Tuesday, April 17, 2012

running a beekeeping training course in Cameroon

Having been out to the rainforest for a week without running water, power or any creature comforts should have made us feel a bit deprived.  But quite the contrary, we had been well looked after, had warm water to wash with every day in our rainforest shower and slept well at night in our tents.  If anything it was food that we appreciated on our return.  We all laid into cold beers, chicken and chips, fried fish and plantains instead of porcupine stew and yams washed down with palm wine which had been our norm.  We must remember that to eat meat at all was a luxury, and the villagers had fed us as if it was Christmas day every day a much richer and better diet than they would have normally.  We did enjoy the comfort of the hotel and slept well in beds with sheets.

Gill and I went for a walk to look at Cassava growing and to cross the German Bridge.  Originally built in 1904 during the period of German colonialism it has been restored but is made of planks of wood spread out over metal struts.  It sways badly and has gaps, and the sides are not at all reassuring.  We managed it both ways and even had the locals stopping to watch so we could not appear anything but cool about it.

The training was for advanced beekeepers.  Due to limited funds we were unable to reimburse travel or offer food to our trainees.  While this might be common in the UK, the Africans often attend just for the free trip to town and the food.  We therefore attracted a small group, but of very committed beekeepers.  Some came from near Barmenda about 4 hours away to the east.  We used the Forudef training room and had to compete with National Women's day for chairs, but managed to find some.

The training covered a variety of topics chosen in a brainstorming session by the delegates.  We looked at

  • siting of hives both for the bees and to benefit crops, 
  • how bees help in farming through pollination
  • dealing with pests which include lizards who can eat as many as a bee a second if they sit on the landing board by the entrance, rats, wax moths and ants
  • dividing colonies, 
  • extracting wax and building a solar wax extractor, 
  • marketing and selling honey and beeswax/hive by products.
All the earlier topics involved much discussion and became a workshop sharing problems and thinking up solutions.  The trainees did not have any knowledge of plants pollinated by bees so we had quite an interesting discussion about designing planting patterns to maximize bee keeping opportunities.  Perhaps the most useful topic that was new to them was on marketing and selling honey.  Since these beekeepers have only been operating a few years they have just been trying to produce some honey to sell, but now they are producing sufficient quantities to be needing to consider how to maximize their returns. Most are packaging in 500ml and 1lt water bottles, though we suggested trying smaller sizes such as 250 ml or even sachets because this could increase income further when selling in the markets.

It was good to see a couple of people from last year in the group and to share news and ideas with the group.  They so appreciated us coming back and the opportunity to talk and share beekeeping experiences together.  We also talked to them about the problems of keeping bees in the rainforest, but none of them had much experience of this habitat..

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