Bee Burners Become Beekeepers
Life for wild bees on Principe Island has been quite grim for a very long time.
Principe is part of a volcanic chain of islands with rainforests and beaches in the Gulf of Guinea off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa.
Those who collect honey on the island from wild colonies of bees in the forest traditionally burn the hives to get the honey. These traditional honey collectors are called "queimá vunvú" which translates as “bee burners.” Honey obtained in this manner tastes awful and is poor quality.
This not only kills the bees, harms the environment, and is dangerous for the people who climb the trees to access the colonies, it also increases the chance of causing forest fires to erupt.
In 2017, the government made it illegal to burn bees for honey extraction. They are also making it harder for illegally procured honey to be sold in the market place.
An alliance was born between Flora & Fauna International and the local non-profit, Fundação Principe Trust (FPT), also in 2017, that supports the local community beekeeping organization, COOPAPIP.
This is a beautiful example of how education and awareness bring positive change. Seen from a purely economic point-of-view, burning your bees and colony kills off your livelihood. Protecting and caring for your bees brings prosperity and an easier life. Awareness also causes locals to look beyond honey to see the value of bee pollination for crops.
The project has three pillars according to the project manager: communities, forest conservation and beekeeping. She hopes the people will learn to use the forest as a resource, like the bees do.
They are learning how to be beekeepers who care for their bees and realize that entire communities depend on bees for food, fruit and honey. Without the bees there will be no fruit and less food.
Apiaries have been built and equipment provided for safe honey gathering and production, and agroforestry has been successfully introduced. Agroforestry refers to the planting of trees with crops, especially in stressed areas. This helps the islanders have a more stable food supply and assures pasture for bees.
Certain island people see benefits in their lives and are pleased with the lifestyle changes. They are no longer burning the bees.
The project is also helping them expand commercial beekeeping on Principe, but the community cooperative has not yet been able to meet the high demand of international tourists visiting the island.
The major shift in how the community relates to bees and honey is bringing opportunities for prosperity the people never had before. They are selling honey to tourists and local community members.
COOPAPIP still hopes to persuade other island bee burners to become beekeepers and leave the traditional method behind for their own good, the good of their environment, and for the bees.
Save the Bees!
Have you heard of any other communities around the world burning bees and bee colonies? If so, please share!