Rather than “Save the Bees”, it’s “Save the Trees” in central Africa. A story from Zimbabwe reminds us that beekeeping can be very, very good for ecology. Bees (and beekeepers) are saving Zimbabwe’s forests.
The country of Zimbabwe, lest we forget, is the messed-up place where 92-year-old Robert Mugabe has claimed to be the freely elected ‘president’ for the past 30 years – a position he maintains with the help of an elite North Korean-trained security force. But today we have a good-news story, which is a nice break for the poor people of Zimbabwe.
Much of the honey produced in rural Zimbabwe comes from its old-growth forests. In the past, people saw trees as firewood and little else. Tobacco became a big cash crop, resulting in clearing of forests to plant the loathsome herb. Even more trees were felled to make the fires needed to cure the tobacco. You can see where this is leading – desertification, ecological ruin, and cancer. But push-back has gently arisen from Zimbabwe’s beekeepers.
In a country where the average annual income isn’t much more than a new T-shirt and socks, beekeepers can make about $60 per hive each season. Some of Zimbabwe’s 50,000 beekeepers manage a hundred or more colonies. Honey production is fairly good, but wax is an important by-product because political ineptness results in intermittent lighting, which people supplement with beeswax candles.
Beekeepers rely on seasonal blossoms on scrubby shrubs and trees for the nectar that makes the nectar that makes the beekeepers’ honey. In turn, beekeepers have fought tree poachers and wildfires to preserve their honey source. The forests are making a comeback and even rivers are healthier with improved basins and less erosion into the streams. To read more, please see this article. To help, you may look here.
Non-Africans may point out the environmental damage taking place when people in the sub-Sahara cut trees to clear farmland and pay bills, but unless they help with money-making alternatives like beekeeping, deforestation will continue.
A few outfits support co-ops and communities that help Zimbabwe beekeepers – Environment Africa is one example. On your left is a picture from their website. It shows that trees not only feed bees, they also serve as bee yards, keeping hives off the ground and safe from predators.