The Bee and The Bean
1st May, 2023
Striving for food security after much instability
Our Green Story continues with The Bee and The Beans. For this story we buzz across to West Africa, to a project in Sierra Leone involving 50 small villages on the Gola Rainforest fringes. This is an area that is recovering from a civil war, an epidemic (Ebola), a pandemic (COVID) and is battling with food security. This is a story about working to enable resilient communities to improve community welfare and livelihood, and support the environment.
The civil war in Sierra Leone lasted over a decade (1991-2002) and has lasting effects still felt today, not least the many people killed or permanently disabled through the conflict. The effects have been devastating to their livelihood, and together with our partner, Rory’s Well, the locals have taken up training on sustainable farming and beekeeping, which go hand in hand. This brings us to the beans…
Beans glorious beans
One of the main inputs to industrial farming is fertilizers which deliver nitrogen to crops helping them to grow faster and stronger, but this practice has been linked to reduced soil quality and local water pollution. Not only that, but it’s also an additional costly input.
Beans are nitrogen fixers; they naturally take nitrogen from the air and make it bio-available in the soil. Beans are generous plants, the nitrogen they fix is made available to other nearby plants. The sustainable farming practices in this project include inter-cropping beans with other crops such as maize. This practice not only naturally increases yield up to six times in low nitrogen soils but helps stabilise soils and provides forage for pollinators, which brings us to the bees…
The Bee and The Bean!
Bees love the flowers of bean plants. The honeybees at these farms in have a ready supply of forage in the fields from the flowers of jackbeans, pigeon peas and cowpeas, and other legume varieties which are primarily pollinated by bees. The healthy, nitrogen-fixing beans in turn help other crops, but there’s also evidence that bees can help maize crops directly.
Healthy beans further help crops but there’s also evidence that bees can also help maize crops directly. Maize is a wind pollinated crop but when the bees go into the fields, they visit both the bean flowers and collect pollen from the maize, as they rummage around on the maize tassels, they release more pollen onto the wind.
Through their pollination service, bees help increase crop yields and hence help plants produce more produce. This is crucial to sustenance farmers as it is vital to securing their family’s meals. Similarly, should any farmers sell their produce, a higher crop yield will help with an increase in income and therefore a better livelihood.
A piece of the puzzle
This sustainable farming and beekeeping projects are on the fringes of Gola Rainforest National Park, the largest remaining remnant of the Upper Guinean Tropical Rainforest.
Projects like this can help farmers naturally increase their yield and make additional income through honey and wax products, reducing the need to expand into the forest. The communities bee’s also venture into the forest to pollinate wildflowers and trees that in turn help the growth and enrichment of the Gola rainforest.
Talking of the forest, that’s where we’ll be going next on the Green Story. Join us next time for the story of The Bee and The Tree.