B is for Beekeeping!
In this series of short blogs, we’re working through the alphabet to highlight the approaches – some more surprising than others – that we take at CHIPS to grassroots peacemaking!
Bees have traditionally had a bad rap – they swarm, they sting and, well, they are generally seen as a nuisance! But more recently their benefits have become better appreciated and, since 2014, the CHIPS Ghana team has been training people in how to keep bees and harvest and sell honey.
Our team provides materials, helps villagers to form themselves into groups, arranges training to help build expertise, and supports them in finding markets for trading. Beekeeping has since evolved to become one of our six core projects in the region.
So why is beekeeping a good idea and how does it contribute to peacemaking?
For most people in rural Ghana, subsistence farming is the main source of household income. But regular droughts, and climate change more generally, are affecting yields.
The food insecurity that results from this only aggravates tensions between the Nanumba and Konkomba tribes as prices rise, theft increases and people become desperate. But through beekeeping, in conjunction with our larger animal rearing project, the CHIPS team helps households to reduce their reliance on traditional crops.
With a growing population, conflict over land ownership is a regular occurrence. Sadly, this often ends up being expressed in terms of inter-ethnic tension. That’s particularly the case during autumn, when Ghana’s farmers are clearing their land and preparing for next year’s crops and disputes rise again to the surface.
Young adults who don’t own any land face their own frustrations, and many young men and women are forced to migrate to urban areas in search of work – often in unskilled and unsafe jobs. However, the harvesting of honey can help to reduce tensions over land and provide ‘land-less’ villagers with new possibilities for generating income on the side.
Supporting local tradespeople
Beekeeping is a specialist practice which requires carefully-constructed hives and protective clothing. And producing this equipment demands a degree of expertise – it isn’t something you can easily do at home.
The CHIPS team turns this into an opportunity to support and build on indigenous knowledge. We use local carpenters and tailors to build the hives and to make the protective clothing, which in turn supports the local community and helps to sustain livelihoods.
Traditionally in the West we think of honey as something to spread on bread, but it is finding a growing range of other uses. With the rise of heart conditions, obesity, and diabetes often associated with high sugar intake, honey is seen as a healthier and more natural alternative – for example as a sweetener for tea and porridge.
Honey is also increasingly valued for its medicinal purposes – and is even used within the UK’s National Health Service in treating wounds. We expect this trend to continue and our groups in Ghana already successfully use honey to create cough medicines, soaps and skin ointments.
One of our bee farming centres is located on disputed farmland between two opposing villages. This is deliberate – it forces people from both sides to come together within a zone of conflict and break down barriers!
Where possible, we try to bring people from opposing sides within our beekeeping groups, so they are able to get to know one another, and forge new relationships across the divide. This summer, for example, we formed a new mixed-tribe group with five hives, and it has been wonderful to observe the members opening up with each other and become friends.
Fighting climate change
Did you know that three out of every four crops which produce fruits or seeds for human food depend on pollination? But recent research suggests that bees and other pollinators are declining by as much as 30% annually – due in significant part to climate change.
If this trend continues, the cost of our fruit and vegetables could soar, and our balanced diet could be increasingly substituted by less nutritious staples. So our beekeeping work is also playing a part, in its own small way, in helping to combat the effects of climate change in Ghana!
Creating a buzz
The communities we work with want to see change. They know that with a few extra jobs and a few extra skills, they can improve their own outlook and help future generations to thrive.
Through our beekeeping project, we help the people we work with to keep skills within communities, while bringing opposing sides together at the same time.
That’s why beekeeping is creating a buzz in Ghana and deserves its place in our A to Z of practical peacemaking!