Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bees, Bees, Bees

Having kept bees back in Indiana, enjoying honey, thinking about income generation projects and being somewhat fascinated by insect colonies, I thought I should tell you about the bees in Africa. First, some Africans have this thing about them where the only good bee is a burnt one. When they think of bees they think of fire. I guess it might protect them from getting stung, but it sure is hard on the population and the quality of honey.

For some time I have enjoyed watching the bees that have colonized our office neighborhood. The first batch is in our neighbor’s roof and they will probably stay there until the world ends because you would have to tear the cement roof sheets off to get them. The second batch had found an upside down garbage can and moved in. It was a big group because when they flew in the afternoon light, there were hundreds in the air at any one time. Well, we got a new tenant next door and they lit a fire and “burned out” the bees.

Next thing we knew, there were bees colonizing our small back yard shed behind the office. Nothing big, but a regular flight pattern in and out. So, I suggested we should move them before the colony gets too big. Good idea, we will call the exterminator. Well, what if the local bee keepers will move them for free? When I went to check it out, I found out what a “western” idea that was. No, the bee keeper technical person wanted $180 to move the bees and of course, we did not want to pay that much. Not that I would blame them. (Never mind they get the bees and the honey.)

So now what to do? As we are discussing informally, we get a visit from a co-worker who says, "ah, just start a fire, burn them out and they will leave." (I was not a part of this conversation.) Never mind they are behind a 4 inch solid concrete wall. When we arrive at the office Monday morning we see this blackened wall and burned bushes with boxes and pallets spread all over the back yard and two clusters of bees, one eating honey and the other clinging to the side of the shed. We say WHAT? "Oh, we dug the bees out and will just wait until they leave."

Later that afternoon one of the guards starts to explain why they had done this. His father had apparently raised bees and he knew what to do. We could not keep them because apparently African bees don’t like the smell of anything that is “fresh” cut like grass. When he would try to cut the grass in the back yard, the bees would attack. So you can imagine the tall grass we had there. Apparently this stems from the practice of mashing up cassava leaves and putting them in front of a bee colony and the cyanide that comes off the fresh leaves kills the bees. That was his explanation anyway. Hmm, no wonder between the fire and the cyanide that African bees have not had much chance to become domesticated.

With all the bees around I am seriously thinking about putting up swarm boxes that I saw in Zambia and helping people start bee and honey projects. Honey is quite expensive here, even if bees have no monetary value.

John in Zambia

Here is an excerpt from a report Steve wrote on his recent Zambia trip.

Let me tell you a little about John Enright. He was born in 1950 to American parents serving as Methodist missionaries in the Congo. He grew up in a village, understands the village culture and worldview. He was educated in Zambia, with university studies in Indiana (of all places) and seminary at Asbury and Anderson.

He has become disillusioned by the US gov’t and missionary policy and practices as he saw both creating a system of oppression that says if you are a poor African, you can never be any more than that. Poverty was promoted as a virtue while rich missionaries drove their 4wd’s, wrote fiction in their missionary letters and sat at the top of the social pecking order, only to leave and go home to a long and wealthy retirement. He was forced by war, atrocity and personal threat to his life to leave the Congo. He brought with him the pastor who wrote “A Letter to Africans from an African,” one of his close personal friends and colleagues, whom he personally mentored.

He started 30 years ago trying to figure out how to change the poverty situation as a missionary. He has done/initiated a multitude of projects and business startups. He has created a Kingdom of God based philosophy and practice that might put most theologians to shame. He believes that Africa should be developed by Africans, for Africans, benefiting Africans, without greed, high salaries and corruption we see in many of the government and NGO systems today. He personally takes home $1,500 per month and uses that as the standard he wants every small farmer and worker to achieve as a level of income. (He also knows that too much money too quickly can damage people.)

He had been courted, wined and dined by presidents, knows many high level educators and professionals worldwide, constantly receives visitors from all over the world who want to see what he is doing and he wants to franchise his ideas, partner with NGO’s, local people and businesses. He is extremely knowledgeable, perceptive, opinionated and by his own admission a bit hyperactive. He is a broad visionary and sees the need to focus on the details of a project to see it through to success.

He has just acquired a third farm, each in excess of 1000 hectares, where he is running multiple operations. He understands the power of value chains and wealth creation. For example, he has just put 10 woodmizer saw mills into the bush, each expected to generated 2-3 cubes of wood per day with a value of $400 per cube. This wood comes to his work centers for processing into furniture, windows and doors, flooring, export, etc.

He is into bananas, fish ponds, wood, honey, aloe and cattle (1000 employees) with his non-profit proceeds supporting more development, orphanages, etc. The wood working companies currently generate $10,000 per month excess income that he uses to support a learning center. He is expecting this will increase with the new mills to $25,000. He offers this center free of charge, dorms and meals included to anyone who wants to do training. His goal is to be able to serve (help develop) 500 people per week.

He doesn’t do anything small and understands the biblical concept of creative vision. He wants large margins, on par salaries and top quality work. He is willing to pay a factory manager for the value he creates. He feels that 50% ownership is win-win as it empowers the owner-operator and gives him (John) the leverage to reinvest in whatever he sees fit, including social programs. He personally does the project numbers and understands the options as well as risks.