Photo Essay: Community and school beekeeping clubs in Cameroon

By Renée Bogda
Sept. 14, 2018

While still in its infancy in Cameroon, beekeeping has proven to be an extremely worthwhile practice among early adopters. 

In addition to its financial potential, beekeeping is a non-strenuous, environmentally protective activity that can easily fit into a farmer’s regular routine.

In Cameroon, particularly the southernmost regions of the country, most farmers practice subsistence farming – meaning they grow what they need to feed their families – while relying on the singular cash crop of cocoa for their yearly income. This financial strain that comes with relying on a single crop can be burdensome for farmers, particularly in the months right before their next cocoa harvest.

Beekeeping is a viable way for farmers to steady their income, as it yields non-perishable products such as honey and beeswax, which also are harvested in these regions during cocoa’s off-season. However, since beekeeping is not widely practiced in the area where I serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, many farmers are unaware of its potential. Those who are aware are often limited by lack of both training and means, or are frightened of bees due to local superstition, and therefore never begin. When someone’s livelihood is dependent on their successes on the farm, it can be extremely risky to divert time and money to any new venture.

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Participants in one of our beekeeping clubs ready materials for a new hive.

In order to try to mitigate these risks and encourage the adoption of beekeeping, my counterpart and I devised a plan and applied for a USAID-supported grant through the Peace Corps Small Grants program. Together, we selected 15 groups comprised of farmers and school students to receive training and basic starter equipment. 

Before receiving materials to start their own hives, each group attends at least two theoretical training sessions to learn the essentials of beekeeping. Then, they assemble two hives and receive their supplies. We store surplus materials at my counterpart’s office/training center, where they are available for any member of the community to borrow.

Specifically, we designed this project to target women and youth groups. By encouraging school-aged students to learn about beekeeping, children and young adults receive early insight into new entrepreneurial practices, and both boys and girls work together to achieve their goals. Younger generations are also more likely to be receptive to beekeeping, as young people typically accept new information more readily. We have already seen this as we try to de-mythologize bees.

We chose women because we wanted to help empower females in Cameroon. Cameroon is a country with clear gender roles and, in general, Cameroonian women are responsible for managing the household. This role is incredibly demanding and since beekeeping is neither time- nor labor-intensive, female beekeepers are able to supplement their income while still performing all of their personal and familial responsibilities.

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The project begins with two theoretical training sessions. In the sessions, participants receive a basic introduction to bees and beekeeping while also learning about the products of the hive, how to sell and transform those products, and the environmental impact of beekeeping. This particular training session took place in my village, and was attended by one of the farmer groups with whom I have worked closely since arriving in Cameroon. The man leading the training is my counterpart and our local beekeeping expert. He played a pivotal role in the creation of this project.
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In addition to targeting farmer groups, our project was also designed for schools around the community. The students shown here attend an agricultural technical training school. Their teachers are also sitting in on the session so that hopefully in the future, beekeeping can be added into the regular curriculum.
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After the introductory classes, each participating group learns how to build their own hives. Every group assembles two wooden Kenyan Top-Bar (KTB) hives. This kind of hive was selected because it can easily be constructed out of local materials, is production efficient, and is user-friendly for beginners. The woman pictured above is a member of the women’s cooperative in my community. She is using an iron plane to flatten the edges of the bottom of her hive before installing the base.
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The last step in assembling the hives together is to paint them. While it is not strictly necessary to paint the hives for them to still be successful, it is a helpful step for weatherproofing, adding a protective layer against termites and other insects, and creating a colorful homing beacon for the bees.
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Once the hives have been completed, we move into the bush to install them.
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Once the land is cleared and the hives are installed, the beekeeper baits the hive by rubbing citronella on the insides and top bars. Citronella is chosen as the attracting agent because it is readily available in this area of Cameroon and, importantly, it is appealing to bees. Sometimes, no further steps need to be taken and a group of bees will naturally colonize the hive. However, other times it is necessary to take further measures, and each group is encouraged to be on the lookout for wild hives so they can learn how to capture the queen and relocate it into a man-made hive.
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Now that the hives are set up, the members of each group receive their beekeeping starter materials, and are trained in how to use them. These materials include one smoker, one hive opener, and two half-suits with gloves. Here my counterpart has just finished lighting the smoker, and is explaining how to properly use it when approaching the hive.
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At the end of the training program, the groups pose for some final photos. Here, the agricultural training school participants stand proud around their finished hive.
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We worked with this group in a neighboring village. It’s led by members of a women’s cooperative, but several other members of the community also showed up to work with them and be trained.
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Finally, after the end of a long school day, some students celebrate with an impromptu dance.

The project above was funded through the Small Project Assistance Program (SPA). SPA is a joint collaboration between USAID and the Peace Corps which allows Peace Corps Volunteers to participate with USAID in development efforts, helping communities to implement small, self-help activities, in sectors ranging from health to agriculture to small enterprise development. Click here to learn more about SPA. 

As one of 11 agencies that comprise Feed the Future, the Peace Corps has been actively involved in developing the U.S. Government’s Global Food Security Strategy [PDF] under the Global Food Security Act, and we are excited about our role moving forward. Read the Peace Corps Global Food Security Implementation Plan [PDF] to learn more about how Peace Corps Volunteers around the world are working with their communities to #endhunger. 

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