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Apiculture and poverty alleviation in Cameroon Emmanuel O Nuesiri and Eunice E Fombad
FAO trade statistics show that Cameroon imports annually honey worth US$700,000 (€540,000). This does not reflect the amount of honey that is produced and consumed locally. Local communities in Cameroon have always harvested honey from the wild and many still do so. Honey is consumed as a beverage and is used in the preparation of many traditional medicines. This article highlights the role of beekeeping in biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation in Cameroon.
Bio-geographical profile of Cameroon
Cameroon is in Central Africa and has a population of 16 million, with a growth rate of about 3%. 70% of the population lives in rural areas and about 40% of the entire population lives below the poverty line of US$1 (€0.8) per day. Cameroon is endowed with diverse natural resources including forest and crude oil, yet it is a highly indebted country undergoing economic structural adjustments proposed by the World Bank and the IMF. Forestry contributes about 20% to Cameroon’s export revenue, second to crude oil. The 20 million hectares of dense tropical forest, which forms part of the Congo Basin, is of global conservation significance, having the highest number of plants per unit area in the region, and with the second highest mammal and bird species counts. Amongst her floristic regions of high biodiversity conservation value is the Cameroon Highlands, recognised as a global biodiversity hotspot with high anthropogenic pressure.
Forest and poverty
Over 50% of Cameroonians depend on the forest directly or indirectly for livelihoods: this is due to the rural bias in its population structure with 70% of people dwelling in rural areas. The major occupations of rural citizens are overwhelmingly farming, hunting, gathering of non-timber forest products (NTFP) and animal husbandry (MINEFI, 2002). The forest is home to endemic species, many of which are endangered, including the Mount Cameroon francolin Francolinus camerunensis, the African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis, and highly valued timber species including ‘Azobe’ Lophira alata. Due to its fertile, volcanic soils the region has experienced significant habitat loss and fragmentation as a result of subsistence and commercial farming: this in turn has led to loss of biodiversity (Ndam et al, 2000).
While the people of Cameroon have always depended on forest resources for livelihoods, there has been a sharp increase in the rate of dependency since the late 1980s. This is directly related to the severe economic downturn the country experienced from 1985-1995. There was a large-scale return to the land and forest for survival by many unemployed persons. Thus forest regions of high conservation value such as the Cameroon highlands are today facing ever increasing human pressure from farming, hunting, gathering of NTFPs and timber exploitation (Sikod et al, 2000). Given the centrality of the forest to local livelihoods, the sector has a significant role to play in poverty alleviation. It is in this regard that donors and conservation organisations vigorously promote the adoption of non-destructive forest use such as apiculture (Birdlife 2003; Vabi & Gartlan, 1997).
Apiculture and poverty alleviation
Sustainable forest management (SFM) is a key objective in Cameroon’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) submitted to the World Bank and the IMF (GoC, 2003). Ensuring that SFM in Cameroon conserves biodiversity while alleviating poverty has been a great challenge for the government, donors and the many conservation NGOs in the country. A strategy adopted by international conservation NGOs has been the promotion of alternative income-generating activities considered as ‘biodiversity friendly’ including apiculture, mushroom farming and wildlife domestication. The most successful in terms of uptake has been apiculture. Across the national territory there are now a plethora of local organisations actively involved in apiculture and while collection and sale of honey from the forest is an age-old practice in Cameroon, there has been a steady increase in consumption of honey and other bee products. Organisations that have been at the forefront of these initiatives include the Department for International Development (DFID) UK, German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), Birdlife International, UK and Bees Abroad, UK.
These organisations succeeded in convincing local communities, that an intensive and structured approach is more profitable. Today, apiculture is yielding substantial benefits for successful local groups such as the Apicultural and Nature Conservation Organisation (ANCO) Bamenda, and Beekeeping, Development and Conservation (BDC) Limbé. These two are at the forefront of apicultural initiatives in the Cameroon Highlands region. However the significance of this development is seemingly unnoticed by the Government and some key conservation actors in Cameroon. A recent publication by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on forest products, livelihoods and conservation in Africa, and their contribution to rural poverty alleviation, totally omits apiculture (Sunderland & Ndoye, 2004). In this article we wish to draw the attention of the global apicultural community to this development in Cameroon.
The traditional honey harvesting method used in local forest communities such as the Cameroon Highlands, involved setting up bushfires to get rid of the bees before extracting honey from the combs. This was destructive as often the fires went out of control and caused significant habitat destruction. Conservation projects introduced hand held smokers and other equipment that has made honey harvesting easier and non-destructive. Communities have been taught how to construct hives such including top-bar hives and where to place these hives on their farms and forest lands for bee colonisation and optimal honey production. Evidence for the success of these initiatives is provided to by the existence of profitable beekeeping co-operatives and groups in the Cameroon Highlands eco-region.
The objective of our study, carried out over a period of six months (Nuesiri & Fombad, 2005), was to obtain a baseline understanding of beekeeping groups in the Cameroon Highlands eco-region and their contribution to biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. Research methods included literature review and semi-structured interviews.
