Hurungwe folk enlist bees to fight deforestation

The Herald

By a Correspondent
Forests in Hurungwe and other parts of Zimbabwe are under attack from illegal logging gangs and charcoal extraction. But the battle against deforestation has a helpful ally: the bee. Though it could soon be facing a fight of its own, some Hurungwe folks are now increasingly enlisting it for a good cause.

Temba Chiworeka plans to increase his forest area to enable him to expand his bee-keeping venture by adding more beehives this season.

“The income I’m getting from the sustainable harvesting of honey is transforming my apiculture enterprise, and my family’s livelihood,’’ the Zimbabwean smallholder farmer, whose community is sustainably managing its forests, said.

Chiworeka lives in Ward 13 of Hurungwe district, in Mashonaland West province. The ward is a communal area where farmers rely on rain fed agriculture, and where community members own and farm their own plots while forests are open and common property.

There are 255 farmers participating in the commercial bee keeping initiative and are individually managing 992 Kenya top bar hives as part of a strategy to preserve more than 750 hectares of miombo forest and eucalyptus woodlots in the area.

“It’s good for us that we can benefit from these forests. For years, we have witnessed increased deforestation as a result of massive fuel wood collection for tobacco curing and other commercial uses, and agricultural expansion,” said Chiworeka, who grows maize mainly to feed his family, and tobacco for sale.

The 46-year-old smallholder farmer is now chairperson of the Dzimaihwe Community-Based Organisation (CBO). The CBO is a successful example of sustainable forest management, and one of eight institutions established under the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Zimbabwe’s Sustainable Forest Management project, aimed at reducing deforestation through forest related incentives.

Chiworeka boasts of one of the best apiaries with eucalyptus woodlots and eight hectares of indigenous forests providing bee forage.

Under the pilot project started in 2014, the Ward 13 residents received training, timber for hive making, protective clothing, smokers and hive accessory tools through project partner, Zim Apiculture Trust (ZAT).

“The project is also working with the Forestry Commission and Hurungwe Rural District Council, the local authority,” said Selina Chitapi, ZAT executive director.

As part of the initiative, ZAT linked bee-keepers to markets that are offering better prizes than the middle man who were offering an average of $1 per kg of comb honey.

The bee-keeping activities are providing an important sustainable and alternative source of income for the farmers in the district. In 2017 bee keepers harvested 45 00kg of comb honey that earned about $10 000 sold at between $2,00 and $2,50 per kg of comb honey.

Bee-keeping has become a practical tool for raising people’s awareness on community-based natural forest management, and for stimulating environmental stewardship for biodiversity conservation.

Zimbabwe’s forests stand at 43 percent of the total land area and are at the centre of socioeconomic development and environmental protection.

Today, the country’s trees are rapidly disappearing due to overuse from a growing population, and deforestation is a major environmental challenge.

Alarmingly, the country is losing an estimated 330 000 hectares of forests annually as a result of agricultural activities, expansion of settlements, infrastructure development, and firewood collection. This alarming rate, has also increased fears of serious land degradation, and negative impacts of climate change.

WWF Zimbabwe projects manager, Milward Kuona said the project was designed to pilot bee-keeping as an incentive to forest management — unlocking value from forestry so that communities will appreciate the value of trees beyond uses such as fire wood.

“We’re enhancing community participation in natural resources management. We supported community-based groups into bee-keeping so that they can see value in bee-keeping,” said Kuona. The smallholder farmers are much aware of the value of forests through this project.

“In the past years, harvesters set smoking fire beneath the beehives to scatter the bees, which oftentimes ignited to a bush fire that rapidly spread far beyond control. Local farmers would let the fire burn because they had “no economic stake” in keeping the forest healthy, “ says Edgar Gavaza, chairperson of the Mahwada CBO, also in Ward 13.

In addition to improved forest management capacity and knowledge, the project has enabled the communities to modernise the practices of bee-keeping that include the use of modern and more productive hives, smokers and protective clothing among others.

“Ever since we began the community forest management systems, no incidences of such fires have been reported, simply because villagers are now fully aware and sensitised that the forest brings income to the villages,” Gavaza says.

But a touchy issue is these farmers still need firewood for their tobacco curing. There’s a need to balance between intact forest and the need for wood energy, possibly through sustainable harvesting and adoption of alternative or renewable forms of energy.

The success of this project should be good enough to promote bee-keeping as a strategy to minimise deforestation and veld fires countrywide.