Togo: The man who lives amongst the bees

| February 8, 2016

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Agbegna Obed smiles as he looks at the hives in his backyard garden, holding a honeycomb in his hands. No one dares venture near his house on their own for fear of being stung by his bees.

Proudly, Mr. Obed explains: “Bees follow specific paths. We must know them in order not to get stung. As you can see, I have six hives in my garden. Each bee colony follows its own path. I also installed four hives in the bush because I lacked the space.”

The 69-year-old beekeeper planted an array of plants in his garden which provide pollen and nectar to satisfy his productive pollinators. He explains, “The bees love the nectar in the flowers. This allows them to produce more honey.”

Mr. Obed turned to beekeeping five years ago. Before that, the retired tax inspector farmed and kept animals in his spare time. But he had dreamed of beekeeping since high school, when he came across a book called The Honey Road. The book taught him all he needed to know about bees.DSCF9117 DSCF9107

But it was only after he purchased poor quality honey that he knew he had to create his own. He explains: “I remember one day I bought a litre of honey for 700 FCFA [about $1.15 US]. I got home and I realized that it was very bad quality … And since I had planned to get into beekeeping, I decided to go ahead.”

His commitment to good quality honey paid off. His harvest is so good that he markets it to the Togolese authorities. Thanks in part to word of mouth and to his niece who works in a large hotel in Lomé, the Togolese capital, his honey is popular. Some of his major clients are embassies.

At the beginning, it wasn’t easy, and he struggled to make sales. He recalls: “At first, people thought I imported honey from France to resell here in Togo. But that is not the case and, if I produce good quality honey, it’s because I have created an environment conducive to the production of honey. I planted a lot of flowers, and especially trees like eucalyptus and moringa.”

At first, Mr. Obed harvested between 8 and 10 litres of honey every six months. To meet increasing demand, he turned to a Ghanaian beekeeper for help. He explains: “Before, I used to put several frames in the same hive. But having many frames considerably reduces the space [on which bees can produce honey] in the hives. So my beekeeper friend from Ghana suggested I reduce the number of frames per hive. I used to put 10 frames in each hive but now I only use six … Today, with this method, I only need to wait a month and a half before having between 14 and 16 litres of honey per hive.”

Mr. Obed hasn’t reached his goal yet. His current production barely provides for his needs and those of his four children. On top of that, he’s had to deal with theft of his hives and predators such as ants, termites, and lizards. To prevent lizards from attacking, Mr. Obed put his hives out of reach, on top of large tins.

Despite these difficulties, he’s been working tirelessly to manufacture new hives since he retired. He’s also hoping to get a grant from the government or from other donors to help him develop his beekeeping business.