— How USAID’s West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change project is changing the lives of struggling farmers in Grand Cape County
A few years ago, Aaron Peter, a father of six children, was living in abject poverty as he struggled to feed or send his children to school.
Back then, he was involved in small scale farming and could barely make enough from crop sales despite working hard to increase the harvest. But now, the situation has changed for Aaron Peter, as he can afford to take care of his family’s needs daily.
Like many of his colleagues in Fula Camp, located around the Mano River Kongo, close to the Gola National Peace Park in Grand Cape Mount County, Peter’s breakthrough came in 2019 after he was recruited and trained in improved bees production under the USAID sponsored project of the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC)—and implemented by the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), through Vainga Agriculture Development Management Consultancy (VADEMCO).
“I must admit, I was struggling to take care of my family when I was not into bee farming. But now, this is not the case as I can provide for my family regularly as well as taking care of other needs. Now, I have a saving for myself and my family — a situation which was not possible years ago,” Peter said.
The project, according to USAID and the implementing partners, was initiated to train farmers in improved bees’ production as an alternative livelihood option to preserve the Gola forest, which is home to endangered species that existing between Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The project also focused on building the capacities of low-land and groundnut farmers as well as cocoa farmers to improve their harvest for income expansion instead of encroaching on the protected forest wildlife or minerals.
As a bee farmer, Peter, who once lived in poverty, now produces 18 gallons of honey per harvest after every six months from his three bees hives. Sometimes, if harvest goes well, Peter’s beehives can produce up to 22 gallons per harvest, which increases revenue for him.
Peter added: “Bee farming allows me to make more profit with less effort, as compared to the hunting and cutting down of hardwood in the forest for farming, which consumes more time. It is an alternative livelihood to help farmers preserve the forest and protect the animals.”
Peter and his colleagues from Fula Camp and other surrounding villages were trained to setup the beehives and get the empty honeycombs, melt them and put them in the hives to attract the bees.
According to him, with the new education, farmers have been able to understand the importance of protecting and preserving the forest for future generations, amid efforts to mitigate climate change.
Like Peter, Joe Dahn, who is a resident of Green-Bar City, has seen his income improved and his ability to provide on-time for his family as a bee and cocoa farmer.
“With sales from bee farming, I can now regularly pay my seven children’s tuition and put food on our table. This was not the case years back. Also, with bee farming; it is easy and comes with less effort, unlike the old farming method that requires a lot of strength, energy, and consumes more time,” Dahn added.
Although Dahn doesn’t have a large beehive, he still makes US$204 (L$39,984) per six-month harvest or more when the harvest is good.
“I am grateful for what I am making now because I was not making much money,” Dahn added. “The amount might sound little to others but it is enough money that can solve my problems. I am also focusing on increasing my beehives to expand my income.”
Unlike Peter, Dahn is also into cocoa farming, after having acquired advance knowledge from the project to supplement his bees farming income.
“Upon my first cocoa harvest, which will take place after one-year eight months, I intend to use the money from there to enlarge my farm to a cocoa plantation because I think my children will be able to harvest when I am dead,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dahn also encouraged other farmers to join the preservation of forests because there are huge future benefits not just from the community but also for the near future.
About honey bees
According to Arizona State University’s Ask A Biologist, there are three types of honey bees within a hive: the queen, the workers, and the drones. A queen bee is the only female bee in the hive that gets to reproduce. Worker bees are all female and are all offspring of the queen. But there are males in the hive called drones.
Only one queen lives in a hive. She is the largest bee in the colony, with a long and graceful body. She is the only female with fully developed ovaries. The queen’s two primary purposes are to produce chemical scents that help regulate the unity of the colony and to lay lots of eggs.
Each hive of bees can produce anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds of honey on average per year (depending on a variety of factors such as geographic location, weather, temperature, pests, local flora, and more). Some hives can produce much greater amounts under ideal management conditions.