I have been busy over the past number of months assisting the African Beekeeping Resource Centre (ABRC) on their project 'Lessons from the Field'. The project aims to learn from top beekeepers in Kenya and Uganda about what makes them good beekeepers under local conditions. The project is also looking at beekeeping projects and what lessons can be learned to make future projects better. There is a problem in that beekeeping projects are many but nobody stops to see if they actually helped beekeepers effectively. Bee projects come and go all the time but we, as development practitioners, are not good at sharing the lessons. In particular the lessons of failure when it happens. Reports always talk up projects and everything seems to go smoothly and beekeepers raise incomes and sell lots of honey. Nothing bad ever happens such as when honey yields are very low, hives are mostly empty and defensive bees attack and kill livestock for example. Project implementers need to impress their donors and so have to make their work look as good as possible. The problem with that is that we are destined to repeat mistakes over and over as new projects are started and fail to learn from past mistakes because problems were not documented or shared.
Anyway enough of my rant about beekeeping projects! I have had the privilege of visiting some really wonderful and inspiring beekeepers in East Africa over the past 12 months. Two things have struck me. The first is just how good beekeepers are at conservation. You will find invariably that beekeepers are at the heart of conservation efforts in their local communities. They advocate locally to conserve indigenous vegetation and to plant trees in their communities. Many beekeepers I visited had tree nurseries and either sold tree seedlings or gave them away for free. The second thing that stood out for me was just how entrepreneurial many beekeepers are. Some of the best beekeepers have been able to generate multiple sources of income from their beekeeping and don't only rely on honey sales. Many add value to their honey, sell wax products, propolis medicine, stingless bee honey, sell bees, sell bee equipment, bee tree seedlings, provide training services and charge to facilitate groups of people who come to see their farms. Some beekeepers also charge to remove bees out of peoples homes. One very successful Kenyan beekeeper told me that when he gets up in the morning he thinks of beekeeping as his job and he goes to work! That is the kind of dedication you need to be a successful beekeeper.
It has been an absolute privilege for me to have had the opportunity to visit and meet such wonderful and inspiring people. ABRC will be communicating their project findings in the coming months and I will keep you updated on their progress.
One of the things I have always been interested in is beekeeping in the Americas with Africanized bees. In the 1950s queen bees were taken from East and South Africa in order to breed a better bee for the tropical conditions of Brazil. To cut a long story short these African bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) escaped into the wild and essentially dominated the European bees that were being used in South America at the time. Despite hybridisation with European bees the African Apis mellifera scutellata kept their characteristic defensive behaviour and remained essentially African. Over the years these Africanized bees spread up through south and central America and into the United States. At some point the media dubbed these bees 'Killer' bees. The name is apt is some ways as they are very defensive and do kill livestock and sometimes people in the Americas and Africa although in Africa cases are not well documented.
How You Can Help!
I always wanted to visit and spend some time in Brazil or another country where research is being conducted on Africanized bees and in particular Africanized bee management for honey production. A sharing of ideas between the two continents would be very useful and in particular what lessons could be learned for beekeepers in Africa working with the same defensive bees.
As part of a Post Doctoral Fellowship application I have a potential opportunity to spend a number of months in Brazil or another country in the Americas which has Africanized bees. I want to learn husbandry practices for Africanized bees so that I can share them through my work with beekeepers in Africa. What I seek is a host organisation and mentor. The organisation could be a bee research institute, university or bee training/extension organisation. My visit would be fully funded. If you work for such an organisation or have any suggestions on which organisation/person I should get in touch with please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org . Thank you so much for your help!
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