July 17, 2017
By Elizabeth Norikane
Honeybees contribute to more than a third of all agricultural production, significantly enhance biodiversity, and improve crop yields. And although they can be found almost everywhere, in recent years there has been a decline in bee populations, threatening the world’s food supply. Through the work of Trees for the Future and the Forest Garden Approach, bees are a thriving, valued resource.
Many Forest Gardeners tend hives in addition to their work farming their land. In East Africa in particular, beekeeping is common, and can provide an additional source of income and a wide range of ecological benefits for farmers.
Simon Peter and his son Odongo, on their family Forest Garden in Lira, Uganda, have taken a deep interest in beekeeping and now house six different hives on their land. They have melded traditional local practices with new research in order to build hives, welcome bees, and help them prosper. A few times a yaer, Odongo travels hours by bus to the regional hub in order to visit a library for books on beekeeping and access internet searches on the topic.
Through these research trips he learned many new techniques and tips. For example, he burns a hollowed out log, and then rubs it in lemongrass to attract the bees to make the log their home. He now grows the lemongrass in his Forest Garden, a cutting he located hours away in Kampala. He has also learned about advantageous flowers and trees to plant near the hive to “feed” the bees.
Odongo has five hollowed log hives on his father’s plot, and hopes to add more. He talked with great passion about beekeeping and considers the hive itself to be alive. He even names each one – but only once the log is populated with a queen, workers, and drones.
Bees also do wonders for our farmers in Ikinu, an area in central Kenya that has proven successful at growing the high-value macadamia nut. As the nuts are quite profitable on the international market, farmers have experienced trespassers climbing their trees, shaking nuts loose, and stealing them.
When Mary Njeri decided she would keep bees, she found the perfect spot: her large macadamia tree. The benefits were manifold – she has a spot to house her hive, the bees help cross-pollinate the tree and nearby plants, and the presence of the bees protect the tree from those looking to take the precious nuts.
As bees can be dangerous when they feel threatened, it is important to approach them with care. When harvesting the nuts, Mary’s husband uses smoke to calm them and he wears and protective gear.
One hive at a time, bees are making a comeback and enhancing the productivity of our Forest Gardens. A natural pairing, Forest Gardens are a perfect home for the honeybee and we look forward to watching the honeybee population rebound and our Forest Gardens prosper.