class at National Honey Show

Bees Abroad are world leaders in the practical relief of poverty through beekeeping. As soon as we knew the National Honey Show was to have a new class for charities working with beekeepers we realised we could showcase the gorgeous honey produced by the beekeepers we are working with overseas. Honey from twelve projects entered for judging at the UK National Honey Show in October 2018. The winning entry was from Liberia, where we partnered with the Universal Outreach Foundation which trains communities as beekeepers “so more Liberians can have the dignity that comes with being able to provide for their families’ needs.” The 2nd prize was awarded to our entry from Kenya. This UK government funded project given an A+ evaluation by the UK assessors benefits over 1200 households. The 3rd prize was won by the entry from our local project delivery partner in Western Uganda the Liberty Development Foundation. The lead judge explained that the criteria used were aroma, taste and viscosity; he was delighted that there were so many excellent entries. Richard Ridler, Bees Abroad Chairman, said ‘these wins are a huge endorsement for the very practical help our volunteers give to people in low-income communities around the world to learn hands-on beekeeping, high-quality honey production and business skills to generate income and improve their lives’. Bees Abroad are world leaders in the practical relief of poverty through beekeeping.

Creating a new livelihood in West Ghana

The Bia Biosphere Reserve in west Ghana covers some 7,770 hectares and is where the country’s major forest animals are found including the forest elephant and the endangered bongo. It’s been closed to people to preserve one of the few remaining areas of precious virgin forest. This has forced local the community who depended on the forest to find new ways to make a living. Those selected include growing palm oil and mushrooms, snail farming and beekeeping.

Learn more about the  Bia Biosphere project here