Dr Kwame Aidoo is a Commonwealth Professional Fellow from Ghana and is the Director of Bees for development Ghana (BfdG), a new independent beekeeping organisation that aims to generate employment, to create wealth and to provide pollination services for crops and natural environments. Here, Dr Kwame Aidoo shows the impact of this organisation as well as providing us with an insight into its future as part of World Bee Day 2020.

Bees and other pollinators are increasingly under threat from human activities. Pollination is a fundamental process for the survival of our ecosystems. Nearly 90% of the world’s wild flowering plant species depend, entirely, or at least in part, on animal pollination, along with more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of global agricultural land. Not only do pollinators contribute directly to food security, but they are key to conserving biodiversity.

To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, the UN designated 20 May as World Bee Day.

The Bees for Development Trust has hosted Commonwealth Professional Fellows since 2015. Over the last five years, applicants from Cameroon, Ghana, India and Uganda have been selected for placement at the organisation. These Fellowships offer opportunities for individuals to gain additional knowledge and skills and to support a range of apiculture roles across the Commonwealth. One of these Fellows is none other than Dr Kwame Aidoo.

Bees for development Ghana

Dr Kwame Aidoo is the Director of Bees for development Ghana (BfdG), a beekeeping organisation dedicated to serving and developing the beekeeping sector in Ghana. BfdG supports farming communities to use bees and beekeeping as a tool for poverty reduction, and to create employment and sustainable livelihoods in rural areas.

To mark World Bee Day 2020, Kwame shares information on the impact of projects managed by BfdG in Ghana and Sierra Leone and ongoing challenges facing beekeeping.

I successfully completed my Professional Fellowship with Bees for Development in September 2015 and soon after established Bees for development Ghana. Prior to my Fellowship, I had worked as a beekeeping consultant to many local and international development organisations. Most of the projects I facilitated had low degrees of success because the approaches were not friendly to participating farmers and many of the people involved did not have good insight or knowledge in the sector to support farmers. In my roles, I provided training on setting up apiaries, harvesting, and processing products, but the lack of supervision provided post-training meant the programmes often resulted in failure.

Prior to establishing BfdG there were no organisations solely promoting beekeeping in Ghana and the west-African sub-region. In establishing BfdG, I had the opportunity to develop an intensive training programme which works closely with farmers over a three-year period while they learn to become beekeepers.

The rich experiences and knowledge I acquired during my Fellowship have enabled me to manage my organisation and projects successfully. During my Fellowship, I was exposed to good management practices and learned how charitable organisations, such as Bees for Development, operate and deliver projects. While studying in the UK I attended a 3-day workshop hosted on a permaculture farm which comprised lectures and practical demonstrations on natural and sustainable beekeeping. I also facilitated a one-day training workshop for a group of top beekeepers based in the UK. The interactions with beekeepers provided by these workshops gave me an opportunity to share my knowledge and experience, as well as develop new skills and ideas which I have implemented in beekeeping projects in Ghana.

Young Buzz Club students standing with each holding a bag of equipment

Buzz Club students with set of beekeeping equipment

Developing beekeeping communities

BfdG runs two core projects: the cashews, bees and livelihoods project and Buzz Club Ghana.

The Ghanaian cashew sub-sector is an essential source of income for approximately 70,000 smallholder farmers, of whom 10,000 are women. Demand for cashew nuts outstrips supply with low cashew yields linked to pollination. A study, funded by the African Cashew Initiative, showed that cashew farms with managed honeybee colonies had far higher yields than those without, highlighting the impact of bees as a natural pollinator on these farms.

The cashews, bees and livelihoods project support Master Beekeepers in establishing beekeeping enterprises in cashew orchards to increase cashew nut yields and the production of honey, beeswax, and propolis (bee glue or resin), which can be sold by the Master Beekeeper. Each Master Beekeeper manages over 60 bee colonies in the cashew orchards of selected farmers, who work with the Master Beekeepers to become beekeepers themselves.

The first five Master Beekeepers will graduate this year, having successfully established beekeeping enterprises and worked with 150 cashew farmers. In March/April this year, they harvested and sold a total of 2724.6 kg of honey, and as a result of the product sales, the Master Beekeepers have become self-sufficient. Participating cashew growers are also harvesting more nuts as a result of improved pollination in their orchards and can harvest and sell honey and beeswax for additional income, in partnership with the Master Beekeepers.

The Buzz Clubs project teaches beekeeping in schools over a period of four years and aims to teach young people about the importance of bees to the environment and in food production, provide skills in beekeeping, and promote beekeeping as a form of income through entrepreneurism.

The Buzz Clubs started in 2016 in two schools, working with 4 teachers and 30 students, and has since expanded to work with six schools, thanks to funding from the Direct Aid Programme of the Australian High Commission Ghana. As part of the project, schools are provided with five hives, beekeeping equipment, and intensive training for students and teachers on managing their bees and selling honey and beeswax.

There are now 70 students and 12 trained teachers on the programme. In August 2019, 20 students graduated from the first two schools with a package of 2 beehives, further beekeeping equipment, and a Junior Master Beekeeper certificate. It is hoped that each student will continue to keep bees during their secondary school education and beyond. To help encourage this and support participating schools, BfdG’s Master Beekeepers have agreed to adopt and nurture Buzz Clubs in their operational areas, meaning five more schools can now establish Buzz Clubs and educate young people in beekeeping.

Discouraging destructive practices

In March 2019, Bees for development North America raised funds for us to commence the Digya Bee Project in Donkorkrom, Ghana. The project aims to discourage destructive wild honey hunting in the Digya National Park and provide a sustainable income from beekeeping to the fringe communities. If caught wild honey hunting, perpetrators face arrest and time in prison.

The main reasons for wild honey hunting include a lack of knowledge in beekeeping and lack of resources to establish hives and colonies. In April 2020 I facilitated training workshops for participating farmers to establish bee colonies using basket and log hives, which we taught them to make using the resources available and at a low cost. Over 219 farmers built a total of 651 hives and stocked them with swarms. They are currently harvesting their colonies and will sell the honey and beeswax as a source of income. As a result of the project, communities no longer need to engage in wild honey hunting and risk arrest.

A man making a basket hive

Basket hive making workshop in Masanga

The power of honey

Honey is not just used as a food product but has application for medicinal purposes. In August 2019, I volunteered to work on the Masanga Hospital beekeeping project in northern Sierra Leone. I offered to support this unique project for many reasons, one of which is that the hospital is renowned in the sub-region for its use of honey in treating wounds, such as ulcers.

The hospital’s only source of good honey was from wild honey hunters, an unreliable source. Instead, through the project, the hospital is using over 50 hectares of the forest land it owns to introduce beekeeping. I facilitated the training of selected hospital staff and local farmers in beekeeping and helped them to build hives and stock them with bees. Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions I cannot make it there for the second training workshop which was to teach them to harvest and process honey for use in the hospital, but we are currently exploring alternative ways to keep the project going.

Key challenges

Access to relevant information and knowledge on beekeeping is a challenge for most farming communities, and the costs to acquire basic beekeeping equipment can be prohibitive. Through the work of BfdG, we have provided farmers with the skills and knowledge to keep bees, as well as learning about the value of bees to the environment and many hope to integrate this practice into their farming activities.

To help with the costs of equipment, many of our projects provide this, however in the approach of the Donkorkrom project, we provided farmers with the skills to build a local style hive using resources available to them. Continuing such training will enable more farmers to build their own hives and implement their learning.

Future projects

BfdG has secured funding to begin another project similar to that led in the cashew zone, this time working with citrus farmers in the Central Region of Ghana. Difficulties in accessing good markets for orange and lime fruits in the area have impoverished farmers and some are now giving up on orange farming and cutting down their trees to plant annual food crops.

Through the new project, we hope to support over 200 citrus farmers though the introduction of beekeeping. Due to the citrus flowers in this zone, there is an abundance of nectar resources for bees which will result in a harvest of premium orange blossom honey and beeswax which can be sold as additional income.

We also seek to soon expand the Master Beekeeper project to other production areas of the cashew belt of Ghana. We believe every cashew farmer should have bee colonies in their orchards to reap the pollination and hive product benefits.

Through my Professional Fellowship with Bees for Development in the UK, I have been able to network and collaborate with others working in apiculture. I regularly exchange ideas with Fellows based in Ghana, as well as India and Uganda, to share news and information in our sector, as well as updates on our own work and projects.