Zambia: Farmer finds bees illuminating and profitable

| January 5, 2015

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Joseph Lungu never went to school. He was married at eighteen and a father of three at twenty-four. He scratched a living from a poor patch of sandy ground he inherited from his late father.

Mr. Lungu lives with his family near Lundazi in eastern Zambia, about 15 kilometres from the border with Malawi. As Lundazi grew, the city needed sand for building. Joseph’s land was the closest source of the right quality sand. Bulldozers cleared the shrubs, excavators gouged big pits, and tipper trucks arrived daily to collect the sand.

Mr. Lungu says, “I saw this as an opportunity for me to benefit. [I charged] everyone who wanted sand a certain amount per truckload.”

But his land quickly turned into a gaping hole, useless for farming. The hole filled with water during the rainy season, encouraging an explosion of mosquitoes. The area was a potential death trap for his young children. Selling sand proved to be an irregular source of cash, and Mr. Lungu found it difficult to provide for his family.

Then he met Timothy Phiri, an extension agent with the Zambian NGO Community Markets for Conservation, or COMACO. COMACO promotes the conservation of nature, especially animals and trees.

Mr. Phiri taught locals to improve the environment through organic farming methods. He encouraged them to make compost and use livestock manure. He also taught them how leguminous trees such as musangu and Gliricidia improve soil fertility. In addition, farmers were encouraged to practice good crop rotation.

Mr. Phiri brought Mr. Lungu some tree seedlings and showed him how to best plant them. Mr. Lungu was reluctant at first, but soon filled his plot with trees.

After four years, Mr. Lungu placed some hollow-log bee hives in the trees. Mr. Phiri advised him to grow sunflowers, saying, “The sunflowers give good vegetable cooking oil. They are also a source of pollen for the bees.”

Mr. Lungu started with five hives. He was so excited by his first honey harvest that he decided to expand his business by investing in more hives.

Mr. Phiri told him about an improved hive made of planks from a fast-growing tree species called Gmelina arborea. This type of hive can be used continuously for many years, meaning that trees can be left to grow rather than being cut down.

Mr. Lungu says he is no longer worried about how he and his family will survive. He does not use fertilizer on his crops any longer and says that he will never use pesticides again. He explains, “My bees! They depend on the flowers from my woodlot and field crops to make honey. If I started spraying my crops, many of them would die and I would lose.”

With the income from selling his honey, Mr. Lungu built a new five-room house with a veranda and separate kitchen. The house is clean and the floor highly polished – with beeswax! Mrs. Lungu also uses the wax to make the candles which light her home at night.

Using split bamboo poles as moulds, she mixes the wax with kerosene and uses the mixture to repel bees and other insects from the house. She sells the product to friends and cannot keep up with demand.

Mr. Lungu says: “None of my children think trees must be cut down for anything. Instead, we all respect trees and know that they must be planted for a purpose. So every year, everyone in this family plants at least five trees.”

(Originally published on June 16, 2014)