The beekeepers of Liberia
With bee populations on the decline globally, small communities are playing their part in helping the environment thrive and prosper.
It’s difficult to generate an income for the few hundred residents of Meinpea Mah, just south of the Guinea-Liberia border, so when they were introduced to beekeeping, the Meinpea Mah Rural Women and Men for Development group took the idea and built a small honey business.
With help from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the community was given 13 hives and training from David Memakeh, a technician for Green Grow, a local NGO. Later, UNDP provided the group with business training and financial literacy like bookkeeping.
Since its inception with 22 women, the development group has grown to over 100 members, mostly women. According to Marth Belleh, chairperson of the group, their success in the community had a rocky start:
“When we first started, our husbands were not in support of it…But, after they saw how things were going, they grew interest and started to support [us] to form part of every activity of the organization.”
Yei Cooper, a member of the group, agrees. With 10 children, her income had to grow alongside her family.
“I’ve got the full support of my husband now …he even got involved along with other men in the town,” Cooper says.
The group soon formed a village saving and loan association (VSLA) where proceeds from the bees and other agricultural sales go toward growing the prosperity. From 13 hives, the group now has 22 with plans to scale up even further to 30 and 40 and so on.
“There is good money with honey sales and we want to grow it and make it more stable for everyone,” says Saye Meator Tuagbain, junior beekeeper. “We want to build a place away from the houses where all the hives are together.”
He explains that the bees can be quite aggressive and that keeping them further away will help make people safer.
While gathering honey comb from the hive, Memekah and his helper are careful to not disturb the queen bee so the hive can continue to provide honey.
“If the queen is destroyed or disturbed, all the bees will leave,” Memekah says.
The process of extracting the honey from the combs takes all day. The room is protected by netting to prevent more bees from coming inside as the comb is chopped up and allowed to drip thick cords of honey into a container below. On the outside of the room, hundreds of bees buzz around the meshed windows.
When they are done, they will have at least 15 gallons of honey.
“We sell the honey for around US$20 per gallon, and we get around 15 gallons per hive,” Tuagbain said. “With all the boxes, we’ll get around $3,000 each harvest.”
That money will be invested into the business, which goes toward developing their small community. In the future, they want to build a warehouse along with their multiple hives, along with the VSLA interest payments, the community will continue to thrive.
Text and photos by Sam Zota and Lesley Wright/UNDP Liberia