Top Bar Tuesday: Ghana

TopBar Tuesday: Ghana

November 22, 2022

Hekenofom (“Hope”) Beekeepers

Our Top-Bar Story this week features the Hekenofom (Hope) Beekeepers in Ghana.

Only the drivers of the least roadworthy taxis from Asesewa town will attempt the half hour journey down the “rough road” to the Hekenofom project, and we are grateful for that. In the rainy season the rutted and pot-holed track is sometimes impassable even for the weekly market trucks, making the trip both a feat of endurance and a risk to health on foot in pursuit of essential cash income. In this part of Upper Manya Krobo district in Eastern region, Ghana the villagers are highly resilient and resourceful out of necessity.

Asesewa market is well-known in Ghana as the subject of a former Basic school textbook. Vibrant, bustling, with the simplest of infrastructure, and crucial to the economy of the area with traders from several towns in the region. Yet there is no honey on sale, no added value products made from high quality Ghanaian ingredients – coconut oil, shea and cocoa butters, baobab oil, honey and beeswax. It is our aim to enable that change.

The community is blessed with significant areas of secondary forest, including acacias, which bees forage on avidly. As stewards of the landscape, the Hekenofom beekeeping group and their traditional Chiefs aim to balance nature with better productivity of local food crops due to increased pollination of cassava, maize, beans, pepper, okra, orange, mango, banana and plantain by honey bees. Alongside improved nutrition, uninterrupted education, affordable healthcare and other benefits can become realities with “honey money”.

With 25 new beekeepers now trained and top bar hives hung and colonised, and women waiting for training on making value-added beeswax products, so begins a story of hope for these Hekenofom beekeepers!

And so, we invite you to “bee part of their story! Join in for the Big Give Christmas Challenge from 29 November to 6 December by giving online, and see your donation doubled!

Value-added Beeswax Product of the Week: Kitenge Beeswraps

Beeswax wraps are a fantastic re-useable, eco-friendly alternative to plastic wrap! These Kitenge Beeswraps are made by the women in the Upendo wa Mama Group (“Mother’s Love”) in Tanzania. and use local kitenge cotton cloth coated with a mixture of beeswax, resin and coconut oil. Naturally anti-bacterial and waterproof, they keep food fresher for longer. They sell extremely well locally and abroad and have been used by the crew of the FlipFlopi, the world’s first world’s first recycled plastic sailing dhow which voyages on a mission to end single-use plastic across East Africa. Mama Rose explains in Swahili how to make them here!

“We cut the fabric like this (in squares). We have a tray like this. We lay it down nicely. We brush with melted pine resin, beeswax and coconut oil. We use scales to measure these accurately.”

The BeesWraps are then placed in the oven for a minute and then hung on a line to dry.

Follow along and join in with your own beeswax stories in the comments on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Celebrate World Bee Day: Sponsor a Beekeeping Project in Ghana

We have two projects in Ghana that we are highlighting for World Bee Day sponsorship. One is the Amomaso-Adom Beekeepers.

Amomaso community lies a short journey from Berekum town in the Bono region of Ghana. This is home for Gladys, who lives here in one-roomed house with her three children – a daughter of 22 with a toddler, a 14 year old and a 6 year old.

The house has around an acre of land which Gladys farms. She leaves at 6am and returns at 5pm, farming okra, chilli, garden eggs (a small aubergine) and carrots which she sells at market. Her three children receive no support from their fathers and nor does her grandchild. Her eldest daughter completed Senior High School with family help, yet has no income and is needed to help her mother on the land and in the home. The younger two children are in school supported by their mother who works extremely hard to keep them in school, as she understands how important that is.

It is a precarious existence for this single mother.

All 50 members of Amomaso-Adom Beekeeping Association are farmers like Gladys. Some also farm cocoa with in addition to the small subsistence plots for growing staples. Cocoa farming is seasonal, and women earn extra income from roadside trade in surplus vegetables and tubers.

Nearly half the group has experience of honey hunting, a destructive practice giving poor honey and attracting a low price locally. With sponsorship we can change this, leading to bee colonies with hives to call home, a fair market price for quality honey, and improvement to the environment through encouraging the planting of forage tree saplings. The risk of bush fires and tree destruction resulting from taking wild honey can become a thing of the past.

When Bees Abroad first visited this community at the request of the previous Cocoa Board extension officer there was no knowledge of hive beekeeping in the area. After discussions with the membership, a foundation project was funded for 25 participants – 14 women and 11 men – including 12 youth members. The participants were fairly selected using our Ghanaian project baseline tool and one representative per family guideline and received basic beekeeping training and equipment in September 2020.

