In Edouwoussi, a forest beekeeping co-operative relies on harmony between the bees’ well-being and forest conservation for its success. Here, farmers practice apitherapy (or bee therapy), an ancient and ongoing practice that can only continue if the forest is healthy and many bees find shelter in it.
Edouwoussi is a small rural community in Amou-Oblo district, about 190 km from Lomé, the capital city of Togo. Emmanuel Edouwossi coordinates the activities of the community co-operative, a beekeeping farm and plantation called La Ferme Apicole et Plantation Iwleledou.
Mr. Edouwossi says: “Since 1995, we have tried to restore the forest based on local plants that are known and that are useful to our community. We introduce beehives in the forest to make our activities profitable, and [we] support our financial needs based on products from the bees.”
Under the governance of chief Togbui Edouwossi, the co-operative combines certain forest plants with honey to make ointments and soaps with therapeutic properties.
The ointments are recommended for treating skin infections like acne or scarring, and for massages. If needed, apitherapists also prescribe ointments and soaps made from shea butter and beeswax to complete the skin care regimen and to relieve tiredness and muscular pain.
Chief Togbui Edouwossi says, “Here, we treat asthma and many other respiratory diseases based on plants and substances derived from beehives.”
To meet the continuously increasing demand, the co-operative plans to expand production. The coordinator explains, “We are always out of stock, whether it is of honey, the [other] products derived from the beehive, or our soaps and ointments.”
Beekeeping is a growing industry in Togo. According to national statistics, Togo had around 21,000 beehives managed by 1,500 producers in 2017.
Over the past few decades, beekeepers have been changing their practices in order to protect bees. Traditionally, farmers practiced a form of honey harvesting which involved searching for wild hives in the forest and smoking out the bees to harvest the honey. In French this is called “chasse au miel” or the “honey hunt.” But according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, this practice can be dangerous. It can contribute to reducing the population of some species of bees and destroying their habitat. “Honey hunters” can also cause forest fires.
Now, beekeepers prefer to set up their own beehives, which makes it easier for them to collect honey.
But it’s not just traditional apitherapy that is expanding the honey industry. In March 2019, a large international company called the Koster Group signed a contract with Togolese beekeepers to purchase 3.5 tonnes of beeswax per year. Over the next four years, this market opportunity will revolutionize bee culture in Togo, to the great satisfaction of the farmers who continue to join together in co-operatives to increase their bargaining power and get better market prices.