You know it’s a great jua kali project when you see the logo
Honey is one of the most valuable products of the drylands of Africa. It can be obtained by following a little bird called a honey guide to a bees nest in a tree, whereupon one raids the hive. Or bees can be farmed…in most places a bee keeper simply hollows out logs to make perfectly acceptable hives for local consumption. for commercial purposes however, Langstroth hives are universally thought to be superior to the traditional log hives found in Africa – the box shape make them easy to stack and move around, and the movable frames guide bees to build combs in an organized manner making comb extraction easy. These hives also have a queen excluder, a mesh grid, usually made of wire or plastic, sized such that worker bees can pass through but the bigger queens cant. This keeps the queen from laying eggs in the honey combs called supers leading to cleaner honey. There are so many NGO’s, GOs and religious Orgs introducing these bright yellow langstroth hives across the Kenyan landscape.They don’t always catch on though – in rural areas people still prefer the logs…
Traditional log hives are hollowed out logs usually cut from specific tree species with the permission of the local chief. They are hung high in trees and the inside is rubbed with leaves of plants that attract bees – a practice that has been going on for eons. The bees enter the hives through a tiny hole and build their combs willy nilly throughout the space, it’s inefficient and the honey is of a lower quality as the larvae are all mixed up with the honey combs. Not very good for a business approach… or should I say Beesness?.
Logic would suggest that the Langstroth hives which produce cleaner honey and they save trees should be favoured right? Wrong! These modern hives are produced by experts in cities and cost a good $100 – far beyond the reach of anyone living in rural Kenya. It’s also rumoured that these hives are easily broken into by honey badgers, over heat in the dry climate of north Kenya driving bees away, and are expensive to maintain. On a personal note, I for one, find them extremely ugly too.
One bee keeping cooperative in Bogoria has figured out a cunning way of modifying traditional log hives to produce more honey. A bee excluder is made using coffee mesh.
Symon demonstrated how beeswax tracks are laid down to guide the bees where to build their combs in neat lines. Cost? One third of the Langstroth hive.
The honey is collected at night by naked men (yes totally naked …) they say that this prevents one from getting bees stuck in your clothing… I asked about the possibility of getting stung in sensitive places, they said the bees were far too civilized for that…but yes, people had fallen from the trees and been found comatose and butt naked at the tree base…
Raw honey with comb is sold to the local cooperative where wax is separated from honey. The machine is another jua kali item bought in a workshop in Nairobi.
Bees are smoked out of the hive using a home made smoker.
Production by 40 bee keepers was 8 tons last year, each Kg of raw honey was bought by the cooperative for Ksh 80 ($1), and sold on raw at Ksh 100, or processed and honey sold at Ksh 600 per kg ($8).
8 tons of raw honey were collected in 2008 – this is valued at Ksh640,000 for the 40 bee keepers in the business.
The wax is not wasted but converted into candles which sell for Ksh 10 each ($ 0.12).
Using a jua kali gadget for making candles, comprising a string, a piece of conduit pipe and two beer caps….ingenious!
Producing the sweetest smelling cheapest candles I’ve ever used. They claim they burn much longer than paraffin candles. Besides they smell delicious
Some sweet facts
·The dry lands of Kenya are the important honey producing districts in Kenya – the semi arid climate, diversity of flowering plants and easy access to fresh water makes it perfect for bees. Kenya is the fourth largest producer of honey in Africa 22,000 tons, China is the worlds largest producer at 299,000 tons (USA produces 70,000 tons) (figures for 2005).
·The group in Baringo produced 8 tons of honey last year.
·Kenya is a world center of bee diversity with over 3,000 species (about 10% of the worlds total number of species)
·Only 150 species or thereabouts produce honey in Kenya.
·Contrary to popular belief, most bee species are harmless… they have no stings
·The Kalenjin people immunize themselves to bees by purposely stinging babies with bees
·In many pats of Africa, honey is an important component of dowry or bride price – a kilogram being made as part payment for the bride – symbolic of the sweetness of sex – or so I’m told 😉
·Bees pollinate most of the crops that we eat
·Bee keeping is most productive in natural habitats, and is a one of the few forms of resource extraction that does not destroy the environment.
The sour facts
·Bees in USA and Europe are disappearing fast – a condition described as colony collapse disorder (ie. Nobody knows why it’s happening). Africa is unaffected so far making honey production a very sweet deal.
Cows are playing an important role in land restoration in Baringo by eating up the invasive prickly pear cactus a nasty invasive plant that is destroying the drylands. It’s not obvious at all for cows to eat this thorny cactus, but Murry Roberts and his wife Elizabeth Meyerhoff told me about an amazing project that their organization, RAE (Rehabilitation of Arid Environments) has been working on. A few years ago they discovered that a local farmer had a bull that not only ate the nasty exotic thorny ugly, plant, but also taught other cows to go for it too.
Mwalimu cow eating prickly pear
This is very surprising because any self respecting cow, a sheep or a goat will not touch the nasty prickly pear. The farmer had aptly named his cow Mwalimu (Mwa-lee-moo means Teacher in Kiswahili) because it taught other cows to eat the prickly pear .
Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica) is origninally from Mexico and is an economically important species of cactus – the red/purple fruit known as tuna’s are much sought after in many parts of the world. It has been cultivated in many parts of Africa as a hedge, but has become a serious pest because it spreads rapidly degrading ranch lands, and is very difficult to control. As a result, Opuntia eating cows are hugely important in the drylands of Kenya.
How did this farmer get his cow to eat Opuntia? During the drought of 1999 – 2000 grassy fields were reduced to bare earth and cows had nothing left to eat were dying of starvation leading to widespread famine. The story goes that one farmer persuaded his bull to eat the leaves after he had burned off the thorns. Opuntia are 80% water and if one can get past the thorns, the plant is quite nutritious. The other starving cows watched the bull and then followed suit thus saving the herd and the farmer who has never looked back. The thorns are burnt off using wood from another nasty invasive species, Prosopis juliflora – making this an eco-friendly project all round.
As part of RAE’s rehabilitation of Baringo’s drylands, and to make multiply the value of mwalimu bull to other farmers RAE bought the bull and during droughts, Mwalimu goes from one homestead to another teaching herds of cattle how to eat Opuntia, thereby saving hundreds of cattle and people from starvation. For Mwalimu it’s a job that saved his life – he is too valuable to be turned into beef burgers!
The cutting and use of Opuntia and Prosopis is also important in controlling these invasive species which have been planted as live fences, but which are fast becoming weeds in the degraded Baringo lowlands. Apart from prickly pear eating cows RAE also restore grasslands and eliminate soil erosion in an innovative project that has huge application across the drylands of Africa. We met women who were doubling their money by buying and fattening cows on restored grasslands in a 3 month period!
A pilot project placed an electonic collar containing GPS and GSM units on Kimani, a bull elephant who was the last surviving member of a 5 elephant group with a penchant for raiding farms to eat crops. This collar allowed park rangers to track the elephant’s movements using Google Earth / Google Maps. The project also allowed park authorities to monitor animal locations at all times and acted as a deterrent against the poaching of this important resource.
Crop raiding is a huge problem on farms bordering parks and reserves as a herd of elephants or other animals can wipe out entire crops on a single night destroying the livelihoods of the farm owners.
The coolest side benefit of the product though was when the project team figured out that they could create a virtual “geo-fence” and trigger alerts whenever Kimani the elephant stepped outside this virtual fence – an occurrence that indicated that he was probably on his way to a village to carry out some crop raiding.
The set up used a hardware and software solution that sends text based messages in real time with location data over GSM to park rangers whenever Kimani approaches a park fence that is close to a farm.
This is yet another great example of why the use of mobile phones continue to be the computing platform of choice in many ingenious and innovative homebrew technology solutions in Africa.
Click through the links below to articles and video about this project.
When you visit Diani Beach, Kenya’s version the Florida keys, look up and you’ll see 20 rope bridges swinging over the highway – what’s that little bulge with a tail? Before you flash by, you will realise that it’s a monkey sitting up there. Yes it’s watching you! And then, a burst of action as an entire troop of black and white might start galloping across the wildly swaying bridge!
Colobridges were built by theColobus Trust to save the rare Angolan colobus monkeys from road traffic accidents
Faced with a crisis that could eliminate the species in Kenya, innovative solutions were tried from Lollipop stick men at major monkey crossing points, roadsigns to slow down the speed, and education for taxis, stickers in matatus (local buses).
The bridges were the most successful. Designed locally and made of cable, rubber and PVC, each bridge takes a day to erect and costs about $500. The bridges connect two of the monkeys favourite trees on either side of the highway.
Being naturally shy, the colobus initially stared at the bridges gadgets with disdain until the more inquisitive and daring Sykes monkey began to see the logic. Once the Sykes and even vervet monkeys started using the bridges, the colobus followed suit, and are now very comfortable with their arboreal walkways.
There are now 23 ‘Colobridges’ and it’s estimated that they are used 150,000 time a year by at least three different species of monkeys! Amazing because there are only 300 of these Angolan colobus monkeys left in Diani where road kills are now rare.
Not for everyone: Bridges have also been deployed in Zanzibar to save the crazy looking Kirks red colobus but it looks like they aren’t clever enough to use them (some species are just slow)! Check out the photos of a confused monkey here
My plug for my favourite primate “Hug a colobus today”.
Colobridges go global or ‘Australia steals our African ideas’: Though they don’t admit it, the “colobridge” innovation inspired rope bridges to save freaky creatures in Australia too
Of course the Aussies always do things bigger and better… check this one out!
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