Covid restrictions brought many challenges with little passing trade yielding very little income for essentials and bills between cocoa harvests. But Partnership Manager Trisha visited the group in January 2022 with Ghana Regional Trainer Network trainer Thomas, much delayed due to Covid and was happy with progress within the group. We are now seeking to enter the livelihood phase of the project as soon as possible to be able to support the group with apiaries from hive kits the members will assemble and a library of protective equipment. Additionally, the provision of small scale processing equipment and an added value course for some of the women who are very motivated at the idea of market sales will give a robust base for a sustainable business.

Gladys has dreams of her own cocoa trees and income from quality honey and this World Bee Day we want share her dream with you. By sponsoring this project, you can help to make her dream come true!

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Ekye Beekeepers Union – changing lives for fishing and farming families

Beekeeping for Livelihoods, Lake Volta

Trisha Marlow, Partnership Manager, explains the process of project selection for funding

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. Dozens of truck drivers ascend with over-laden charcoal trucks and wagons piled with yams, maize and other goods. We are heading now for Adawso to catch the late afternoon “pontoon” (ferry) to Ekye-Amanfrom. The aim: to review beekeeping for livelihoods here on Lake Volta.

The Ekye ferry pontoon which serves Afram Plains, Ghana

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 for livelihoods here on Lake Volta all this could change with hard currency and improved pollination. And we are a determined team.

Ekye-Amanfrom, Lake Volta

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 part of Lake Volta the world’s largest artificial reservoir,  and covers 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 consists of two adjoined communities with people from at least six tribes, 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.

Many young boys help with the dangerous work of fishing

Improving Livelihoods

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 causing subsidence with much of the land 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. Whether climate change or over-fishing matters little when it is your living and there are families to feed.

A local house in poor repair - beekeeping income improves livelihoods

If you take time to visit the market stalls near the quay, even the essential tomatoes, chilli and onions are in poor condition. This is 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. However, it all comes down to economics. A few farmers in Afram Plains now have larger and more productive farms due 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 Livelihoods Assessment

Emerging after the storm the following morning, Michael and I locate simple breakfasts. Then we meet up with some of the members of Ekye Beekeepers Union (EBU) for the needs assessment, 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. I need to consider potential impact of the project, potential business growth and productivity. We need to overcome obvious challenges at this early stage to ensure that donor funds are spent optimally. This is, as with all parts of the project ahead, a partnership activity. Michael speaks the local language and this ensures that we hear all the participants wish to say. He will be responsible for practical and theory training and much more besides.

I am struck by the drive and enthusiasm of the EBU executive. Taking strands of beekeeping education from high school agricultural classes and trial and error, a very few have some hives. The sometimes hot-tempered African bees makes this extra risky. 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 dusty 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.

Local women bring the washing from Lake Volta to Ekye

Beekeeping on Lake Volta

Back in the community we discuss course participation – should we gain funding. We will need to raise a few thousand pounds to give this project a secure and dynamic start – a challenge in itself. Here there are single mothers, fishermen, and young educated men. Many face insecure, menial jobs in Accra unless they can earn enough locally. Youths, both male and female, are struggling to complete their education – we can make a difference here. Our Partnership Managers are usually expert beekeepers with access to over 20 years practical experience working in challenging environments.

Even better my newest trainer, Michael, is not only a bee farmer and equipment trader, but an effective role model. He built his business from nothing as a teenager to complete his school education, but he also knows the community and has already has their trust. The seeds of a project are sown, and, in time, a tangible difference can be made here with honey money. Imagine improved diets from 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. Beekeeping for livelihoods on Lake Volta will change lives.

Simon, a local youth, considers beekeeping for his future livelihood

And you can help. Donating the price of a high street coffee and cake towards this project will help boys like Simon. Simon began school just last year at 17 after helping his father fish throughout his childhood. Beekeeping is the key to completing his education and securing his future.

Lake Volta – Income for Change

*Until very recently, some fishermen here were using child slaves to work on their boats as elsewhere on the Lake. This is an unbelievably dangerous and unacceptable practice. Specialist NGOs, the police and the navy are working hard to drive through prosecutions and heavy fines. Providing alternative or additional incomes – through beekeeping for example – are critical in this fight. Otherwise some fishermen must pull their own young children out of school to help instead. With beekeeping for livelihoods on Lake Volta, the focus of income will change, and children will be both far safer and complete school.