Promoting Sustainable Beekeeping in Mozambique
This post is written by Marisa C. Rodrigues, Parque Nacional da Gorongosa.
Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique has survived many challenges. After decades of war lasting from 1977 to 1992 and the devastation of Cyclone Idai in 2019, Gorongosa Park is reemerging as one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. Dozens of species new to science have been discovered, including several that are endemic to Gorongosa. Protecting the landscape, wildlife and people of Gorongosa is a fundamental conservation goal of our mission.
Beekeeping is a regional tradition. Local beekeeping using bark hives and logs has long been a part of the subsistence economy of people who inhabit all the forests in the park's buffer zone. Yet, recent increases in the demand for low-quality honey is driving a growing number of regional beekeepers to cut down trees and start uncontrolled fires, putting the regional Mozambican forests increasingly at risk. One challenge to resolving this issue is that regional honey producers often do not have access to markets, especially sophisticated markets that value local, high-quality, sustainably produced honey.
Our vision and approach
The Gorongosa Honey Project is promoting environmentally sustainable beekeeping practices with high-income potential for smallholder farmers. Our goal is to build an inclusive and sustainable business model. How? By integrating local beekeepers into the supply chain, we are transforming them into rural entrepreneurs and creating sustainable livelihoods for local communities, while also expanding conservation practices, strengthening biodiversity, protecting pollinators and introducing ecosystem services into the greater Gorongosa landscape. Our interventions are focused on developing the capacity of beekeepers to move up the honey value chain by providing technical assistance and introducing them to sustainable, value-added beekeeping practices including long-lifespan hives. Securing access to high-end markets for honey can increase a beekeeper’s income and improve livelihood resilience and can reduce the risk of uncontrolled fires, deforestation and destruction of ecosystems.
The Gorongosa Honey Project began in 2016. Today, 17 technicians are supporting and providing technical assistance to 350 beekeepers throughout the park's buffer zone. Beekeepers receive intensive training through three separate modules taught at model apiaries and the park’s Community Education Center: (i) Introduction to Sustainable Beekeeping, (ii) Apiculture as a Business, and (iii) Honey Harvesting and Quality Control. After that, the trained beekeepers replicate the training within their communities. The project facilitates beekeeper access to sustainable beekeeping practices by using locally sourced beehives from a sustainably managed forest and local handmade bee suits — all procured on a cost-recovery basis. Additionally, all of the technicians provide technical assistance to the beneficiaries in the field, especially during sighting and mounting of hives and honey harvesting. The project buys raw honey in combs from engaged community beekeepers at a premium price, which is then processed, bottled, labelled at the park's honey house in Vila Gorongosa and sold in domestic markets.
In 2019, the project signed strategic partnerships with USAID, our main supporter, and with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). By encouraging professionalization among beekeepers, developing technical studies for expanding operations, scaling-up production and processing capacity, as well as ensuring quality control and increased marketing, our project is helping the region reach international markets and allowing the region to become a leading honey producer in Mozambique. We are now engaged in getting our honey certified as organic and wildlife-friendly, which will help raise awareness of the product’s value in international markets and increase recognition of the effort and resilience of our beekeepers and team.
A win-win-win approach
Even as we support sustainable practices in beekeeping, our honey project also promotes coexistence between humans and elephants. Hanging beehives, called beehive fences, work as a natural elephant-repellent. Bees will drive elephants away from the local crops that the animals are well-known for raiding. Most of the time, the families whose crops are damaged by elephant raids are the families that are most dependent on those crops for their income, which leads to conflict. In some communities, elephants have even been considered a problematic animal. These perceptions are now changing, thanks to the educational projects promoted by Gorongosa National Park. More than 300 beehives are settled in fences throughout the park's buffer zone. Thirty-five local collaborators, 22 of whom are women, are being trained in installing the fences, hive maintenance and honey harvesting. The millenary interaction between elephants and bees has made elephants afraid of the pollinators. This natural behavior can turn into a "sweat" for coexistence and livelihoods. Most of the farmers suffering from permanent crop destruction are now beekeepers and are not only protecting their crops but also producing honey and, more importantly, experiencing greater pollination as a benefit of having bees around. Using this approach not only proves people and wildlife can thrive together but also reinforces unity and integration as a way of reaching feasible and easy-to-apply solutions for the sake of nature.