Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bee Keeping on the road through the rainforest

We passed several villages along the road from Mamfe to Ote in Akwaya Cameroon.  Mobile signal was lost within a couple of miles as we passed over a hillside bordering the Cross River.  The journey was incredibly uncomfortable for us passengers and arriving at a village offered us relief from the movement of the cab and the cramped stuffy heat.  We stopped in one village about half way along our 53km journey at Mbo, where a sign announced a bee keeping project operated by the German Development Service DED in conjunction with GIZ  with the local Akwaya Regional Council.

We knew about this project but have not had any contact with it, and have in fact avoided any bee keeping discussions as we do not want to be seen to be competing or undermining another project. The locals told us that training, hives and equipment, including hive tools and smokers, had been given but no protective clothing or further support and no-one has succeeded in keeping bees in that area yet.

One of the difficulties is that most people remain frightened of bees and fear being stung, which means that the culture of beekeeping is not present in the area - this is not helped by the lack of protective clothing which goes some way to preventing bee stings - although African-bee stings are incredibly painful when you do get them, but while it is all par for the course for a bee keeper, opening a hive of bees can be quite daunting when you are beginning, especially the type used here, the kenyan top bar as an awful lot of bees seem to be able to get at you at one time since it is just short of a meter in length.
The other element of our work here in Cameroon is not imposing our ideason people but responding to their requests.  Therefore we tend to work with people who have asked us for our help rather than trying to influence people to keep bees in an ad hoc way.  Therefore our work depends on local people wanting to investigate bee keeping for the benefits it will bring to their communities as an income stream along with their farming activities. We hope that as people take up bee keeping in the region, the culture towards bees will change as people see the benefit.

We were told by the locals that the attempts by other organisations to set up beekeeping projects with villages along the route into Akwaya district have been met with scepticism and therefore many of these projects have lacked interest. So not wishing to impose our ideas on local people, we will wait and if some seek our assistance we will be happy to assist them along with Forudef.

It is also our hope that by working in one of the villages at the end of the route Ote news of our work may filter down along the line, and in the future work may come from it- either from us or from people in Ote who wish to spread the knowledge. For now we just passed through the villages, stopping only to greet the locals and buy some fruit and talk, mentioning beekeeping if an appropriate opportunity arose. At Akwa village we visited the school and its teachers as I have been working at twinning it with a primary school in London. 

To work with more neighbouring villages would be fantastic as it would mean that greater quantities of honey would be produced- and when supply is stable we can work more with distribution chains and getting the product to the bigger cities, or even look at exporting and marketing Cameroon honey aboard.  Neighbours would also be able to help each other in their beekeeping and share knowledge. This is my hope for the future, but no mention was made of this now. We spent just about half an hour in each village we stopped at to stretch our legs and give time for passengers to set down or load up before moving on.

At present it is not possible to extend the beekeeping because Forudef are the only organisation operating here and they need to focus on the existing producers who are further along into the rainforest or beyond on the fringe of the savanna.  They can barely service the existing farmers and buy up and transport all of their honey so they cannot engage with new farmers just now.  However this is a plan for the coming year once the honey harvest has been collected.

Already some amazing work has been done by Rebecca Howard who started with VSO and trains and supports beekeepers in East Cameroon.  She has been a major force behind Guiding Hope a CIG (Common Initiative Group) encouraging beekeeping and assisting in selling and distributing honey and other hive products.  They have already gained accreditation for EU import of Cameroon Honey along with David Wainwright of Tropical Forest Products another beekeeper and importer of honey and beeswax into the UK. Access is not so difficult in the Eastern part of the country mainly because it is drier and production is higher than in the rainforest areas of Akwaya, but there is huge potential for production and no reason why it could not reach commercial levels for export.

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