Two successful, local groups are at the forefront of apicultural initiatives in the region:
Apiculture and Nature Conservation Organisation (ANCO) Bamenda, NWP ANCO was formed in 1992 and was known as the North West Beefarmers’ Association (NOWEBA). Its goal is to promote conservation bee farming, market bee products and alleviate poverty in the rural North West Province of Cameroon. In 2002, it changed its name to Apiculture and Nature Conservation Organisation. The founder and director is Paul Mzeka. ANCO has two principal areas of intervention: apicultural training and nature conservation. The group’s motto is ‘plant a tree and save a bee’. ANCO sensitises the communities in which it works to shun the destructive practice of using bush fires when carrying out harvesting of honey from the wild, and actively encourages afforestation with emphasises on melliferous plants. The group is a co-operative made up of smaller groups and does not allow individual membership. ANCO targets groups consisting of unemployed youths and women (the latter were barred from honey harvesting in the recent past). It has 230 local community groups who provide the head office with honey for sale. Working with rural community groups to achieve its goals, ANCO has trained over 2,955 bee farmers and 44 ‘local experts’ suitable as community trainers. Despite a fair amount of financial support from a number of international sources, ANCO still faces the following constraints: Lack of capacity building for new staff; Lack of transportation facilities which necessitates the use of hired transport with its attendant risks and delays; Lack of financial resources to invest in strengthening the co-operative because external funding has been piecemeal and small.
Despite these constraints, ANCO is the most well known beekeeping co-operative in the Cameroon Highlands, and ANCO’s honey is marketed in all the major cities in Cameroon’s forest region including Yaoundé and Douala.
Beekeeping, Development and Conservation (BDC) Limbé, SWP Terence Njuakom formed BDC, in 2002 at the end of the DFID-funded Mt Cameroon Project Limbé. Terence had worked as the beekeeping expert, and took up the challenge of promoting beekeeping and conservation in the region at the end of the project. BDC’s mission is that by 2008 the communities in and around the Cameroon mountains ecosystem range are efficiently carrying out beekeeping with consequent improvements in livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and alleviation of poverty. BDC’s motto is ‘more trees, more bees, more honey, more money, more happiness’. Specific objectives include: To build the capacities of communities and improve livelihoods; To establish beekeeping as an alternative to destructive use of natural resources; To promote the transformation and marketing of apicultural products and equipment; To create an apicultural research, demonstration and information unit. BDC on average sells 13,000 litres of honey per year, generating an annual income of US$60,000 (€46,200). Located in rented premises within the Limbé Botanic Garden, with five permanent staff, one motorcycle and one vehicle, BDC works with local community beekeeping groups. BDC maintains that it cannot meet the local market demand for honey. Micro-financing has been received from Cameroon’s National Employment Fund, GTZ and Cameroon’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. BDC trains groups and individuals on bee farming and in turn buys their honey and markets it. Constraints experienced by BDC include inadequate training, lack of finance for purchase of beekeeping equipment, poor government support and lack of funding for local research.
Other beekeeping organisations of note include:
· Belo Rural Development Project (BERUDEP) Bamenda was founded in 1997 by Simon Ngwainmbi and trains local communities in NWP.
· Rural Development through Apiculture (RUDA) Limbé was formed in 2002 and trains local communities in the Mount Cameroon region.
· YADIKWA Honey is a private business venture set up in 1998 by Yahyah Divine Kwa.
Nurturing apiculture in Cameroon
Cameroon’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, the nation’s current development blueprint, places a strong emphasis on diversifying the nation’s economy. It notes that one of the principal ways of doing this is by providing financial, infrastructural and institutional support to agricâ€‘business initiatives in rural areas. In its implementation, the emphasis has been on providing farmers with improved varieties of seeds, opening up farms to market roads, and supporting microâ€‘credit schemes. There is little in the Paper that targets the development of alternative income-generating sectors such as apiculture. There is a need to address this oversight if the beekeeping sector is to fulfil its potential of alleviating poverty while conserving the natural resource base. Governmental support is a required catalyst for private investors to invest in apiculture. To obtain Government commitment, the apiculture community has to show that the sector can make significant contribution to the Government’s efforts in reducing poverty. The starting point would be a study on apiculture production and consumption in Cameroon.
A study of this kind would provide quantitative evidence on the viability of the sector, and guidance as to how best to intervene for optimal results. In addition, there is need for technical capacity building of practitioners in the sector. This can be best achieved by the setting up of an apiculture research institute in the country. This could be an independent institute or a subâ€‘department in any of Cameroon’s science based research institutions. Furthermore dedicated micro-credit schemes targeted at beekeepers should be established. This will help provide venture capital to groups such as ANCO and BDC who wish to diversify their product base. While African countries such as Kenya have begun exporting honey, Cameroon remains a net importer of honey.
BIRDLIFE (2003) Birdlife and Cameroon Work to Protect Nation’s Rich Biodiversity [online] http://www.birdlife.org/news/pr/2003/09/cameroonpas.html.
MINEFI (Ministry of Economy and Finance/World Bank) (2002) Living Conditions and Poverty Profile in Cameroon in 2001 – Final Results. Yaoundé, Cameroon.
NDAM N., HEALY J.R., ACWORTH J., TCHOUTO P.G. (2000) Case Study: Biodiversity on Mount Cameroon. In: Forests in Sustainable Mountain Development: a state of knowledge Report for 2000, IUFRO Research Series 5. CABI, Wallingford, UK.
NUESIRI E.O., FOMBAD E.E. (2005) Report on Apiculture in the Cameroon Highlands. FOREP, Limbé, Cameroon.
SUNDERLAND T., NDOYE O. (2004) Forest Products, Livelihoods and Conservation-Case studies of Non-Timber Forest Products Systems: Volume 2 – Africa. CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.
VABI M.B., GARTLAN S.J. (1997) Institutional Framework for Biodiversity Conservation in Cameroon. Proceedings of the Conference on African Rainforests and Conservation of Biodiversity. http://www.earthwatch.org/europe/limbe/limbe.html
Emmanuel Nuesiri (author for correspondence) is a doctoral student and Clarendon scholar at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment, UK.
Eunice Fombad is ecological research officer with Forest, Resources and People, a conservation and development NGO based in Limbé, SWP, Cameroon.