Feature: Bees fend off illegal loggers

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Tanaka Ngara (39), who lived in Watsomba village in Zimbabwe’s Mutasa district, transformed his fortune through beekeeping, which also successfully helped safeguard his area’s dwindling forests.

For over a decade, Ngara has made a living on the numerous hives he set up on a wide stretch of forest near his rural home in Manicaland province.

Before others joined him in the apiculture business, huge swathes of forestland in the province were at risk of illegal logging.

Many villages have stopped tampering with the forests for fear of being stung by the burgeoning armies of bees, he said.

“Initially, I just wanted to have spots on trees from where to set up my beehives, without thinking that my endeavour would end up fending off timber poachers,” Ngara told Anadolu Agency.

“I am pleased that my initiative paid off,” he remarked.

Besides their environmental dividends, his hives have also financially helped Ngara, who now owns a home in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s eastern border city.

“Beekeeping has enabled me to earn money to own an urban home and I am now able to send my three children to a top private school,” he
added.

Environmentalists in the country are encourage beekeeping as a means of preventing illegal loggers from cutting down forests.

Happison Chikova, a graduate from Midlands State University with a degree in environmental studies, said beekeepers have been a boon in the fight against deforestation in the southern African country.

“Beekeepers are the soldiers for the forests that are under threat from timber poachers. The bees they keep in beehives perched on trees help to scare off anyone intent on cutting down the trees, which means the forests are often left untouched and therefore flourish,” Chikova told Anadolu Agency.

According to the Timber Producers Federation, an independent association in Zimbabwe, commercial forests declined from 120 000 hectares in 2019 to about 69 000 hectares in 2020.

According to a 2014 assessment by the Environment, Water and Climate ministry, six million tonnes of timber are consumed annually in the country for fuel.

This is about 1,4 million tonnes more than the forests can sustainably provide, implying that Zimbabwe is losing 330 000 hectares of forest per year, which translates to more than 60 million trees.

The current annual planting rate is around eight million.

Currently, the Agriculture ministry is encouraging more than 250 farmers in Manicaland province alone to engage in commercial beekeeping as part of a new campaign to battle deforestation in the province.

According to Denis Mbewe, an agricultural extension officer, these farmers are apparently growing forest areas and combating charcoal extraction and illegal logging using the bees they raise for honey.

Even though forest defenders like Ngara benefit greatly from their beekeeping initiative, ordinary Watsomba villagers said they have been left stuck, with no access to firewood.

“Every time you go out to fetch firewood, you get attacked by bees, and this means we are now suffering without firewood,” Erasmus Tsoko (41) told Anadolu Agency.

However, environmental activist Trynos Homwe, based in Harare, sees this is welcome news for the survival of the country’s forests.

“It is desirable that people refrain from cutting down trees for firewood since it offers the country’s forests a much longer life, which is beneficial for the ecology,” Homwe said.

Recognizing that there is more to gain than to lose from beekeeping, an increasing number of farmers in Zimbabwe have entered the fray, establishing hives across forests in their communities and launching a campaign against cutting trees.

“We are making money, but we are also having bees combat wood poachers, and this is proving to be a success, and the forests are coming back to life here,” said Manu Midzi of Marondera in Mashonaland East province.

The hives that Midzi (54) set up in a eucalyptus plantation in Marondera have done their magic, protecting more than 350 hectares of the area’s eucalyptus woodlots.

Midzi, like several other farmers here who have switched to apiculture, has struck gold with the venture, and the bees he keeps for honey have become ammunition in defending the forests.

A litre of honey collected from beehives sells for about US$2 and he harvests close to 400 liters of honey twice a month from his beehives, meaning Midzi earns roughly US$1 600 every month.

As it serves to fatten the pockets of many, agricultural expert Mbewe said bee-keeping “has become a useful instrument for raising people’s awareness on community-based natural forest conservation.”— Anadolu Agency