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Can bees save our wild lands?

Can bees save our wild lands?

Can bees save our wild lands?

Wherever there is poverty and wildlife there is always poaching. But poaching as perceived by the law is not necessarily seen as poaching by communities living with wildlife. Culturally, dating back to when man first walked this earth, the bush has been regarded as a larder and wildlife as food. To tell people living around wildlife areas not to poach without offering a sustainable substitute is a recipe for conflict.


James Varden and I, operating as Varden Safaris in the Mavhuradonha Wilderness Area in northeastern Zimbabwe, began looking at alternative ways to assist the community when income from tourism declined. As a CAMPFIRE project, our concession in Mavhuradonha had ensured communities benefited from our photographic tourism operation. However, in the last decade we found we needed to find other ways to engage the community for them to live in harmony with wildlife.


We believe Honey for Money is one of these solutions for Africa.


As bee populations continue to plummet in developed countries, coming under huge pressure from pesticides and disease, Africa is being seen as one of the next big honey producers. The African honey bee, Apis mellifera spp. scutellata, is considered a robust species in the bee world. African bees are relatively healthy compared to their cousins in developed countries.


To date Honey for Money has trained over 400 beekeepers around wildlife areas, who are now set to start benefiting from honey production. Honey for Money can also be the market linkage if required. Honey for Money will buy honey at the prevailing market rate; we don't set the rate, it’s a fair trade price based on all the information we have at hand. 


Another big problem that beekeeping can help address in Zimbabwe is that of deforestation – in the last 2013/14 tobacco season, Zimbabwe lost over 300,000 acres of indigenous hard woods.

The modification of land use in recent years has caused many challenges and one of them is manifesting itself through the massive increase of small-scale tobacco growing. With little option to making a living on newly settled lands, settlers are turning to tobacco and the environmental impacts of this scenario are now being felt.


Predominantly Virginia tobacco is grown, which has to be heat – or flue – cured. Apart from being supplied the inputs, most farmers have no financial support for the crop, thus when it comes to curing, they turn to indigenous trees, while on commercial farms this is done with electricity or coal, heat being forced through barns at a constant and specific temperature. 


In the new tobacco era, there is a double impact on the environment due to the fact that wood must be cut to cure the bricks that make the home-made curing barns, as well as to provide heat for curing the tobacco.


Many settlers who started with one barn and an acre of tobacco now have three barns and increased acreage. There is no electricity in these areas and thus no option for flue curing; use of coal requires a complex burner system. With over 75,000 small-scale tobacco growers registered for the 2015 season, it’s not rocket science to work out that this is a totally unsustainable use of our indigenous hardwoods. 


Beekeeping needs few basics – food and water must be easily available for the bees. No trees, no bees. Beekeeping and mixed cropping with herbs can increase small plot agricultural output and financial gain. If trees, water resources and pasturelands are maintained in a bee-friendly manner,  livestock, wildlife and the environment also benefit.


Beekeeping for Africa - it’s a no-brainer – anyone can do it! Beekeeping provides income - protects habitat – and pollinates food crops. Minimal investment - maximum return on effort.