7.15.2014

What's the Buzz?

Mokongoya Encampment 
One of the two reasons I am not moving from Lomié to a new village is that I’m too dedicated to my project and my two counterparts that I work with. The second reason being that my program manager doesn’t want to be bothered with moving me because that would require her to do her job. So in essence, my one main project is all that I have going for me right now. But let’s talk about that project, why don’t we? Let’s focus on something positive!

I don’t think I have mentioned it before, but my main project I’m working on is a food security project focusing on beekeeping and soy cultivation in nearby Baka encampments. I know, I know, I’m a health volunteer and this sounds like a lot of agro work, but hey, honey and soy is good for health and nutrition, and who can turn down the miracle work of bees?! And this project is something that my community wants and needs. It also needs HIV/AIDS work to be done given that over 60% of Lomié is HIV+, but I have realized that I can talk about HIV and prevention until I’m blue in the face, but the factors that would curb the spread of HIV in Lomié are far out of my control (corruption, logging, poor roads, low incomes, lack of hotels etc). So instead of fighting a losing battle, I decided to work on something that I know will be successful.

If I could travel back in time a year ago and tell my former self that I would be doing beekeeping in a year, my former self would have laughed in my face. I guess life is full of surprises, right? This being one of them. But hey, I love it! I was a big honey and bee pollen eater back in the States (seriously, if you haven’t tried bee pollen – go do it!), so I consider it a blessing really getting to learn more about bees and see the process of how the things I took for granted in the States came to be. Bees are often hated by most people, but did you know that just about any natural food you consume is there because of the hard work of bees? Also, bees don’t want to sting you – they die when they do! We all know that bees pollinate and whatnot, but the work of bees is what can make or break crop production, and here in Lomié, the disappearance of bees is one of the reasons for low crop yields, which then affects village-wide nutrition. Let me rewind and explain all this in a bit more detail.

Second to Honey, the Baka like Mushrooms
A Little Context/Background
I’ve talked about the Baka before in previous posts, and given their needs, most of my work I do is with the Baka around Lomié. But for a quick recap, the Baka ‘pygmies’ are the oldest inhabitants of Cameroon, and their population is most concentrated here in the East region, and extends to neighboring Central African Republic, Republic of Congo and Gabon. Despite having lived in Cameroon’s rainforest for centuries, the Baka are a highly marginalized population, economically, politically, and socially. The Baka are mostly subsistence farmers and are more frequently found working as slave-like laborers on Bantu plantations for very meager wages, which barely support their nutritional and health needs. While the Baka have traditionally been hunter-gatherers, due to over-poaching, logging, and other environmental factors, this means of subsistence is becoming increasingly unviable, so they continue to become poorer.

In addition to hunting and gathering, the Baka have a historic love for foraging wild honey in the rainforest. In this process, a Baka (usually a man) attaches himself to a piece of vine and scales trees 40+ meters tall. Once at the top, he will release himself from the vine, walk among the canopy without any security measures, and then locate the beehive and begin hacking into it as bees come rushing out and start to sting. The Baka then removes the honey combs and passes them down to community members below before beginning his own decent down. In this process, it is not uncommon for a Baka to fall to his death due to a vine breaking or due to one misstep in the canopy. How do the Baka know which trees have beehives? There are birds which sing when they find a beehive. The Baka know this bird call, follow its sound, and look up in the canopy for signs of a hive.

Besides just being dangerous, the process of foraging wild honey is also not the best for the environment. In recent years, rather than risking death, many Baka will cut down the entire tree, but this tends to be drastic for mere spoonfuls of honey. Not to mention, the sound of falling trees scares nearby bees further into the forest, which results in less honey and diminished crop yields in nearby plantations and in the wild due to decreased bee presence.

Baka Children in Pollidor
The Project
The Baka love honey. Who doesn’t? It’s super nutritious and nature’s version of candy! But sadly, all the Baka I talk to can’t remember the last time they found honey due to the reasons I mentioned above. While modern beekeeping has been taught at some nearby Baka encampments before, it hasn’t yet taken off because the Baka don’t have the money to build the beehives. That’s where I come in. The solution to a problem is not by throwing money at it, but in this project, the money I’ll hopefully get will be used to build the beehives and from then on, the rest is self-sustaining.

