Locals in Zimbabwe have started to become beekeepers and expand their apiculture businesses. These people intend to make money from selling honey and other bee products, of course, but there are added perks they didn’t expect. Bees are protecting their dwindling forests by keeping illegal loggers, also known as 'timber poachers,' away.
More than a decade ago, Tanaka Ngara, a 39-year-old man, set up numerous hives on a wide stretch of forest, and has made a living from them near his rural home in Watsomba village in Zimbabwe’s Mutasa district. Beekeeping transformed his fortune, but in addition the bees acted to safeguard the dwindling forests in his area.
Until other locals joined him in the apiculture business, the forests in that region were subjected to illegal logging. Many villagers are terrified of being stung by the massive swarms of bees, so they have stopped tampering with the forests.
Ngara admits he did not plan that aspect of his beekeeping business at all. He is delighted that the bees are protecting the trees, but when he started out, he was just looking for tree places where he could set up his beehives. Then his bees became heroes and repelled the tree destroyers and charcoal extractors. He is very pleased about this added benefit.
Ngara thanks the bees for his prosperity and the ecological benefits. His finances have improved. He now owns an urban home in Mutare, an eastern border town, and can afford to send his three children to one of the best private schools.
Environmentalists around the country encourage beekeeping as a way to prevent illegal loggers from destroying forests and chopping down trees. Environmentalist Happison Chikova calls beekeepers a boon in the fight against deforestation. The forests are flourishing again because the bees in their hives high in the trees scare off poachers.
Between 2019 and 2020, commercial forests declined from 120,000 hectares to around 69,000 hectares, according to the Timber Producers Federation. Those are worrisome figures.
This 2:37-minute video by VOA News shows a man who turned to beekeeping following a cyclone natural disaster:
As part of the new campaign to battle deforestation in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Agriculture is encouraging over 250 farmers in Manicaland Province to start commercial beekeeping. The country consumes about 6 million tons of timber for fuel per year according to a 2014 assessment by the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Climate. That is 1.4 million tons more than the forests can sustainably provide. It is implied in the report that Zimbabwe is losing 60 million trees annually, and their yearly planting rate is 8 million trees. That is unsustainable long term.
Although the beekeepers are benefitting in many ways, other villagers feel they are stuck without firewood now because when they go to get some, they are attacked by bees.
An environmental activist says this is good news for the country and specifically the forests. If people stop cutting down trees for firewood the forests will endure for longer. There is more gained than lost due to beekeeping.
More farmers are turning to beekeeping, and beehives are popping up across the forest communities. They actively campaign against cutting down trees as they see their forests come back to life. They are more prosperous, the forest is healthier, and the poachers are stopped by the bees, says 54-year-old Manu Midzi, from the Marondera area.
Midzi set up hives in a eucalyptus plantation in Marondera, and those bees have performed magic by protecting over 350 hectares of eucalyptus lots in the area. Midzi and many other farmers are prospering since they switched to apiculture. They feel good that their prosperity is accompanied by defending the forests.
The honey he collects from his beehives sells for about $2 and he harvests around 400 liters of honey two times a month from his hives. This means he earns about $1,600 every month from his bees.
Agricultural extension officer and expert Denis Mbewe is pleased that beekeeping is bringing not only prosperity to the people, but that beekeeping has become an instrument by which people’s awareness about the true value of the community-based natural forest has expanded. They then understand that conservation is necessary, so the forest will continue to be there, healthy, and abundant, for generations to come.