The Bishop who became a beekeeper
By Reverend and Beekeeper Kristian R Skovmose, Denmark
“Once upon a time. . . .” as every good fairy tale begins, including those told by the famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. In 2005, here in Denmark and worldwide the 200th year of his birth is being celebrated. My story of how the Bishop became a beekeeper begins the same way.
Once upon a time a group of Danish Reverends from the Lutheran Church of Denmark, in co operation with ‘Theological Pedagogical Centre’, Loegumkloster and the Danish Mission Society and Sudan Mission, travelled to Nigeria. They went to visit The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN), which was founded by the Danish Doctor Niels Broennum in 1913.
One of the Danish Reverends was my wife the Reverend Pia Skovmose Jensen. She had the pleasure of meeting Denham D Abba, the Bishop of LCCN, Todi Diocese in Adamawa State. During the evening she told the Bishop about my 25 years’ experience as a beekeeper, and several years as a board member and president of The Danish Beekeepers’ Association. She impressed him by telling how beekeeping has great potential as an income-generating and environment-gentle activity in developing areas of Africa. Three months later we [after my wife returned from Nigeria I] received a letter from Bishop Denham. With the headline Application to become beekeepers, he encouraged me to pay him a visit to carry out research on the potential for beekeeping in his area and to give advice.
Heading towards Numan
I was ready to go at once, and set off in October 2004. My expectations were to visit LCCN and to do research on beekeeping. Communication between Denmark and Nigeria, not at least Numan, can be very slow, and arriving in Nigeria I was not sure of the programme ahead. When I met Archbishop Nemuel Babba and some of the other Bishops in Jos State, I was told Bishop Denham would not be attending a Bishops’ meeting, because he was awaiting my arrival in Numan. Bees more important than Bishops? Finally I arrived in Numan and was warmly welcomed. There followed some intense days meeting beekeepers, other people, and not least the defensive Nigerian bees.
Beekeeping for women too
Our research on beekeeping in Todi Diocese started with a visit to Bille village. A group of 50 women welcomed us singing and playing in the local church. I was introduced as the Danish Beekeeping Expert and I had the opportunity to speak to the group. I made sure to emphasise the great environmental and income-generating potential of beekeeping.
While addressing the women, encouraging them to become beekeepers and explaining the widespread benefits of beekeeping, again and again they started clapping their hands, deeply impressed by the potential, which until then was unknown to them. This first meeting was soon followed by facing the villagers in Terre and Dakusung. Assembled in the shade of a big tree in the village square men, women, children, Muslims and Christians, were encouraged to start keeping bees.
More field trips were arranged to face the Nigerian bees in the Adamawa State area and to further research the potential for keeping bees. Honey hunting is well known, but bees have also been kept over the centuries in various locally made hives. I was introduced to bee colonies hanging in trees, established in hollow trees, in dried calabashes, log hives, straw hives and clay pots - all local styles of hives well-known in Africa and other places. I was surprised to find no modern hives such as top-bar hives or perhaps frame (Langstroth) hives. As I was told later, the reason is to be found in the fact that no beekeeping teaching has been done recently in the area. Somehow it seems that inviting me might have started pioneering activities towards beekeeping.
The local visits and field trips were followed by a one-day seminar on beekeeping, which was held at the headquarters of Todi Diocese in Bali. One of the main aims of going into beekeeping development is as Bishop Denham described: in this part of Nigeria many young people manage to go to school and graduate from primary and even secondary school. Very few are able to go to university and there is a great lack of companies to employ people. This means that several hang out as unemployed, becoming a burden for their families to house and feed, some start using drugs, and others become criminals. As part of more small-scale activities, beekeeping can stand up against this situation, encouraging people to be active and to generate income. More than 110 women and men from all districts covering most parishes inside the Diocese gathered at this first beekeeping seminar. All the benefits of beekeeping were lined up. Attention was drawn to the beekeepers’ equipment: clothing, smoker, etc. The importance of producing high quality honey by carefully harvesting, transporting and processing was pointed out. Modern hives such as top-bar hives, which can be made locally, were introduced, while showing the benefits in managing bees and collecting honey. At the end of the day the participants were told to consider establishing a local beekeepers’ association.
Finally I appointed Bishop Denham ‘Beekeeper’, handing over a beekeeper’s hat and information. Both objectives of my visit were successful, and since then relations have been strengthened further. The next big step may be a beekeeping development project.
Nigerian beekeeper visits Denmark
Whilst preparing my visit I was kindly put in touch with the National Secretary General of the Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations of Nigeria, Mr Aniefok U Ekpo, by the Danish company Swienty. Although we did not meet in Nigeria, half a year later Mr Ekpo visited Denmark. This gave the opportunity to share important information and to introduce him to the well established Danish Beekeepers’ Association. The beekeeping sector was presented by visiting professional beekeepers and queen breeders, companies working at national and international levels, local school apiaries and more.
At the personal, local and national levels, relations between beekeeping in Denmark and Nigeria have developed up during the last few years. Obviously the foundations towards further collaboration have been laid, and it has become clear that beekeepers co-operating across borders have a high potential to develop the sector. This can help in the fight against poverty with great benefits for people and the environment
Bees for Development Journal #76