Who needs oil when we have honey. South Sudan’s lush greenbelt forests raise the promise of ‘rivers of honey’ fuelling a potentially lucrative export market.
As we pull ourselves out of a destructive civil war and readjust to confronting the challenges of development (having made things considerably more difficult for ourselves I might add) it’s worth looking at the humble bee and the South Sudanese bee-keepers who look after them as an example for sustainable development through enterprise.
Fact: It takes three honeybees their entire lives to make just one teaspoon of honey.
Rivers of Honey
Honey Care Africa is a company that’s been working in Kenya for around a decade. It decided to expand its operations to South Sudan after noticing opportunities for honey production in the lush forests of our Equatorian green belt. Ever since, Honey Care Africa has invested $1 million USD and has been working with local beekeepers to develop an export market with lucrative potential.
As Reuters reported earlier in the year, Honey Care Africa was expecting to deliver 60 tonnes to markets in Kenya. And their South Sudanese partners expect to earn around $50 USD a year from each beehive they manage. Production could eventually grow over time to exceed Zambia’s 300 tonnes.
“When I get the money from the honey, I pay the school fees of my children. I buy other things like sugar, tomatoes, onions. I keep some money with me for emergencies in case my children get sick” – Lilian Sadia James, Beekeeper
Honey Care Africa’s model is simple enough. Provide locals with high quality beehives, secure a contract with them to exclusively provide honey at a guaranteed price, provide them with experts for guidance and support, and finally collect and deliver the honey for processing near their market in Kenya.
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, Barbara Gemmill-Herren rightly warns that previous projects that raised expectations of “rivers of honey” have mostly proven a disappointed. So it’s best to manage our expectations and keep them modest. Honey Care Africa actually sees itself as an enabler and works towards making itself gradually irrelevant as a self-financing beekeeping industry develops in the country. And they’re quick to point out that beekeeping isn’t just about the honey or the money that can be made from it.
It’s been said that honeybees are the “greatest pollinating machine when it comes to agriculture”. You can move colonies to wherever they’re needed and they tell each other how to get to nectar sweet spots. That makes having a thriving honey bee population really important as we look to develop our country’s agricultural sector. You simply can’t have extensive agriculture without bees.
Despite colony collapsing diseases that are sweeping the world and threatening global agricultural productivity, some reports suggest the global population of managed honeybee hives continues to increase. South Sudan needs to learn from the experiences of others and develop its own population if we ever want to make extensive agriculture a reality in our own country.
From the towns to the villages
We South Sudanese citizens can learn a lot from companies like Honey Care Africa. Academics have noted that development needs to focus more on rural areas for poverty reduction and we need many new experiments in sustainable enterprise and sustainable livelihoods. But we also need to look at the longer term and discriminate between the extractive initiatives that’ll give us short lived relief (such as reckless teak tree logging) and those initiatives that provide a firm foundation on which we can expand our development effort and reach more of our jobless and poverty stricken citizens.
Beekeeping has proved itself a viable export driven alternative to crude oil. Beekeeping also enables the expansion of our agricultural sector. We should all get behind it and support it in any way we can.
Anyone for South Sudanese honey?