Bolstered by bees: spreading the benefits of beekeeping in Liberia
On a recent trip to the northern parts of Liberia, most if not all of the beekeepers we spoke to expressed how positive an impact beekeeping has had on their lives. “Honey money” has sent countless kids to school, and allowed parents to pursue their other interests. One mother attended to nursing school and other beekeepers furthered their other business opportunities - something that wouldn't have been possible with a more time-consuming endeavour.
This industry has been a welcome supplementary source of income for many families, and even a primary source for some. These are all laudable outcomes, but it is their willingness to share their knowledge, to allow others to participate, and to make every last bit count that really does inspire.
There were three key takeaways from our meetings with these beekeepers that show the industry has far more to offer than just an income from the sale of honey.
Beekeeping in Liberia is an industry for all
Far less physically demanding than other forms of agricultural production, beekeeping has become a far easier way for women to earn an income. Many of the women, and men, also pointed out that beekeeping is far less time-consuming than other jobs too, which gives them extra time to spend with their families and children or to explore different economic opportunities.
In Gbangar, the capital of Bongo County, a boy called Prince, who is just 13 years old, was the youngest beekeeper. His slight frame doesn’t make him any less of a beekeeper than some of the older, stronger men, but by learning at such a young age he is equipping himself with a skillset that he can easily carry through until old age. His size and strength don't matter, unlike in other forms of agriculture.
There were some elderly men who also made a move to beekeeping later in life. “What I could earn from beekeeping with a few hives was better than full-time gardening. Why was I wasting my time?” said Zawolo, one of the eldest men of the large beekeeping collective just outside Gbarnga.
Taking beekeeping further than just “honey money”
In Bella, a missionary taught the beekeepers to make soaps and creams from the honey and wax. They are now using these skills and packaging their own products for sale locally. Their resourcefulness will not only create a further source of revenue in their community, but will also minimise the waste that would otherwise exist.
Another successful beekeeper, Daniel, is reinvesting the money he has earnt from beekeeping to start his own palm farm. He already employs four local men, who have started planting on his plot of land.
Liberia's beekeepers share their knowledge
The sense of community amongst beekeepers seems strong as evidenced by their willingness to share.
Many of the beekeepers have taken the initiative to start training those nearby, of their own volition. Amos, who is a pastor, a carpenter, and a mason, as well as a beekeeper trainer, is using his skills to teach nearby communities how to do beekeeping and create and repair their own hives using local materials, like bamboo from the forest. Because they have reached so many people, he has also started trying to make his own smokers to share with new communities while they wait for their own equipment.
Amos also aims to teach honey hunters, those who look get honey from wild hives, not to damage the hives or kill the bees. By teaching them the skills to gather honey and by showing them that bees are good for agriculture, even honey hunters can benefit from a regular source of income if done properly. If the bees are not harmed in the process, they can continue to produce honey.
While “honey money” has helped so many people in Liberia, it’s clear that the industry provides many more benefits than a simple stream of revenue. The continued support of our donors is invaluable in spreading the power of the beekeeping industry in Liberia - your money goes far further than you, and we, might think!