The beekeeping portion of this project will involve training a group of around 20 men and women (the current list is near 40, but we are factoring in a dropout rate) in modern beekeeping, honey extraction, bee byproduct transformation, and the health benefits of honey. After the training, the Baka will build 40 beehives and split them among the two encampments where the Baka will maintain the hives and harvest the honey, with the help and supervision of an experienced local beekeeper, my counterpart Atangana.

Oh, but wait. My project goes beyond just beekeeping! Bees have to have flowers from which to get pollen and nectar, so what better idea than to start a few plantations with flowering plants and place the beehives inside these plantations?! And what better plant to use than soy?! Yes, I do try to incorporate soy and tofu in anything I can! Soybean plants have flowers which are great for bees, so in an effort to contribute to even better food security among the encampments in which I’ll work, we decided to plant 4 hectares worth of soy at the different encampments that will have the beehives. The reasons for pairing beekeeping and soy cultivation is threefold: (1) teaching the Baka to grow soy will equip the Baka with the knowledge to start caring for own plantations rather than work as servant-like laborers on Bantu plantations; (2) soy cultivation will introduce a nutritious crop that will not only improve the diet of the Baka, but will also serve as an income generating activity by selling the soybeans at the Lomié market, and (3) as previously mentioned, soybeans produce flowers which will give the bees plenty of nectar and pollen so that the honey yield in each of the beehives will be substantial.

So there you have it, I will be planting 10kg worth of soybeans in September, placing beehives in December, planting 20 kg of more soybeans in March and then harvesting all the lovely honey, bee pollen, royal jelly and soybeans in the months thereafter!
Future Beekeeping site of Mokongoya - It's so BIG!!! 

The Who and the Where
There are so many Baka encampments around, so my two counterparts, Atangana (a beekeeper) and Yacouba (my artisan friend and Baka culture preservationist), helped to define a few encampments that would benefit most from this project.

The Adjela encampment right outside Lomié was one chosen site because even despite its close proximity to Lomié, it is the most underdeveloped, malnourished, and poverty-stricken camp in the area. In Adjela, we will do beekeeping and soy cultivation. The group of interested beekeepers is mostly men, but a few brave honey-lovin’ women signed up as well. The site for the beehives is super forested, so that’ll be fun for the men to weed and clean up…not.
Some of the Beekeeping Group from Adjela

The encampment of Mokongoya (the name which took me 2 weeks to learn to pronounce and remember) is another encampment where we will do both beekeeping and soy. The Mokongoya encampment is beautiful – it takes about 45 minutes to get there on a moto (though it isn’t very far – the chief says he walks daily to Lomié and the walk takes about 3 hours) and the way to get there is by a tiny little walking path through the rainforest. The encampment feels like it is in the middle of nowhere (I suppose because it is really in the middle of nowhere), and there are only but 30 people who live there, but there is so much fertile land around, making it a perfect location. Plus the chief, Ambassa, has previously cultivated soy and he is an extremely hard and dedicated worker who is at the encampment all year round, unlike many Baka who retreat even further into the forest during the dry seasons.

The encampment of Pollidor is a third site where we are just going to plant a small plantation of soy and laissé the beekeeping in hopes that the future Mokongoya beekeepers will take it upon themselves to train the Pollidor population on beekeeping. Pollidor is easier to access from Lomié, but it is equally small as Mokongoya, with around 30 or so people.

While the actually beekeeping and soy cultivation will take place at only three encampments, myself and my counterparts will be making visits to all the nearby encampments to train on the health benefits of honey and soy, how to make tofu and soy milk, and how to eat a well-balanced diet in order to remedy the grave malnutrition problems at all the encampments.

Mokongoya Chief Ambassa, His Wife, My two Counterparts,
and a Random Child
The past few weeks have been spent banging my head against my wall due to the fact that I had no electricity to work on the grant electronic application. When I finally did get electricity after two weeks, I then spent another week banging my head against a wall from trying to figure out the budget for the project and figure out how the heck dirt-poor people can contribute 25% of the project funds. Thankfully, I submitted the grant application today (asking for nearly 4,000USD!), so now I wait to hear if it is accepted. If it is (which I sure as heck hope, if not, I’m getting my butt outta Lomié!), then I've got my work cut out for me the next year as we construct, plant, harvest, train, teach, and consume a lot of soy and honey - not to mention a whole lot of Baka culture to absorb. I look forward to my future as an amateur apiarist.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! Love bees. The world needs them desperately. Hate Monsanto and their neoconotidnoids responsible for hive collapse. 'Bee' safe. Love you.

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