How Beekeeping is Helping Rural Communities in Madagascar

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM SUGRU, TOO!

Operating in the south-east of the country, SEED Madagascar's mission is to build a resilient network of thriving communities, organisations and ecosystems to help people improve their livelihood in sustainable ways. Alongside this, they aim to raise global awareness of Madagascar’s unique needs and build constructive partnerships to further aid development. 

As luck would have it somebody from the Sugru community is a Project Development Officer at SEED (oh, you are a wonderfully diverse bunch!). Jack, from the UK, is currently out in Madagascar working on an initiative to improve the sustainability and viability of beekeeping for rural communities to make an independent living from it. We caught up with him to find out more.

Q. SEED Madagascar has launched some fantastic initiatives. Can you tell us more about the one you're working on at the moment? 

The organisation's been working in Southeast Madagascar for the past 15 years, across a number of social and environmental issues. We work with communities to improve community health, increase access to education, conserve and enhance un-paralleled biodiversity, all the while supporting and empowering people to lift themselves from poverty.

My role within the NGO is that of an "environment and sustainable livelihoods project development officer". Basically, developing initiatives that enable people and communities to alleviate their own poverty without harming the environment. Grassroots, sustainable development to the core. One of these initiatives, and the reason we used Sugru, is Project Renitantely.

Renitantely means honeybee in Malagasy. With local and international expertise, we train people living in rural communities to keep bees. It may sound novel but beekeeping can increase these rural household's income by 50% a year, to give context these households (on average 5 people) are living off US $0.25 a day. 

The World Bank poverty indicator is an individual living below $1.90 a day... Project Renitantely's been working for nearly a year now, we've trained up some expert beekeepers who are producing (and selling) top quality honey and beeswax. Most of the people we work with are subsistence farmers who rely on un-sustainable "slash and burn" techniques to get by. What they've earned from beekeeping has enabled them to diversify their techniques, reduce reliance on natural resources and support their families. They're also making sure of a very healthy population of bees in endangered rainforest ecosystems, which is a cracking bonus for pollination services.

The project will run for another two years, in that time we're going to distribute sustainably built hives; continue training and encourage more people to take up beekeeping; provide current beekeepers with the resources to train others in beekeeping, reducing the need for our input and making the project truly sustainable; and we're going to raise the value chain of honey by 250%.

Q. What you're doing is truly amazing - more people need to find out about SEED Madagascar's work. What motivated you to go out there initially?

I came out here to continue a career in International Development. After I finished my Master's degree, I worked for a short time as the coordinator of a tiny NGO in the Maldives focusing on turtle conservation and coral reef restoration. I had two years in Hong Kong after that, where I wasn't working in development and was incredibly frustrated to not follow my passions and use my education and experience in the way I should have been. I found the job with SEED Madagascar in August 2016 and was out here 6 weeks later.

Q. Curious to know what you've been using Sugru for! Tell us a little more about your most recent project.

Madagascar has more challenges than most places, if something breaks (or was never actually working) you can't replace it and it's hard to repair things with the little that's here. I've used it around the house following the tips on your website and for work. With Project Renitantely, one of the key components that will make the project a success is the equipment we distribute. All of our equipment is designed by our amazing Community Agent Juvie (the guy with me in the photos) and Beekeeping Technician Jevago (refuses to wear beesuits, never been stung). Everything is made using locally sourced, affordable and sustainably grown wood. The beekeepers can access these materials themselves and expand their beekeeping operations without any external input, again making the project sustainable. However there are some challenges that do need a little help.

Varroa is a parasitic mite that infests beehives and many scientists believe it to be contributing to the serious decline in honeybee numbers worldwide. It arrived in Madagascar in 2010 and has decimated hives since. It's the number one threat to the project and thus livelihoods of those we work with and it simply gets in through gaps in hives. So we used Sugru to seal up hives, making them waterproof, draft proof and parasite proof. Those three conditions help to ensure a bee colony stays healthy and active, it keeps them productive and guarantees a bucket load of honey for the beekeeper. We don't have a better crack filler for the job. 

Thanks for sharing your experience, Jack, and showing us how grassroots projects like beekeeping can really make a difference to communities and the environment, too. 

We'll be catching up with Jack again in the near future, so stay tuned!