"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What exactly I do now...

The staff of BEECause Gambia. From left Balla my counterpart in the car, Micah our manager, Dudu beekeeper in training and site clearer, Peter the chair of our board of trustees, Gibbeh our accountant, Me, Ana our cook/cleaner, bottom is Aladghie our security gaurd, and Albino our grounds keeper

I have been very bad about writing my blog.  What once was a vibrant and bimonthly flourish of pictures and stories just isn’t the same. After 20 months I feel further then I have ever felt from my home in America. I am sure that everyone has gotten on with their life, most of the letters that I exchanged at the beginning of my service has slowed to a trickle and the shock of knowing someone who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa I am sure has waned. 
As for me, the energy to write a put together a once thriving blog has really plummeted.  But in my last 6-7 months I am rededicating myself to this blog as an effort to prepare myself for my return to America (both in a few weeks and for good) and write something to further acquaint you and acculturate you with my experience.  
Beekeeping as a Market
Here is a picture of my counterpart Balla weighing honey that BEECause will buy.
We also purchased those balls of beeswax. For a 20 liter container of honey we pay 100d a liter
2000d for the container or about $68. This higher price comes after we do a quality check 
Now that beekeeping season is over and the rains are here I am marketing the roughly 1,100 liters of honey that I helped rural beekeepers produce.  Also, I have just finished writing up an article that will hopefully be published (if what I am told by the editor is true) in BeeWorld in December www.ibra.org.uk What follows is part of the article adapted and pictures showing my journey...  

Understanding the interaction that West African beekeeping culture has with African bees is an enormous barrier to development here. Bees here are misunderstood and mismanaged. While there was once abundant local beekeeping knowledge with numerous grass hive weavers, it has mostly faded leaving only bands of “honey hunters.” Essentially a honey hunter is someone who lights a fire, climbs a tree with a branch of fire, kills the bees with fire and smoke, and harvests everything. Often in the bush on trainings we have come across families who have killed a wild hive and the children are happily munching scorched brood comb with the larvae popping out as they chew; eventually the family produces a highly pollinated smoke filled syrup which is the only thing they know as honey and invite us, the beekeeping trainers to take part. The state of the honey in The Gambia is horrendous and from the surveys and contacts with other development organizations we have had in other West African countries, it seems The Gambia is the norm.
Time and time again we have taken frightened villagers who call themselves “beekeepers” to their forgotten Kenyan Topbar Hives KTBs in the bush.  Using all locally made material and a wielding a welded smoker, we have hacked and sawed our way through countless hives, painfully reattaching each crossed comb bar by bar with strips of wire or cloth.  Sadly, episodes such as these are not encouraging to aspiring local beekeepers as they only get to see how aggressive African bees are and how much work an unmanaged cross combed KTB can be.
It is certain though that despite very few true beekeepers, the profession is profitable and viable for social entrepreneurship. A favorite test group of ours mobilized their village group after going through our trainings. This group started with nothing, built their own hives, and using our baiting techniques caught 9 colonies in their first season of beekeeping out of 10 hives, this coming season will be highly informative as to potential honey production in The Gambia as nectar sources vary greatly in frequency across this country. Regardless, examples such as these serve as an incredible example of what is possible with continuous baiting of hives in The Gambian swarming season (November-March).  

A beekeeper in Jula Kunda with his wax and a grass hive.

Hives given by other NGOs are often not used or in this case used as a cattle feed trough

Inspecting hives we often find that bee hives make good homes for African Pygmy squirrels

Balla giving wax and wires to a fellow volunteer Keith. The wax will be used to bait hives to attract bees and the wires are to hang the hives to keep out lizards, ants, termites, and squirrels.

The hive made with sticks and termite mound. This is primarily the innovation of a fellow volunteer Scott, I helped beekeep this hive which has great potential as an alternative topbar hive in rural beekeeping 


I used to train, now I market. As part of our desire to create market and value for locally produced high quality honey. I am now undertaking a project to market honey to tourist markets. Tourist season runs from November to March and will hopefully bring increased profits of 200% as local honey sold in used water bottles sells for pennies. 

I have been hard at work on the branding and marketing aspects of the honey. I have created labels, handouts, a pitch, and have worked to increase the sanitation of our honey.

Samples of dark and light honey

Part of my idea has been to sell honey of different color grades with corresponding flowers of different darkness. Different types of plants produce honey of different colors. The flower colors don't matter I just am going for the aesthetics.   

We are just starting to get underway with the marketing. We are already selling on a small scale and looking to expand into hotels in the next few weeks.

I will leave you with a few random pictures. Until next time...

Here is one of our beekeepers sighing a grass hive in a tree

I took this photo during a nighttime beekeeping session. This is what a grass hive looks like on the inside, much more messy then that kenyan top bar hives I am used to. 

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