Accessible beekeeping in Sierra Leone

Accessible beekeeping in Sierra Leone

November 15, 2023

A two-part story

Part one of this blog covered a brief history of the war in Sierra Leone, the challenges faced by those living with amputations as a result of the war and how survivors have taken up football, farming and beekeeping.  

In this blog, part two, we go into a bit more detail about the challenges, possible solutions and aims of accessible beekeeping in Sierra Leone. 

beekeepers on crutches around a beehive

Adapted hives and harvesting

Part of this project is working out what accessible beekeeping means in Sierra Leone. During the workshop Bees Abroad want to help work out what participants feel safe and comfortable doing. The workshop includes hive visits and practical experience, which will help answer questions such as what is the right height for a hive for someone with an amputation, do beekeepers with amputees need to be partnered, can it be done seated?  

Harvesting from the hive is one small part of the whole process. Harvest is only once a year, but inspections need to be done on a regular basis. Lack of mobility during inspections could be an issue, will people who aren’t as mobile need thicker bee suits? 

Beekeeping in the bush, on crutches

Another complication factor is the location of the hives. The hives are in the bush, the forest, which makes things more difficult in terms of accessibility for people using crutches. The area around the hives needs to be cleared once month to keep the hive pest free (no one wants termites eating the hives!). We will work with participants to figure out what the best approaches are to these challenges. 

As mentioned in the previous blog, one of the aims of the workshop is to develop an accessible beekeeping manual for amputees but lived experience is better than any manual. The aim is that those who become dedicated beekeepers can become trainers for other people with amputations. 

Wax kits as a solution lack of intermediate income

Beekeeping is a long game, it takes two to three years for a hive to produce a viable honey harvest, a huge time investment and act of faith for farmers who mostly make a subsistence living. Part of this project is exploring stop-gap options, specifically a wax kit to bridge income. The wax kits will include three types of value-added wax products: neem (mosquito repellent), lip balm, body cream.  

A local value chain for value-added wax products

It’s not just honey that has a long lag time, wax takes a long time to accumulate too. Fortunately, another Bees Abroad project in Sierra Leone is producing three quarters of a tonne of honey a year, and a significant volume of wax. This wax can be transferred to newer projects to help them get off the ground.  

There’s also an opportunity in this project to explore the sustainable, local production of essential oils. At the moment the oils need to make the creams have to be brought from the UK, which is one of the biggest challenges for the viability of the wax kits. Sierra Leone is home to the Gola Rainforest, the largest remanent of the Upper Guinean Tropical Rainforest, so there is potential to make oils from plants in the forest. 

This Beekeeper Can

If you want to support beekeeping groups like the beekeepers on crutches, we have a great opportunity…

From the 28thNovember – 5th December all donations will be doubled – one donation, double the impact.

We can’t do what we do without your support, so thank you!  

This story is part of a series of stories we will be sharing over the next month as we celebrate the campaign ‘This Beekeeper Can’. Stay tuned to hear more stories, join our events or enter our prize draw. 

beekeepers on crutches around a beehive

Sierra Leone: beekeepers on crutches

Sierra Leone: beekeepers on crutches

November 8, 2023

The long recovery from the civil war

Sierra Leone’s recovery from the civil war is an international success story. Once a country at the top of the UN Security Council’s concern, Sierra Leone is soon to be an acting member of the council, having been elected in earlier this year.

However, the civil war cast a long shadow and the country still faces the huge challenges that come with sitting near the bottom of the global league tables for multi-dimensional poverty.  

Amputation in the civil war

The civil war in Sierra Leone lasted for over 10 years between 1991 and 2002 and left an estimated 27,000 people with an amputation or disability. Mutilation through limb amputation was a common tactic used by the rebel forces to control communities through fear. Many of the survivors living with amputations were children during the civil war.

In Sierra Leone, as in many countries around the world, having a disability brings with it stigmatisation and marginalisation, as well as physical challenges. Amputees in Sierra Leone face additional social exclusion because they are a stark reminder of the violence of the civil war.

Group of Bee Farmers on Crutches

Footballers on crutches

Those of you who follow our work closely may recall us speaking about the Sierra Leonian beekeepers on crutches, but the origin story has its roots in football. The story goes that a pastor named Mambud Samhai who teaches permaculture saw a group of people playing football on the beach, on closer inspection he was surprised to see many of the players were amputees using crutches, which didn’t seem to affect their ability on the pitch. If having an amputation doesn’t stop you playing football, why should it stop you being a successful farmer? Mambud decided to offer a permaculture farming course to people living with amputations.

Having an amputation or a disability in Sierra Leone is a catch-22, they are discriminated against making it difficult to get a job then are stigmatised for not contributing to society. Having a way to earn a livelihood not only improves amputees’ quality of life but their standing in society.

Beekeepers on crutches

Beekeeping is a fantastic complementary activity to farming, it doesn’t take up much land, it’s not as time intensive as other types of farming and it offers a different source of revenue through products that are high value such as honey and wax-based products. Bees Abroad was asked to provide support to the permaculture course to add beekeeping to the curriculum.

This November, Bees Abroad will be running a workshop in Sierra Leone with 12 participants from the permaculture course. The aim of the workshop is to develop a training course accessible to beekeepers living with amputations. If successful, the course will be made available in the three permaculture course farms that serve three major towns and cities across Sierra Leone.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog where we go into more detail on challenges, possible solutions and aims of accessible beekeeping in Sierra Leone.

This Beekeeper Can

If you want to support beekeeping groups like the beekeepers on crutches, we have a great opportunity…

From the 28thNovember – 5th December all donations will be doubled – one donation, double the impact.

We can’t do what we do without your support, so thank you!  

This story is part of a series of stories we will be sharing over the next month as we celebrate the campaign ‘This Beekeeper Can’. Stay tuned to hear more stories, join our events or enter our prize draw. 

Group of Bee Farmers on Crutches

Vamba, ‘King of the Bees’

Vamba, ‘King of the Bees’

July 21, 2023

Vamba 'King of the Bees': From Honey Hunter to Beekeeper

In the remote Barri Chiefdom of Sierra Leone, nestled on the fringes of the Gola Rainforest, lives a remarkable man known as the ‘King of the Bees’. His real name is Vamba, a honey hunter turned passionate beekeeper. The Barri Chiefdom is on the edge of the Gola rainforest, the largest remnants of Upper Guinean Tropical Rainforest left in Sierra Leone. Covering approximately 1,070 square miles across the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia, Gola Rainforest is a hotspot of biodiversity and endemic species and provides habitat for species like the Western chimpanzee and pygmy hippopotamus.

Honey Hunting: A Risky Tradition

Honey hunting is an ancient practice as evidenced by cave paintings such as those found in Cueva de la Arana near Valencia, Spain, dating back to around 6,000 BC. In Sierra Leone and other countries, the tradition of honey hunting involves climbing tall trees or cutting them down, followed by the use of smoke to drive out the bee colonies. This process carries significant risks, including fires, injuries, and the destruction of bee colonies. The honey harvested from such methods tends to be of poor quality, filled with dead bees and burnt matter.

Image: Drawing of a painting from the caves of Cueva de la Araña. The “Man of Bicorp” holding onto lianas to gather honey from a beehive as depicted on an 8000-year-old cave painting near Valencia, Spain. Credit: Achillea, GPL, via Wikimedia Commons

Drawn of a painting from the caves of Cueva de la Araña

Redirecting Vamba's Passion for Bees

The Barri Chiefdom reached out to Bees Abroad for support and when the training was delivered Vamba was one of the individuals who enthusiastically attended. From the very beginning, Vamba demonstrated a keen interest in bees and bee farming. He eagerly embraced the techniques of beekeeping, finding it easier, safer, and more reliable than honey hunting. As Vamba honed his skills, he not only established thriving beehives but also became a vocal advocate for the benefits of beekeeping in his community.

Vamba’s transition to beekeeping not only transformed his life but also improved the livelihoods of his family. Supporting his wife, four children, and his own mother, beekeeping provided a stable and sustainable income. With the support of Bees Abroad, Vamba is now a trainer and ambassador for beekeeping; he visits neighbouring villages to share his knowledge and passion.

Protecting trees and pollinators

Vamba’s story is not just a personal success; it has become an important component of protecting the Gola Rainforest and its invaluable pollinators. By shifting from destructive honey hunting to sustainable beekeeping, Vamba and others like him have contributed to safeguarding the ecosystem. Recognizing the importance of bees, the chief of Vamba’s village, who also attended the training, has decreed that anyone harming bees will be held accountable in the village court. 

 Vamba’s journey from honey hunter to ‘King of the Bees’ stands as a testament to the power of education, passion, and sustainable practices.  

Path in Gola Rainforest, Sierra Leone

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

The Bee and The Bean

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. 

Next week, The Bee and The Tree. Stay tuned by following us on social media or signing up to our newsletter. Missed last weeks story of The Elephant and The Bee? You can read it here.

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

Top Bar Tuesday: Sierra Leone

Top Bar Tuesday:
Sierra Leone

November 08, 2022

Fatimata, a mother in Sierra Leone and beekeeper trained by Bees Abroad is smiling at the camera with one of her children next to her
Play Video about Fatuma, a female beekeeper in Sierra Leone, is standing outside smiling towards the camera

Fatimata's Story

Fatuma is from Taniniahun, a village of the Barri Chiefdom, on the fringes of the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone. She was one of the first beekeeping trainees in November of 2017. Due to tragic circumstances, she was unable to continue beekeeping, but recently reconnected with Bees Abroad in May of this year and now other beekeepers are gathering around her to help her get started again with new hives.

This forest area fringing the Gola is a challenging environment and the District of Pujehun, which contains Barri Chiefdom is, according to the Human Development Index, the most deprived district in the country. Through the beekeeping project, we are eager to see single mothers like Fatuma increase household resilience to economic difficulties. Listen to her story here.

Value-Added Beeswax Product of the Week

Beeswax Balms

Throughout this month we are showing you some of the amazing value-added beeswax products being made by our groups around the world. One of the first beeswax products groups learn how to make is a beeswax balm. This versatile product can be made simply with beeswax and oil and can then be adapted and embellished to make an amazing variety of value-added products to sell. A Neem Balm is very medicinal. A Bug Balm (with citronella) keeps the bugs at bay and soothes bites. The Kili Climb Balm is great for rock climbers; the Beard Balm speaks for itself! Our women’s groups in Sierra Leone, Uganda and Tanzania are supporting themselves and their children through the creative production of different beeswax balms.

In Sierra Leone, the Barri Beekeepers are now moving into the manufacture of wax-based products such as body and lip balms. Village women like Fatimata are closely involved in this stage and the intention is to offer franchises to women’s groups in each village to manufacture and sell creams and balms locally and at nearby village markets. Fatimata is very interested in playing a key role in such an endeavour! 

Follow the Story

‘Bee part of the story’ this Christmas to help support women like Fatimata to become skilled beeswax artisans developing sustainable businesses selling their products and generating income to support their families.

Follow Bees Abroad on social media to see more beeswax products being made by out project participants!

A xlear, plastic container with beeswax cream inside
Multiple clear, plastic containers with beeswax products inside. Products include mosquito repellent, lip balm, body cream and shoe polish

Celebrate World Bee Day: Sponsor a Beekeeping Project in Sierra Leone

Excitement is in the air for these farmers in Sierra Leone this World Bee Day! These “farmers on crutches” are enthusiastically looking forward to becoming beekeepers. This single leg amputee farming community are keen to integrate beekeeping into the farming training which they are already involved in. Watch the video to see the amazing work they are doing here!

To celebrate World Bee Day this year, we are inviting you to sponsor beekeeping projects across Africa, and here you have the opportunity to support these farmers who have suffered leg amputations during the Sierra Leone civil war. Bees Abroad is working with Sierra Leone Amputee Sports Association and Sierra Leone Permaculture & Agro-ecological Farm to provide beekeeping training in conjunction with sustainable farming.

By sponsoring this project for World Bee Day, you can help to get these farmers started! They are placing their first ten hives at their farm and will begin with a two week internship for three potential trainers during honey harvest. They are working through the issues they need to address in order to teach safe methods of beekeeping for people with one leg.

Then the plan will be to start training the first 15 to 20 trainees at the Farmers on Crutches Farm! And this is where you can make the difference!

Please consider supporting this life-changing project!

Rory’s Well – Bee Farming

We are delighted to announce that we have launched a project in partnerhsip with Rory’s Well to support Bee Farming in the Barri Chiefdom, Pujehun District, SW Sierra Leone.

Neil Brent a member of Gloucestershire Beekeepers and Kath Hayward visited Sierra Leone earlier this year in order to assess potential for bee farming in the area. Five villages were visited: Korigboma, Mano, Makka, Semabu, and Taninahun meeting with the chief and meet villagers who wanted to farm bees and discuss the project with them. From the start it was clear that there was a lot of interest in all the villages. These visits also involved walking to places where there were known to be wild bees. The individuals who came forward were mostly ‘honey-hunters’ who find wild bees and then take their honey; in the process this can mean that colonies are destroyed. Bee Farming aims to maintain hives of bees for longer periods. Whilst these site visits were happening a carpenter and two local apprentices were busy making seven hives for siting close to each of the five villages.

Brian Durk will support Neil as he learns more about beekeeping in Africa and will help Neil to deliver training in this remote and challenging part of Africa.