Hyacinth Douglas & Leonie Barnaby | Beekeeping: A nature-based solution for poverty reduction
Bees are our undervalued companions in building a local economy in which many, regardless of their station in life, can participate. It is virtually impossible for us to overstate the value of the bee in preserving biodiversity while sustaining livelihoods.
Bees are vital parts of a life cycle that sustains our food security as most crops, including vegetables, are pollinated by honeybees. In some cases, the establishment and operation of apiaries has helped to transform the lives of people by providing a good source of income, while increasing awareness of the importance of natural resources and their role in preserving our environment for present and future generations.
In Jamaica, beekeeping is a very old practice that has been passed on through generations and has been well established in virtually all parishes. Through the work of United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) GEF Small Grants Programme (SGB), which supports beekeeping in pursuit of poverty reduction through a nature-based approach to development, we are committed to strengthening this traditional livelihood, recognising that it helps to diversify local economies and feeds families in rural communities.
Over a 10-year period spanning 2009 to 2019, the GEF Small Grants Programme has supported the beekeeping industry at the community level with training, equipment and knowledge exchanges to the tune of USD$372,635 – the equivalent of JMD$56.6 million. Having garnered significant experience in supporting beekeeping, the UNDP/GEF SGP agrees there is still much work to be done to return to, and surpass, production levels in previous years, in order to boost the contribution of beekeeping to economic growth and job creation.
One of the critical areas to be addressed is capacity building and knowledge management. To this end, research should be an ongoing activity at the national level because, too often, agricultural initiatives fail due to limited research. Beekeeping has a learning curve which some people tend to ignore before establishing their apiary. It is very important to secure appropriate knowledge of the process and requirements before starting out. Initial knowledge saves time, money and, most importantly, helps bees to get stronger. Today, while it is possible to browse valuable knowledge products online, key resources remain inaccessible for many local and vulnerable communities whose best means of survival is beekeeping.
Having in-depth knowledge of beekeeping is a good start, but it is not just about establishing an apiary, as one of the UNDP/GEF SGP’s latest grantees, the Sawyers Local Forest Management Committee Benevolent Society, would tell you. Learning both the theory and practical areas of beekeeping is the ideal. The Apiary Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has been working with most of our local communities in terms of offering training, but the current gap, which is knowing the theory on beekeeping and the important role the environment plays, needs to be adequately addressed. For example, training with Sawyers LFMC included sessions on bee caring (understanding the queen, knowing when to split, when to visit the hives, etc) and apiary management (location of apiary, what equipment to purchase and how to use them, movement around the apiary, etc). This group also addressed means of expanding the operations of the apiary, to include new members of the community, sharing their practical experiences, and, in addition, is committed to maintaining the forested areas.
The development of simple reference guides in multimedia formats for new bee farmers could also be useful. For the sustainability of apiculture, more focus should be placed on learning/training while linking the important role of the natural resources which the bees depend on. While this is accessible through private operators and a few government agencies, this should be incorporated into the agriculture curriculum in schools to ensure sound knowledge of the theory of beekeeping. This could be the best medium to bring greater awareness and youth involvement to this industry, while, on the other hand, awareness sessions on the many by-products and their benefits could be established at the national level.
Another concern is the location to set up an apiary. A forested area is more ideal, but uncertainties and conflicts over landownership has always been a problem for the local communities, especially those in the areas designated as protected areas. We believe that bee farmers who operate within forest reserves should be able to own these lands and/or have co-management arrangements with the Government to better support these nature-based initiatives that are more sustainable and environmentally-friendly and by extension, boost our economic growth.
While investing in beekeeping takes time and can be challenging, it is a worthwhile venture that offers not only honey, but viable by-products, such as bee pollen and beeswax. This strikes an uncommon balance between natural resource preservation and livelihoods, while the development of markets and certification of products can lead to greater impact. On the occasion of World Bee Day and this year’s planned launch of the Decade on Ecosystem Conservation, it is an opportune time for us to learn more about the critical role of the mighty bees and their impact on biodiversity and local contributions to sustainable development. The UNDP/GEF SGP lauds the Government of Jamaica for a step in the right direction regarding their initiative to support the beekeeping industry with the allocation of JMD$35 million towards capacity-building interventions for bee farmers.
With the restriction of honey import to Jamaica, every effort should be made to ensure that the local industry is a vibrant, productive and sustainable one. As such, monitoring systems should be in place to ensure certification of the practices and quality of products available to consumers. Beekeeping is one of those rare instances where humans and environment can co-exist. This is undeniably a win-win and a major plus for national development aspirations. UNDP/GEF SGP remains committed to supporting Jamaica in this journey. Happy World Bee Day.
Hyacinth Douglas is the UNDP/GEF Small Grants Programme national coordinator for Jamaica, and Leonie Barnaby is chair of the of the GEF SGP National Steering Committee in Jamaica.