Promoting sustainable beekeeping to alleviate deprivation and poverty
Kwame Aidoo, Director and Isaac Mbroh, Apiculture Development Coordinator Bees for Development Ghana
The Kwahu Afram Plains North District in north-east Ghana is a remote island, accessible by ferry boat or canoe and with few roads. Despite economic growth in Ghana, inequality is increasing and poverty continues in many rural areas like Kwahu, where communities suffer extreme poverty. One of the strongest indicators of deprivation is the low level of education with many young people failing to progress beyond primary school, further condemning them to a life of poverty.
“I went to secondary school but when I went to sit my exams I was not allowed to. I had no money to pay the exam fee. I studied hard – but now I have nothing to show for it”.
These people are living on the fringes of Digya National Park (DNP). Poverty forces them to exploit the Park’s resources, and men engage in honey hunting, which is against the law, and creates conflict with Park officials. Revenue from honey hunting and small-scale farming is meagre, and communities suffer from chronic poverty, poor housing and an inability to pay school fees. These people do have access to rich natural resources, especially honey bees and forest. There are already well-established trade paths for honey, people are familiar with bees, and the area is suitable for beekeeping.
The honey hunters have expressed a huge interest in beekeeping however they lack knowledge, experience and the means to begin, as there is no culture of using bee hives in this area. Our aim for this Project is to turn honey hunters into beekeepers, and to generate new revenue to improve their livelihoods. Women are interested also in keeping bees and trading honey.
Building sustainable beekeeping
Imagine this scenario: a poor farmer takes out a loan (from any source) to buy an expensive top-bar hive and the bees abscond or never even enter – which is quite usual and likely. S/he is burdened with a loan and with no productive means to repay. Such projects make the poor even poorer! Also, assuming Bees for Development Ghana donates beekeeping packages including top-bar hives to poor farmers – and they are not able to add more hives by themselves – but instead expect BfD Ghana (or another organisation) to provide more hives, such a project could be even more expensive! A top-bar hive costs US$56 (€50).
To us at BfD Ghana, projects following the situations outlined above, are not sustainable. How many people can we afford to provide with hives? How many hives can we afford to provide to each person? These are important questions to ask before starting a project. People sometimes fail to understand and appreciate – that it is bees that produce honey and not hives! It is based on this that the Digya Project was conceived.
BfD Ghana approached the people in the area and asked the community members what they expected from a beekeeping project. Their initial response was that they expected to be given hives – as they could not afford to buy them. However, later people admitted, “even if we had hives – then what? We do not know how to use them. We need knowledge and skills”. BfD Ghana proposed they would teach people how to make simple, fixed-comb hives, manage the bees, and harvest the honey. Community members welcomed this proposal. The advantages of locallymade, fixed-comb hives compared with top-bar or frame hives are many:
Anyone can make one or more simple hives, so beekeeping becomes accessible to even the poorest people.
1. This is a more sustainable approach as it reduces donor dependency.
2. This approach reaches more people – a relatively low investment of resources can reach many people.
3. It is scaleable: once people know how to make hives – they can easily scale-up at a rapid pace if they wish to do so.
4. Fixed-comb hives are proven to be more practical, sustainable and successful.
5. Our project is a self-sustainable one which offers practical training in beekeeping skills and as an income generation activity for its beneficiaries.
We organised a six-day intensive training workshop in Bonaso and Apesika for the honey hunters and other people in those communities under our Digya Project. At Bonaso Centre, 31 women and 41 men attended (72 in total), and at Apesika centre a total of 65 participants (27 women and 38 men). Our target was 100 participants, with at least 25 women attendees (58 women participated in the workshop).
The participants were taught how to make fixedcomb hives from local materials, baiting, setting up and maintaining hives, protecting apiaries from bush fires (very important because bush fires are common in the area) and about bee pests and predators. The workshop included both theory and practical training. We can report that the participants have now successfully:
Made fixed-comb hives from bamboo, banana leaves, Borassus palm logs, forest vine, grasses and palm fronds;
• Selected and prepared an apiary site;
• Baited hives using locally available materials such as beeswax, Citrus fruit leaves and peel, lemon grass, and other herbs;
• Set hives on stands and in the branches of trees in an apiary, maintained them and protected them against bush fire, ants and other pests.
Many wonderful ideas and methods for protecting hives were discussed and agreed during the workshop. There was also a discussion of the characteristics of bees including what they like and dislike and when to work on them and when not.
We can confidently say that this Project is already a success although it is early days. BfD Ghana has this conviction because we observed that the participants became deeply involved and assembled all the training materials including Borassus logs. Some of the participants had gone ahead of the workshop to obtain pieces of Borassus palm logs, hollowed them out ready for further instructions to complete these as hives. An interesting example is Mr Issaka Konde in Banaso who prepared 35 hollowed out Borassus palm logs! Participants shared their impressions during the training and expressed their excitement about the start of the Project. For example: “We are happy because we can now make more money. We are using cheap means to take care of our children, especially their education”.
The Future of this Project
The Workshop saw a blend of different age groups coming together to learn beekeeping that they believe will improve their livelihoods. It is our hope that the knowledge they have acquired will spread to other communities in Kwahu Afram Plains.
The presence of the young ones at the Workshop gave us hope for the sustainability of this project. The children were amazing as they keenly observed what was going on and then tried their hands at building hives on their own, paying critical attention to discussion details, from the beginning to end.
If you are touched by this piece and want to help more people to be trained, do not hesitate to contact us and we will be glad to accept your donations. Together we can help improve the livelihoods of these disadvantaged people. Contact BfD Ghana via the address on page 2
This Project work has been supported by Bees for Development North America and made possible by the generous support from their local beekeeping community, friends, family and a few wonderful corporate sponsors.