Beekeeping and business making
“You are actually lucky if you get stung”, says Simon as we wind down the path to the wooden bee hives. I am not entirely convinced as I dodge the bees swarming in the air. Simon is going to sedate the bees slightly with a light lemon grass smoke to calm them down before he and his colleagues from Malaika Honey are going to build a shelter to protect the beehives. “The noise of banging as we put together the bamboo poles will disturb the bees, so we want to calm them down first”, he explains. Simon speaks about the bees with what resembles love and, for sure, deep respect.
“It might seem like I’m doing nothing standing here next to the hive, but I am actually working. The bees will get used to my voice and will learn to know me and not feel threatened by me. I’ve even heard that they can recognise a person’s face”.
Peter, Design without Border’s trusted driver of many years, and myself, are standing at a safe distance admiring the interaction between humans and bees.
Simon Turner is the founder of Malaika Honey Ltd. He is keen to stress that they are a business and not an NGO. He doesn’t believe in giving people anything for free. Free training without the prospects of putting that knowledge into something that can bring them an income would not be sustainable. Rather, Malaika Honey is a social business model. “We buy expensive and sell cheap”, he explains, “stimulating value chain growth while making profit on quantities of scale”.
Malaika Honey was set up in 2005 and employs local Ugandan people at all levels of the business to work with rural farmers. Malaika Honey’s slogan is “Beekeeping for a better future”. The aim is to eradicate poverty in rural communities through beekeeping. They run intensive beekeeping training courses that enable poor farmers to learn the necessary skills to become commercial beekeepers.
“Not tonight Honey”
Malaika Honey buys the raw honey from farmers who have invested in the training and bee keeping tools from the company. The honey is processed and sold in supermarkets in Kampala and beyond. The main product, “Not tonight Honey”, is very popular. They even export it to Kenya.
According to Malaika Honey, beekeeping can potentially solve a number of development challenges. First of all, it generates income: it takes little investment and creates business and income-generation for people. Secondly, it protects the environment: bees need trees and plants to feed and live. In Uganda and other parts of Eastern Africa, deforestation is a big problem due to production of charcoal for cooking. Beekeeping encourages tree planting. Thirdly, it promotes health: there are many bi-products of the honey production that is very beneficial to people’s health. Propolis for example is, is dubbed the “wonderdrug” as it has a broad-spectrum usage with antibiotic, antiseptic, antiviral and antifungal properties.
So, what has the bees got to do with Design without Borders?
Malaika Honey produces and sells beekeeping tools to the farmers, including the wooden hives, protective suits, smokers and importantly, the knife-like tool used to cut off and harvest the honey. It is this tool that Design without Borders was tasked with developing. Simon wanted a tool that is locally produced and affordable to the farmers and at the same time is versatile and nice looking so that it gives the farmers a sense of pride when they use it. The tool they had originally was imported from Italy and hence was relatively expensive for the farmers to buy. The specific tool developed is for top-bar hives where you harvest the honey by pulling out the dividers from the top and carefully cut off the honey into a bucket. Together with the staff and trainers at Malaika Honey, the team from Design without Borders developed a tool that is easy to handle and is multifunctional: it can cut the honey, it opens the top of the hive and it can be used to mend the hive. Several iterations were tested before the final solution was found. The new tool was launched in September 2015. To draw attention to the new tool, Malaika Honey ran a small competition on their Facebook page for people to guess what the tool was being used for in different photos!
Malaika Honey believes the tool will help towards the goal of reaching more farmers. The tool will make the harvesting more efficient and easy for the farmers, attracting more farmers to take up beekeeping.
“The process is very considered”
When asked how he experienced working with the designers, this is how Simon described it:
“The process is very pragmatic and considered. It took time and you don’t know exactly what you will end up with in the end. You might think you know what it is, but going through the process with the designers, you realise that it might turn out something different from what you expected. I really liked their approach”.
Returning to my close encounter with the bees from earlier, it is explained to me that the venom from the bees is very good for your health, it is actually anti-malarial. So, if you’re not allergic to the bee sting, it is actually a lucky strike. “No pain, no gain”, comforts Simon. Neither Peter nor I get stung and we walk away with a newly gained perspective on bees – they are clever, they create business, they help protect the environment and produce healthy stuff. Peter is already planning to invest and set up a beehive in his village. “It can help towards paying school fees for my girls”, he says with a big grin.
Written by Hanna Haaland – visiting Malaika Honey training facilities at the Roofings Forever Forestry Guild, just outside Kampala on 01.05.2015.
Facts about the project
Timeperiod: February – June 2015
Partner: Malaika Honey Ltd
Research and design development methods:
• Interviews with beekeepers and Malaika Honey employees
• Extensive testing and feedback
• Multifunctional tool customised for beekeeping in Uganda, especially targeting farmers as additional income generation