BUEA, South West — A community radio station is saving and transforming bee farming along the slopes of Mount Cameroon, thanks to it reporting on a subject often overlooked by the media.
Bonakanda Rural Radio (BRR) has been producing a series of environmental and climate change stories over the past months as part of a project with US-based NGO, Developing Radio Partners. The goal is to help listeners – who are mostly farmers – build resilience against the impacts of climate change.
One of those stories has focused on bee-keeping.
The villagers who call Mount Cameroon home believe the honey that comes from its forests is the most medicinal in the world.
For centuries, their ancestors harvested honey from natural hives deep in the forest, which is swarming with bees around April each year, when wild flowers are richest in nectar.
But corn and yam growers came and cleared acres of forests, destroying natural hives and forcing bees to move deeper into the hills, where they are now out of bounds for honey collectors because the mountain has been turned into a national park.
As the years passed, bee farming slowly died around Mount Cameroon, the highest peak in West Africa.
Honey production slumped well below rising demand, says Emmanuel Ndongo, the traditional ruler of Bonakanda, a village on the slopes of the mountain, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
REVERSING THE DECLINE
In February 2016, Bonakanda Rural Radio, which broadcasts from Bonakanda, began a movement that could turn around the region’s falling bee-farming and honey fortunes.
Interest in integrated bee farming has increased in the area since BRR host Thompson Evambe sat a bee farmer and a tomato grower face to face to discuss how they could each benefit from their separate activities.
The program was aired only once in February 2016, but “sparked strong interest” in the days and weeks that followed.
“Farmers called the radio, stopped me in the streets and phoned the guests,” says Evambe. “They wanted to know if they could place hives among their crops, how to avoid stings and what benefits bee farming brought beyond extra revenue.”
One of the two guests who spoke on the show was Samuel Lyonga, the president of Bonakanda-Bova Bee Farming Group (BOBEEFAG), a local organisation that represents the area’s remaining bee farmers.
After the radio show, he says, the number of people reaching out to the organisation increased. Using the radio again, Lyonga invited farmers to learn bee farming from his organisation. More than thirty people showed up during the first training in February.
“People were eager to pay the registration fee of CFA10,000 [about $16],” says Evambe.
In April, farmers are looking forward to setting up their first hives, when flowering and bee swarming are at their peak. With demand for honey now well above supply, they are looking forward to the extra revenue that integrating bee farming with the growing of crops will bring.
Even then, they stand to benefit more, says Lyonga, because “bees help in pollination and can potentially increase the size and quality of crop yield.”
Traditional authorities are also tapping into the new enthusiasm and trying to tackle the other problem plaguing bee farming: that of its aging practitioners.
Ndongo, the chief of Bonakanda, attended the bee farming training and has been wooing younger members of his community to take up the activity.
“This is something they can do, instead of sitting around all day, doing nothing,” he says.
Ndongo is talking with officials of the ministry of forestry and wildlife to create a community forest along the limits of his village and the mountain park area.
“We could do bee farming in that forest,” he says. “Our honey is better than any other; our honey is more medicinal than Oku honey.”
Oku Honey, which comes from Mount Oku in the northwest region, is considered one of the best varieties of natural honey and is now bottled and sold worldwide. Ndongo says he wants that reputation for his village.
Staffers at Bonakanda Rural Radio are excited about the power that their station has had in helping to bring back the tradition of bee-keeping – a result of a project with Developing Radio Partners at the African Climate Policy Centre – which provided on-site and hands-on training, mentoring and equipment to the station.
“The support has increased the radio’s interest in climate change and improved the quality of our radio programs,” says station manager Amos Evambe.