You must have heard the unsettling, inconvenient truth by now. It’s not global warming; it’s far subtler, less chic. It’s a whisper that’s shrugged off as inconsequential. We have far bigger problems to deal with, right? But that’s not exactly true. We have to talk about it and, more importantly, we have to do something about it before it’s too late. The fact is, our bees are dying and it’s far more serious than you realise.
We have a massive superiority complex, this human race of ours. We tend to only care about the big events, the game changers that directly affect our lives. That could explain why we so casually brush off the news that global bee populations are in rapid decline. Who cares about dead bees? The world spins madly on, day turns to night and the economy stumbles forward, the great reckoning can be moved to next week. But consider, for a moment, the imperative role that pollinating insects (particularly bees) play in our ecosystems. A third of all global food production depends on their pollination of crops, including fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, spices, edible oils and much more. If the bees disappear it will be absolutely devastating to our food production levels. Also, consider that global population growth is verging on the exponential, meaning a few billion more mouths to feed, and suddenly a world without bees, a world in which food is a scarce commodity, becomes a terrifying prospect.
The worrying decline in the global bee population has been attributed to many factors, most of which are the result of human activity (ever the masters of our own downfall, it seems). This includes habitat degradation of flowering plant species, insecticides and air pollution from heavy industry. Though the decline has been felt most heavily abroad, with the UK experiencing a 45% loss in commercial honeybee population since 2010, this phenomenon is becoming more prevalent in Africa and African honeybees have even begun to show signs of contracting the same diseases as their European and American counterparts. We most definitely have cause for concern when one considers the fact that emerging markets, the majority of African markets, tend to feel the impact of such crises more profoundly.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as we profile an exciting Uganda-based startup that is taking steps in the right direction to help address this and other pressing problems in their community.
Aryodi (Adyaka Rural Youth Development Initiative) Bee Farm is a community business association committed to training and equipping local farmers with the knowledge, tools and support to set up their own small, sustainable bee farms. In a region that is still reeling from the effects of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) civil war, including a general lack of income, low crop yields and high youth unemployment rates, Aryodi Bee Farm has found its niche and is making a huge difference in local communities, whilst effectively combatting the decline of local bee populations.
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It is rare to find a company that is so intrinsically linked to the lives of the local population in which it operates, but Aryodi just gets it right on so many levels. Their business strategy is holistic in the sense that they are actively involved in developing and managing their own value chain, which essentially transforms locals into valued shareholders, invested in the business and its success. Aryodi has an integrated training and resource centre, which has already provided training to over 5000 smallhold farmers and is dedicated to teaching local youths and women beekeeping skills, business administration, entrepreneurship skills, group dynamics and life skills. Once the training is complete, Aryodi helps the farmers to establish their own beekeeping operations, which will allow the farmer to earn a sustainable living from honey production. The final stage in this wonderful value chain sees Aryodi buy the honey and associated by-products from the farmers to package and distribute throughout Uganda and into international markets. In this way Aryodi is linking rural subsistence farmers with the rest of the world and allowing them to access markets they might never have been able to otherwise.
In a country where over 80 percent of the population earns a living from subsistence farming, Aryodi is really revolutionising the beekeeping industry and changing the lives of thousands of Ugandans.
But Aryodi is not only making a remarkable difference in the lives of the farmers it supports, it is helping to turn the tide in the fight against dwindling bee populations. The farm teaches modern beekeeping methods as opposed to the traditional ‘honey hunting’ method: which involves driving the bees out of their hives with smoke before breaking open the hives to gather the honey. This not only kills the bees and destroys the hive, but results in much smaller profits for the beekeeper, a real lose-lose situation. With these modern methods and a real focus on research and sustainability, Aryodi is directly stimulating the resurgence in the local bee population and promoting a culture of protection for the bees, their honey and their function as an essential pollinator of crops in the region.
If Aryodi’s amazing contribution wasn’t impressive enough already, their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives are making an even bigger impact on local Ugandans’ lives. The company provides mosquito nets to pregnant mothers in their training areas, they have reward programmes for their most prolific farmers, they provide additional training on health and wellness for their farmers, they loan out beehives and queen bees on a revolving basis to poorer farmers and they even provide scholarships and sponsorships to orphans in the local community!
In a day and age where profit seems to be king and companies can so often be accused of ‘stepping on the little guy’ to maximise the bottom line and optimise efficiency, it is inspiring to see a company like Aryodi making a difference in so many lives.
Who could imagine that something as humble as the honeybee could be such a powerful medium for social change? Who could imagine that a startup in Uganda is doing so much, for so many?
Perhaps if more companies looked to Aryodi Bee Farm’s example, we wouldn’t be in this precarious situation in the first place.