Côte d’Ivoire: Former cocoa farmer finds happiness in beekeeping

| February 1, 2016

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Marcellin Yao Yao tells anyone who will listen that he owes his life to bees. Every day, the 50-year-old beekeeper hops on his motorcycle or walks to his beehives just outside the village of Soungassou, in the east-central part of Côte d’Ivoire.

Dressed in a white protective suit that covers his entire body, Mr. Yao Yao scans the hives, then cleans and repositions them. He’s satisfied this morning. He explains, “Once night falls, I can come and harvest this honey.”

Mr. Yao Yao calls himself a bee connoisseur, but that wasn’t always the case. Like many farmers in his village, he grew cocoa for many years. But the drought that is particularly severe in that part of Côte d’Ivoire hurt his cocoa production. Many families decided to migrate west, but Mr. Yao Yao remained in Soungassou. He abandoned cocoa and tried growing yams and maize. But his harvests were barely enough to feed his family.

In 2008, Mr. Yao Yao had a chance encounter that changed his life. He explains: “We were sitting in the village and an Israeli man by the name of Basmont Mondo came to us. He went around the villages to offer beekeeping equipment―everything from frames to smokers to extractors with tanks for processing and packaging the honey. He also talked about how to do beekeeping.”

After the meeting, Mr. Yao Yao wanted to learn more. He traveled to the office of the National Agency for Rural Development Support in Dimbokro, 12 kilometres from his village. He received basic training, advice, and encouragement. One of his brothers also gave him a helping hand by offering to buy him 200 hives. He harvested about 250 litres of honey the first year. At 1,500 FCFA per litre ($2.50 US), he earned 375,000 FCFA (about $620 US).

Marcellin Yao Yao

Marcellin Yao Yao. Credit: Issiaka N’Guessan

He recalls: “The whole village was amazed by my success. We all realized that the bees were the source of my income, good friends who came to save me and my family from our difficult situation.”

Mr. Yao Yao’s success encouraged many local farmers to start beekeeping, including 46-year-old Mathias Konan. Mr. Konan says: “I saw that Marcellin was making a living from his honey, so I also gave it a shot. I started with four hives. Today, I have 25. The revenues from the sale of honey help me a lot to improve the lives of my family.”

Justin N’Guessan also found success with beekeeping. He says, “With my 30 hives, I harvest all year. After two years of production, I could build a house. Today, I sell a litre of honey for 2,500 FCFA ($4 US).”

Mr. Yao Yao remembers exactly what he did with the profit from his first honey harvest. He recalls: “The money I earned with the first harvest allowed me to enroll [my children] in a private school. My daughter became a teacher and now supports me … The bees—I owe them my life.”

Mr. Yao Yao trains other village producers who are interested in beekeeping. And that’s only the beginning. He wants to set up a social rehabilitation centre to help young people through beekeeping.