Bees Go to Work for Farmers
*By Judith Santiago
October 7, 2008—"Beekeeping brought me to where I am," says Victor Kpe, 51, UMCOR's top beekeeper trainer.
Before Kpe became a trainer for UMCOR, he was struggling to put food on the table for his wife and five children and was unable to pay school fees to ensure his children's future. Kpe was also extremely introverted. For Kpe, beekeeping had added benefits aside from generating income—it helped strengthened his character and build his self esteem.
"I never believed that I could become a trainer," says Kpe. "I was really shy."
In Ganta, Liberia, beekeeping is making a positive impact in the lives of small-scale farmers. Through trainings provided by UMCOR's Sustainable Agriculture and Development (SA&D) Program, farmers are empowered to support themselves and provide for their families—bees are helping them better their lives.
UMCOR trainers are farmers who have proven experience training others on topics covered by the UMCOR-SA&D program. UMCOR-SA&D staff identifies leadership qualities in the people they train—recognizing the farmer's true potential and/or hidden qualities that will make them a success in their own communities. Most of these farmers have limited education and lack the confidence to do greater things for themselves. With added support and encouragement from UMCOR-SA&D staff, farmers throughout Liberia are 'holding their own' and are increasingly seeing the abilities they have within themselves to be successful and to help others.
Mozart Adevu, a Global Ministries missionary in Ghana who serves as UMCOR's Africa regional coordinator for the Sustainable Agriculture and Development (SA&D) program, has been instrumental in the program's overall training of farmers. He encourages trainees to pass on what they are learning to others to help maximize the program's reach. Adevu took Kpe under his wing and prepared him to conduct his very first training in his home country of Ghana. In 2002, Kpe became an UMCOR trainer. In that same year, he harvested 100 gallons of honey from 18 colonized hives at his bee farm in Ghana. He later produced a second harvest of 66 gallons of honey.
The SA&D beekeeping training was the very first of such models in post-war Liberia to be introduced. What began with just 15 farmers, participation in UMCOR's beekeeping training has grown ten-fold to include 150 farmers, with many more seeking training.
Since 2003, 1,240 beehives have been built and colonized in Liberia. Over $40,000 of generated income has come into its rural economy—making beekeeping the most efficient off-farm practice today. Currently, Liberian farmers are engaged in the production and bottling of honey for urban markets. Honey is sold for $15-$20 per gallon—adding a substantial increase to a farmer's personal income and enabling them to secure a better future for their families.
In addition to serving as a source for food, honey can be used as a salve and for cough and asthma relief. Beeswax can be used for batik textiles which are then sold at market, and propolis, the glue that bees collect from particular tree buds, can be used for furniture construction.
Farmers Gain New Perspective on Bees
In 2003, Kpe traveled to Liberia to begin training others. During training, Kpe realized that there seemed to be a prevailing negative cultural taboo about bees. Beekeeping was not accepted due to their association with witchcraft and bees were considered sacred gods not to be tampered with. Local communities also believed that eating honey while pregnant was also taboo. With the help of UMCOR, the perception of bees has changed for the better. Bees are now considered co-laborers to sustaining the livelihoods of farmers.
"Bees are friendly," says Kpe passionately. "They're also a good food source."
Kpe was instrumental in helping to change the minds of communities in Liberia concerning bees, and although it was a four-year process, farmers have come around. Today, farmers are seeing the benefits bees can bring home and indeed are finding out that bees are working for them.
Producing Good Fruit
Today, Kpe is extremely confident and outspoken and he helps others build their confidence.
William Zawolo, one of Kpe's first beekeeping students, is considered one of the most successful beekeepers in Liberia. Zawalo was one of the first farmers to build four hives on his very own. Currently, he owns 24 beehives and harvested 49 gallons of honey this year. Beekeeping has enabled Zawolo to build a new home for his wife Annie and their 12 children, as well as pay for their children's education.
Kpe's wife Enyonoma helps support the family by selling honey and beeswax at the local market. Kpe's oldest son Reuben, 29, began beekeeping last year in Ghana and has built 15 hives so far. Many people in the community knock on Rueben's door to purchase the honey he harvests. The proceeds from beekeeping are helping Kpe to pay for his children's school fees and healthcare. He has since built a three bedroom home and has installed a new water pump.
"I have university goals for my children, I want my family be taken care of and I want to stay with UMCOR," says Kpe smiling. "I feel very, very happy. My life is completely changed."
Kpe, through UMCOR's SA&D program, has helped to raise the status levels of farmers in their communities and is keeping the "buzz" about beekeeping going by training over 500 participants in Sierre Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A once shy and quiet person, Kpe's life has dramatically changed because of bees that have ultimately been working in his favor.
How You Can Help
Trainings like beekeeping are transforming poor communities into thriving ones. Help farmers stay in the honey business by supporting programs like these. Observe World Food Day, October 16 through your gifts to Sustainable Agriculture and Development program, UMCOR Advance #982188.
Click here to view Beekeeping in Liberia, UMCOR's new photo slide show about the beekeeping harvesting process. See how beekeeping is benefiting farmers and increasing their livelihood.
*Santiago is a Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications.