Richard Turere Lion lights video

Dear all,

Richard Turere, the 13 year old inventor I posted about here, was selected to audition for TED. For his presentation Stefano Cassini and I made  him a video.

Many people have been asking how to reach Richard. I am his guardian, please contact me Paula Kahumbu  on

The beesness of honey

Bee keeping logo

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 hive
Traditional hive

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?.

Langstroth hive in Baringo Kenya
Langstroth hive in Baringo Kenya

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.

Modified traditional hive
Modified traditional hive

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.

Bucket of raw honey
Bucket of raw honey

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…

Honey extractor
Honey extractor

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.

Home made bee smoker
Home made bee smoker

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).

Candle making gadget
Candle making gadget

Using a jua kali gadget for making candles, comprising a string, a piece of conduit pipe and two beer caps….ingenious!

Bees wax candle
Bees wax candle

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.

Bee keeping motto
I love their motto for hard work - "never expect magic from no where".

· 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.

Cactus eating bull saves Kenyan drylands

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

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
Prickly pear
Prickly pear Tunas  for sale in Morocco
Prickly pear Tunas for sale in Morocco

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!

For more information, check it out here RAE Trust

You can also contribute to the good work of RAE by helping us spread the word and share this great innovation through your blog, facebook, twitter, digg, or stumble. Thanks!

GSM/GPS based elephant tracking at The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya

Katharine Houreld has filed an AP story describing how the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a private game reserve ranch in Kenya and Save the Elephants, an NGO dedicated to the survival of the species are using the combination of a GSM/GPS based home brew animal collar solution to track and monitor movements of elephants and other animals.

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.

Ol Pejeta: Elephant

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.

How Save the Elephants is using Google Earth / Google Maps to track elephant movements.

Video on how the solution works

Monkey see Monkey do

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!

Colous on the Bridge
Colous on the Bridge

Colobridges were built by the Colobus Trust to save the rare Angolan colobus monkeys from road traffic accidents

Colobus road kill.."What's black and white and red all over" ... ok I agree, it's not funny.
Colobus road kill.."What's black and white and red all over" ... ok I agree, it's not funny.

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).

One of Kenyas most beautiful monkeys found only in the forests of teh South Coast
The Angolan colobus is one of Kenya's rarest and most beautiful monkeys found only in the forests of the South Coast

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.

Watching the world go by
Watching the world go by

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.

This is an Amazing video of Colobus crossing a “colobridge” (Warning this video is GREAT but the link take you to another site – so read on first or you”ll miss the Australian madness)

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

Confused monkey crossing on the road instead of using the bridge!
Confused monkey crossing on the road instead of using the bridge!

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

Ring tailed possums use bridges too
No, not rats, but a family of ring tailed possums crossing a rope bridge (they look like a pack of terrified rodents to me)

Of course the Aussies always do things bigger and better… check this one out!

Mega rope bridge in Australia - its not going to help roos though
Mega rope bridge in Australia - it might help a koala, but not kangaroo's (I hear that road rage against roo's isn't uncommon over there)