Monday, March 10, 2014

SNRE student's beekeeping project stimulates interest in forestry in The Gambia, West Africa

Peace Corps Volunteer and University of Alaska Fairbanks Master's International student Samantha Straus has been working with community members in a rural village in West Africa for the past two years in the field of agroforestry in The Gambia.

In conjunction with an enterprising non-governmental organization, BeeCause, Straus and her two counterparts Malick Ceesay and Seidou Ceesay, have attended trainings to build their beekeeping capacity.  The team members live in a heavily deforested area where traditional honey harvesting can best be described as bee “killing” rather than bee “keeping” where “bee killers” burn hives to treat themselves to smoky honey.

Malick Ceesay (left) and Samantha Straus (right) made a grass hive out of local materials at a BeeCause training. (Photo by Anne McWhinney, Peace Corps Volunteer The Gambia)
Straus's counterparts have successfully established two Kenyan top bar hives more commonly known as KTB’s. These hives have done well producing wax but have not produced very much honey.  The hives have an unusually large number of queen cells which is indicative of a stressed or overcrowded hive.

As resources dwindle in the founding hive, new queens emerge to split the hive into smaller units to preserve the bees.  The stress experienced by the bees is reminiscent of the struggles Straus and community have faced with food security.

"Bees need trees and trees need bees," Straus said.  Her colleagues are now more interested and dedicated to the task of growing trees if only to help their honey production thrive. Last year, nearly 100 cashew and 50 moringa trees were planted in the community with more trees being started in a local nursery.

Community members rely heavily on trees for fuel wood, medicine, food, timber and fodder. Beekeeping adds a lucrative and therefore attractive income generation opportunity which has galvanized the community’s interest in tree planting.

When community members ask Straus why there is no honey, she responds that the bees are eating all the honey they produce because there are not enough trees for them to feed off of. The rural village where she serves is also threatened by erosion as deep gullies continue to ruin farmlands and the structural integrity of homes. Trees have many secondary uses, including soil stabilization. "More trees can only help the community in all of the above mentioned areas and beekeeping is one of the ways they are getting there," Straus said.

For more information about Samantha’s projects and her Peace Corps experience in The Gambia, please see her blog, Banto Faros.  Feel free to send additional questions to Straus, or see her in person in July 2014 when she is due to return home to Fairbanks.

Further reading:
SNRAS student ready to begin Peace Corps service in The Gambia, SNRE Science and News, Feb. 27, 2012, by Nancy Tarnai

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