Promoting natural forest conservation through beekeeping in Tukombo-Kande landscape in Northern Malawi

Promoting natural forest conservation through beekeeping in Tukombo-Kande landscape in Northern Malawi
A BEEKEEPER SHOWING OFF HONEY HARVESTED FROM HIS HIVE

In view of alarmingly rapid deforestation rate in Malawi at 2.8% per year, it is refreshing to see a huge natural forest deep in Nkhata-bay, northern Malawi. Chiwana and Matete forests are made up of a mosaic of ecosystems and vegetation, providing perfect habitats for life to flourish on land, and are a microcosmic reflection of environmental conditions as well as human influence.

Highlights

  • 150 Kilograms of honey was harvested, yielding MWK225,000 (US$523) in 2014.
  • 32,000 trees (including fruit trees) have been planted by beekeepers.
  • Increased forest cover through designation and protection of 756 hectares of village forest areas and reduced encroachment into Kuwirwi forest reserve.
  • Enhanced natural resource ownership and management through instituted local level governance structures.
  • The wax in each beehive produces 50 – 80 candles which are sold at an average of MWK 80 (US$ 0.2).

After witnessing a lot of tree cutting and bush fires, a group of 10 villagers from Nkhata bay South decided to form a committee to promote afforestation and beekeeping. This was the birth of Kuwirwi-Utoto Village Natural Resources & Management CBO (KUTO). They acquired 6 beehives and began practising beekeeping, as an important sustainable and alternative source of income in Mtowole and Chavula villages, benefiting communities living in and around the forests. Following a successful application for funding, KUTO received US$25,000 grant courtesy of the Community Development and Knowledge Management for the Satoyama Initiative (COMDEKS) Project delivered through the UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme. With this, they bought another 150 beehives which were distributed amongst 15 groups of 300 men and women.

Each year harvests peak in the months of June, August, September and November.  A good harvest yields 35 kilograms of honey per beehive. This honey is processed traditionally, packaged in recycled bottles then sold locally at Chintheche market. In 2014, a total of 150 Kilograms of honey was harvested. Why has mankind been so interested in beekeeping over the centuries? You can bet that the first motivator was honey. After all, for many years and long before cane sugar, honey was the primary sweetener in use.

Beekeeping is one of the socio-economic activities, which are friendly to forests and the environment in general. Although practised by many small farmers, beekeeping is often not fully appreciated by policy-makers. This is evidenced by a general lack of support mechanisms for these small beekeepers. In many ecosystems, bees are important pollinators ensuring the maintenance of those ecosystems. For a long time, agriculture has recognized the value of pollination by bees. Even backyard beekeepers witness dramatic improvements in their gardens yield: more and larger fruits, flowers and vegetables.

The rewards of beekeeping extend beyond honey and pollination. Bees produce other products that can be harvested and put to good use, including beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. Even the pollen they bring back to the hive can be harvested (it's rich in protein and makes a healthy food supplement in our own diets). Honey is also exploited for its diverse medicinal value. Beekeeping can also be a practical tool for raising the awareness of these communities of the importance of good management of their forests and for stimulating their conservation, thereby improving their biodiversity stock.

In a bid to protect the areas under forests land, 4 Area Development Committees (ADCs) and 40 Village Development Committees (VDCs) were trained on afforestation. Each village’s forest area is protected by bylaws formulated at VDC level. Since 2014, 32,000 trees (including fruit trees) have been planted by the beekeepers. Tree cutting has reduced by a third and bush fires are now being controlled.

Mr. Audney Nkhata (pictured above), one of the founding members advocates for tree planting, especially fruit trees. Several trees, with different harvest times, can bring fruit to the table throughout the year. Apart from their nutritional value, fruit trees have other benefits. In settings with few trees, storm water management is often a problem. Although storm water seems harmless, without proper absorption runoff water gathers and carries pollutants that travel to streams, rivers and, ultimately, the lake. This runoff also leads to erosion on hillsides. Fruit trees help to eliminate some storm water management problems and erosion by absorbing some of the runoff and using it for hydration after a rainstorm.

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