By Imam Wali
Had it not been for second thoughts, 28-year-old Nephtale Abel Zamangwe from Group Village Mkombozi, Tradition Authority Khombedza in Salima District, would have been just memories now.
This is because, in his own words, he was once so depressed with financial challenges that he considered committing suicide to escape from the trap of poverty and other challenges.
“At the time, I did not see a way out of poverty,” he said.
However, a chance encounter with 14 people who shared their vision, that they wanted to become successful farmers, changed all that.
“The year, now that I remember, was 2016. I came across 13 people who wanted me to join them in forming a farmers club. We called the club Msambafumu club. Not long after, we started cultivating horticultural crops,” Zamangwe, a father of two said.
A year later, thanks to an agricultural extension worker, they were introduced to the farmer field school methodology. The group grew its membership to 23 and became Msambafumu Farmer Field School.
According to Zamangwe, the farmer field school, which has 31 members, both women and men, has taught them not to put all eggs in one basket.
“For instance, apart from banana cultivation and pig rearing, we have ventured into beekeeping. It is through beekeeping that members’ lives have transformed, more so because there is a ready market for honey.
“As I am speaking, we have already sold the first harvest. After harvesting, we sell our honey to buyers at the local market as well as to surrounding communities. The prices are good and we are making good profits and from the proceeds of the sales, such that we are able to support our families,”Zamangwe narrated.
According to club members, one beehive produces 20 litres of honey.
The club has 25 beehives, which provide a total of 500 litres. This, according to club chairperson Zamangwe, means the farmers can generate K2.5 million in sales.
“When we embarked on beekeeping, we initially sold five litres of honey, which we sold for K15,000. We generated K50,000 on our second attempt. Our beginning was humble but we are moving forward,” he said.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) of the United Nations, a beekeeper with a colonised hive has to remember that the success in keeping bees depends on one’s knowledge of colony organisation.
According to Fao, honeybees that nest in the open produce far less honey than those confined in enclosures.
“There are good reasons for this. Colonies in the open are exposed to predators and, therefore, have to employ numerous workers as guards to fight intruders. They have to consume large quantities of honey, which they use as fuel, to enable them to cluster to stop the wind which cools down their combs and to generate enough heat to maintain the proper temperature for brood development. During severely hot days, more bees have to use honey as fuel to enable them to fan and cool melting combs to avoid disaster. This temperature control can only be quite inefficient, because of the colony’s exposed condition.
“The exposed colony therefore has to keep larger numbers of house bees, and will thus have fewer foraging bees available to bring in the needed nectar and other essentials from the field. It has been seen that the bees’ primary natural ranges are in the savannah and semi-arid lands, where temperature variations are extreme. Often the few nesting enclosures available to the bees are in ant-hills and rocks from which honeycombs cannot be easily harvested. Large trees are scarce; few have hollows large enough to house a colony. With the increased interest in beekeeping and the growing demand for bee products and services, bees can no longer be maintained in their few natural dwelling places, but must be provided with special artificial hollows in the form of beehives,” it indicates.
Zamangwe concurs, adding that that is the reason Msambafumu Farmer Field School employs modern methods.
“We know that there is a lot at stake and that is why we want to do our best to ensure that buyers are satisfied with our products. We know we are not there yet and, as such, we want to do more.
“We have a bigger vision, which explains why proceeds of raw honey are being invested in winter farming, where we cultivate paprika and are into banana production as well as pig farming. All these help the group generate the much needed income,” he said.
Behind the group’s success are Fao and the Government of Malawi, who are shoring up rural economies through such projects as Strengthening Community Resilience to Climate Change, Kulima and Afikepo, which are funded by the European Union.
Another initiative, namely Prosper, is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office.
Msambafumu Farmer Field School is also playing an important role in empowering women and diversifying economic streams. This is because the majority of the members are women.
Another farmer doing great things with beekeeping is Hawa Assani, who admitted that high domestic demand for honey as food, and other products such as beeswax, has transformed her economic situation.
“In terms of beeswax, it is used for candle-making, which means a lot can be done using bee products,” she said.
Assani added that beekeeping has also helped the community preserve forests.
She was taught beekeeping through the European Union-funded Kulima project.
According to Fao District Coordinator, James Gausi, 4,252 beehives have been provided to farmers as well as accessories including honey extractor, smokers, bee protective suits, sanitary materials and general bee handling tools.
Farmer field schools have been supported with beekeeping skills in 16 districts of Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhatabay, Nkhotakota, Kasungu, Salima, Mangochi, Balaka, Phalombe, Chikwawa, Neno, Blantyre, Thyolo, Chiradzulu and Mulanje,.
Gausi said 142 farmer field schools have received these resources and hands-on training and mentorship on beehives and honey value chain management and product marketing to build capacity for income generation and livelihoods diversification.
Gausi added that 7,000 beehives are targeted in total and this is made possible with funding from the EU and FCDO through Fao, with investment into beekeeping amounting to approximately K6 million.
According to Fao, the project is market-driven and is expected to unlock economic revenues for rural communities.
“The intervention was motivated by its potential to generate extra income as there is a ready market for raw honey, which works as a catalyst to the survival and sustainability of farmer field school activities. It was also prioritised because of the health and environmental benefits communities can gain,” Gausi said.
Traditional Authority Khombedza said he is happy that his subjects are engaging in beekeeping while keeping natural resources such as forests safe.
“This is because we treat issues to do with the protection of our environment seriously hence anyone caught cutting down a tree in this area is heavily fined,” he said.
According to Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe, the government appreciates the role development partners are playing in helping farmers diversify and transform their lives.
Social commentator Fred Kapwepwe Gama concurred with him, saying food diversification may provide the way out for Affordable Inputs Programme beneficiaries who have not been graduating from the programme.
“If Affordable Inputs Programme beneficiaries can be told to embrace beekeeping and other types of farming, they will graduate from the programme, start earning substantial income and transform both community and national economies.
“That is what Malawi needs to do because, honestly, the inputs programmes we have been having have not benefitted people that much. To make matters worse, they are riddled with corruption. Sometimes, earmarked beneficiaries sleep at selling points because of technological and other hiccups. We can do better,” said Kapwepwe Gama, who spent two years in Zambia teaching farmers about beekeeping.
That way, Malawi may find the road to 2063, the target of its long-term development goal, paved.