Friday, April 6, 2012

How should we approach our beekeeping project in Akwaya, Cameroon

Bees Abroad were approached by Forudef to establish beekeeping in the rainforest area of south-west Cameroon to help alleviate poverty and improve standards of living. We have been training beekeepers and helping them to establish honey trading routes for over 2 years now, but our work is being hampered by difficulties in the rain forest area itself. The inaccessibility with such a poor road that it takes over 7 hours to drive 50 miles (see blog entry 'the road' 16/3/2012) coupled with the fact that the rainy season closes the road between June and November, and because the single road leads only to the village of Ote, beyond that people have to trek through the forest and honey has to be head carried for as much as 30 miles to reach the road for transport out, but in addition to the problems of accessibility, the people themselves are faced with problems that impair their lives and impact on their health and even their life expectancy, so these cannot be ignored in considering beekeeping programmes.

The local people presented their issues to a district meeting led by Forudef in 2011 and  our visit aims to  identify the impact of these issues on the development of beekeeping to establish our own plan of the way forward to meeting our goals in line with what the people need and want.

Within the forest there is little access to health care as described in the previous post. Villagers from Ote have to walk 23 miles to the nearest hospital for routine health checks including ante natal.  There is a small clinic about 11 miles in the other direction but this is not staffed by a qualified medical professional and does not stock a wide range of drugs and treatments.  Vaccination of children is not carried out because health workers do not visit the outlying villages.Villagers presented many cases of health problems including high infant mortality last year, but there are large numbers of children present in Ote indicating that life expectancy is improving particularly in the under 5's. The general lack of transport has an effect on most aspects of the lives of the people.
There are many children in the village.  Others are still at school

Dr Gill Johnson, the English GP who accompanied us, found stunting of growth in 50% of the children she saw, and pot or extended bellies in most cases.  Stunting is indicative of a diet lacking in either calories or nutrients or both.  Stunting, along with underweight and wasting are all signs of malnutrition in children.  With only limited equipment, Gill was only able to take height for age measurements, but this gave some indication of nutrition status in the community. Malnutrition is common in subsistence communities who rely solely on what they can grow or hunt, and the variety of foods is limited. The pot bellies seen in children could also be indicative of malnutrition but could also be attributed to intestinal worms which are common in rain forest areas in West Africa. If intestinal parasites are present they will deprive their human host of much needed nutrients.  Malnutrition also has further efffects on mental development and ability, including  motor skills and deduction, and has a lasting effect on educational achievement and economic achievement later in life.  Also, mothers who are stunted in growth and who are suffering from malnutrition themselves produce smaller children who develop less well than normal weight children during their whole life.  All these factors combine to indicate that people from such environments are more likely to suffer physical and mental impairment in development which will have a lasting effect on them and their own future children.

Intestinal parasites
The village has no sanitation, or pit latrines or designated toilet areas.  This means that cross infection or the likelihood of picking up intestinal parasites from water sources such as the river or the soil is high.
Parasites can also be present on foods especially if human waste is able to contaminate crops. Without sanitation, it is impractical to treat these parasites and it is easy for transfer and for hosts to be reinfected.

Water Borne Diseases
children washing dishes in the river
The lack of sanitation and clean water means that water borne diseases can be a problem.  At the time of our visit only a few children presented with diarrhea but several had stomach pains, but people reported that this does happen and several women spoken to confirmed that families commonly lose children to illness indicating that child mortality is probably high.

Access by road
As already described the village is 53 miles along an unmade road that is in such poor condition that the journey takes 7 hours in the dry season and is impassable in the wet season.

What can we do?
We are trying to support beekeepers who we are training in the rain forest. Many of our beekeepers live in the outlying villages and have to head-carry their honey to Ote after the harvest.  This means that we need to have someone based in the village to receive any honey after they have checked it for quality and to ensure it is well sealed in the rainy season to prevent water absorption since the sugars in honey make it hygroscopic.  This will help produce a standard of honey that is acceptable for shipment out of the area to gain a higher price.

We currently support an extension worker and beekeeping mentor and trainer who works for Forudef.  He bases himself in Ote but his family are some distance away in one of the remote rain forest villages so he rarely sees them.  If we can provide accommodation for him in Ote with a honey processing unit, he will be able to manage the honey harvest coming in from the beekeepers and its safe storage through the rainy season preventing moisture getting into the honey, and transportation out when the road is passable again.  As Ote is at the end of the road, all further villages will come here to trade their honey and we can help facilitate this by providing an office that can be manned even when the extension worker is out of the village doing his support work.  By setting quality standards we can also help them to get the best price for their stocks.

We also feel that we cannot ignore health and sanitation issues in the village and that whatever we do must be of a standard that would be acceptable to Europeans who are our funders and our workers.

We will construct a building 
We have therefore decided that our work can only go ahead if we construct a building to house the extension worker and his family, provide a permanently manned honey trading office, a store and filtration room.  If we add an extra room for an office which can double as a medical room, government officials would be willing to travel to the village but more importantly they can ask the regional government authority for a medical worker to visit for immunizations, and medical checks.  This will immediately improve the health status of the people.

Forudef have already been working with Matt and Misha to improve nutrition through education and training and also introducing a greater variety of foodcrops.  They are doing a collection for this on Global Giving. Having a building would enable Forudef to base their training near the office and honey plant, so creating a small centre in the area.

buildings are mud brick or wood sticks with daub.
They have a thatch or aluminium roof
The structure will use locally made mud bricks, but will have an aluminium roof.  This is the cheapest way to construct and the building will be in keeping with the others in the village. Julian Marsh from Nottingham, UK, architects  Marsh and Grochowski has kindly agreed to put some designs together for us.

However the building cannot be done in isolation as we need to consider both the water supply and sanitation both for this building and the entire village.  If we can pipe water from a cliff up behind the village it will be clean and safer for the village than the river.  Latrines can be sited in strategic areas around the village and our own building can have toilets.

The chief of Ote wearing his woollen hat which is the marque of his status
This is quite a big project for us, but it feels a pragmatic approach and will provide a workable solution to introducing beekeeping in the area. We put our ideas to the village people through Ncho Tabe Moses who is the director of Foudef and the chief relayed that he and his people are very pleased with the idea as it will offer a real chance of improvement to his people.  We will get the building designed and costed and will have to think of fund raising.

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