Sticky business: How Cameroon’s beekeepers’ are tasting sweet success

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Women making their mark on the beekeeping industry. Photo courtesy of Verina Ingram.

NGAOUNDAL, Cameroon (12 April, 2011)_Until recently, beekeepers in Cameroon have had little access to market opportunities. Now as a result of CIFOR’S research, a small- scale enterprise, Guiding Hope, is helping local beekeepers realise the profits that have eluded them for too long.

“Beekeepers of Cameroon, let’s rise and build together” uttered Ousmanou Bardé, a beekeeper and new honorary president of the first National Gathering of the Beekeepers of Cameroon in August 2010. His surprise and delight at seeing nearly 100 beekeepers from all over regions of Cameroon gathered in the town of Ngaoundal was visible. Some had travelled for nearly two days, on hot trains and packed into overcrowded vans amidst chickens and children, dodging roadblocks and muddy potholes to attend a meeting organised by Guiding Hope – a young group of social entrepreneurs who are revitalizing Cameroon’s beekeeping sector “, reports CIFOR scientist Verina Ingram and Justin Njikeu,  in their article Sweet, Sticky and Sustainable Business,  which received the ‘Science and Practice of Ecology and Society Award’ in March 2011.

Humble beginnings

The story of Guiding Hope began in 2003 when preliminary research by the group into forest-based beekeeping practices revealed some interesting results. Beekeeping in Cameroon was big business.  In the Adamaoua and Northwest provinces of Cameroon, honey production in particular formed the one of the backbones of the rural economy.  In 2010, the sale of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as honey, wax, and propolis generated 52% of the average household income for beekeepers in these regions. However despite its huge potential, beekeeping has not yet been not a route out of poverty; the majority of beefarmers survive on just $2 a day.

As interest in the research grew, subsequent national and regional workshops with different actors in the beekeeping community revealed that a low level of development in the sector and a lack of access to information, training and networks, undermined the capacity of Cameroon’s beekeepers’ to enter and compete in national and international markets. Oversaturated local markets; widespread institutional corruption; and the decrease in traditional forest-based beekeeping practices and management in favour of ‘modern’ but expensive Western practices, and an un-developed value chain were also identified as key factors which stifled the industry.

Spotting a gap in the market.

In 2007, after four years of research and excited by the clear gap in the market place to improve supply and demand, Guiding Hope was born. It saw an opportunity to channel the huge stockpiles of beeswax discovered in remote corners of the Northwest, to improve the quality of the hundreds of tons of smoky, black wax produced in Adamaoua, and to sell the thousands of tons of honey produced annually there to new markets.  It also aimed to diversify the range of apiculture products (such as candles and soaps) to provide economic opportunities to marginalised groups such as women and young people.

As Guiding Hope continued to grow, it became the intermediary between producers and exporters providing capacity building through training, networking and local knowledge sharing traditional beekeeping practices. By expanding to new markets, it diversified incomes and evened out price fluctuations’ which secured fairer and more equitable prices for farmers and their products. Scientific institutions such as CIFOR and the World Agroforestry Centre, and development organizations such as FAO and SNV, were used to gain knowledge of agroforestry, regeneration techniques, and forest regeneration approaches which helped to promote sustainable and environmentally friendly beekeeping practices.

In 2010, the sale of honey, wax, and propolis generated 52% of the average household income for beekeepers in Cameroon. Photo courtesy of Verina Ingham

Life is sweeter for Cameroon’s beekeepers

For the 1,000 beekeepers in the region and for the 10,000 beneficiaries of the project, life has become a little sweeter. Beekeepers have received training in all aspects of honey production from honey collection, storage, and processing as well as business management. They are also producing more apiculture-based products such as candles, soaps and creams which will secure extra income, particularly for women. By guaranteeing a fairer wage for their products, many households have seen buying prices increase by 50% during the past 3 years. The community driven approach has enabled beekeeping families to guide their own development through the creation of local cooperatives and women are also making their mark on the beekeeping industry.

The future

As more lucrative opportunities to trade with Europe, the US and in the Central Africa region, continue to grow, Guiding Hope will have to keep up with the growing professionalisation of the industry. Promotional and marketing strategies, as well as quality and business training for its beneficiaries, will be vital to compete in the international market place. It will need to work harder as intermediary to ensure the exchange of information to respond to new difficulties and opportunities within the sector. So far Guiding Hope is the leading model for sustainable, small scale, forest-based business – let’s hope that its success does not lead to a sticky end.

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  • This is true for most people. Most people want to be eco-friendly but for the most part at least currently sometimes going green is not financially a good idea.