Africa, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT-CAMEROON: Sweet Deal For Bee-Keepers

Tamfu Hanson

GAROUA, Oct 23 2008 (IPS) - Paul Mboui's family will soon move into the attractive new bungalow he is building. Then he will rent out his present compound as a warehouse to Guiding Hope, the honey trading company that has made him prosperous.

Last year Guiding Hope sold two million litres of honey from bee-keepers across the Adamawa region of Cameroon. Credit:  Tamfu Hanson/IPS

Last year Guiding Hope sold two million litres of honey from bee-keepers across the Adamawa region of Cameroon. Credit: Tamfu Hanson/IPS

"I have come to realise that one can make it even in the village depending on hard work, honesty and dedication," says Mboui, 42. Mboui is the epitome of success in Ngaoundal, home to one of Cameroon's oldest military training camps, about 560 kilometres from the capital, Yaoundé. Mboui is field operations manager for Guiding Hope, a company formed to improve income for bee-keepers in the area around Ngaoundal.

Guiding Hope's shareholders include Mboui, who coordinates purchasing and processing of honey and wax, Managing Director Michael Njikeu, and Production Manager Herman Tcamba, responsible for processing honey for the national market. Verina Ingram oversees environmental policy and international relations, while Yves Soukontua is in charge of research and development. Coordinating client relations is the sixth and final shareholder, Rebecca Howard, indisputably the driving force behind Guiding Hope.

Five years ago, Howard was an undergraduate student of anthropology interning with a network of community-based NGOs, one of which took her along to meet the bee-keepers in the Adamawa area of northwestern Cameroon. "I developed an interest in traditional methods of bee-keeping and the role it plays in the local economy and immediately realised the need for a more reliable market," recounts Howard.

Back in Britain, she linked up with Tropical Forest Products, a company dealing in tropical products and buying honey from Zambia, and proposed the idea of importing good quality honey from Cameroon.

As a volunteer development coordinator for the company, Howard gained a wealth of experience about honey quality, and the challenges of exporting it to the European market. She traveled to Uganda and Rwanda to learn more about honey production in the African context while maintaining her Cameroon connections.

Fair trade for traditional bee-keepers

Three years ago, Howard returned to Cameroon create Guiding Hope whose objective is to develop profitable, environmentally and socially responsible trade of high quality, fair-trade organic honey and other bee products for the African and European markets. Working closely with about 10,000 bee keepers, Guiding Hope is promoting and helping to refine traditional apiculture methods; introducing new, high-value wax products such as soap and candles; and promoting export.

Products include the naturally smoky flavoured liquid from beehives in the rich flowering Adamawa forest savanna. There is also a creamy, naturally granulated white honey from the Kilum-Ijum forest – one of the last remnants of cloud forest rich in biodiversity. Guiding Hope also produces hand-made soaps, candles and other beeswax-derived products.

Last year Guiding Hope sold two million litres of honey worth an estimated at $400,000 to Chad, Nigeria and Gabon as well as within Cameroon. Wax brought in approximately $240,000.

If all goes well, five containers of honey and five more of wax will be exported to the European market by June 2009. "But if we don't make a quick breakthrough in Europe, we may be turning to South Africa and other places," says Howard.

The export of honey to the European Union is hanging in the balance as Guiding Hope is still working with the government and partners on setting up a honey monitoring residue system.

"We are working towards organic certification with a strict system of control and traceability from bee farmers to the bottle to ensure purity, quality and consumer confidence," says Guiding Hope director Njikeu.

"With the assistance and guidance of Guiding Hope, we are adding more value to our products. I learned bee keeping from my dad, but I am doing better than he was in his days. I pay school fees for my three junior brothers and my own daughter," declares Aminatou Hamoa, a 25 year old single mother who is in the honey business.

A local administrative official of the ministry of agriculture, Joseph Samaki, is quick to add that the project will tremendously improve the welfare of the population. "It will wipe the sweat of bee keepers who hitherto received very little for their efforts," he stresses.

Guiding Hope was one of winners of the 2008 awards for innovative projects for sustainable development awarded by the SEED Initiative. SEED – "Supporting Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development" – is a global network that supports progress on Millennium Development Goals in line with the principles outlined at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

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