Hundreds of unemployed people will soon enjoy the sweet taste of a regular income as part of an innovative beekeeping and honey initiative that has just been launched in the Lowve ld. The initiative is the first of its kind in Africa. One hundred aspirant beekeepers in the Bushbuckridge area near Hazyview are currently being trained in apiarist (beekeeping) and entrepreneurial skills, and once qualified, they will each be supported by two assistants. A further 120 members of the local community will be set up in their own businesses and be equipped with protective suits and other items required for the programme.
The brainchild of social entrepreneurial firm African Honey Bee, the initiative aims to equip and empower 500 bee-keepers in the area. While the programme is in the start-up phase the beekeepers will receive a daily allowance from the government’s Community Work Programme. “What makes the Lowveld Beekeeping Project different to the less successful honeyfarming cooperatives of the past is the fact that each one of these Bushbuckridge bee-keepers will effectively have their own individual business or franchise, rather than being part of a collective system,” says Guy Stubbs, founder of African Honey Bee. “They will also receive ongoing training, mentorship, advance payment on their future honey production, equipment at preferential prices and access to global and South African markets for their produce.”
African Honey Bee was involved in five pilot projects in other parts of the country before deciding on Bushbuckridge as the ideal spot to launch the full five-phase programme. The environment is perfect for bees with its mix of indigenous bush, fruit trees and gum plantations, and Stubbs is confident that the project will create better appreciation for the indigenous trees of the area and reduce indiscriminate logging for firewood and curio carving. With its emphasis on environmentally friendly job creation in one of the province’s poorest regions, the bee-keeping initiative has been enthusiastically supported by the local community, local government officials, Agri and development funders. African Honey Bee and their training partner Skills for Africa, are confident that further development funding will become available to ensure that the first group of 100 bee-keepers will reach their production target of 200 tons of honey within 36 months.
Under the leadership of Bushbuckridge social development specialist Riebs Khoza, the project attracted more than 5 000 applicants for the first 100 available bee-keeping franchises, and the successful recruits – mostly previously unemployed women – were undeterred by the risks associated with working with the bees. “The Bushbuckridge Municipality fully supports this initiative, which has the potential to contribute positively to the socio-economic development of the local community – characterised by the highest levels of poverty and unemployment – in many different ways,” says the acting municipal manager. “This project is exactly what Mpumalanga needs as part of its rural poverty alleviation programme, and the province is 100% behind the initiative,” says Ms Mungi Ramabenyane, chief director of the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration.