African Honey Bee (AHB) is a South African Christian Not for Profit Organisation that enables families from severely disadvantaged rural communities to establish self-help savings groups through which they build sustainable, climate-smart, income-generating enterprises.
In addition to free-range eggs,chicken meat, and organic vegetables and fruit, the families also produce raw traceable honey of unrivalled taste and quality, using environmentally friendly and ethical beekeeping practices. AHB was recently recognized for the work that they do, winning the Social Innovation award for Income Generation at the Community Chest Impumelelo Social Innovations Awards.
Over the past four years, AHB has signed up more than a thousand members in Northern KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) of which 85% are women, 65% are youth and 10% are disabled. 1,050 (and counting) of these beekeepers (and their families) are actively keeping bees and many have started producing and selling honey. Last year over 15 tons of honey was produced and over R750,000 (75 times the average household income in this impoverished area) paid out to the beekeepers for their honey. By training these vulnerable communities and families, AHB has not only contributed to their sustainability as families, but also to a sustainable environment.
AHB operates as an enabler, aiming for the project to become self-sustainable during 2020 and not depend on external funding. AHB supports the families to become entrepreneurs themselves by producing and trading not only honey, but also vegetables, chickens and eggs for local and fair-trade markets.
AHB has developed an asset-based community development set of tools to make beekeeping an accessible economic activity for all. The programme does not depend on hand outs but organises self-help groups that save and manage money which they can use to start micro-businesses. AHB’s first steps were to establish networks within the different communities, using schools and churches as logistical frameworks, and to set up self-help community groups. The facilitator presented practical workshops based on asset-based community development, business skills and community money banks. AHB focused on assets already within the community, where the assets are one’s family, abandoned scrap material that can be transformed into beekeeping tools or protective clothing, or timber offcuts that could be used build a beehive or chicken coop. This allowed AHB to give the communities a hand up, rather than a handout.
In the community self-help groups, members learn to save, borrow and lend money that they earn with entrepreneurial and income-generating skills. Individuals that show commitment to the programme are given further training and selected as business-in-a-box recipients. This ensures that the beneficiaries remain committed and loyal to the programme, and their example often inspires their neighbours and other members of the community to participate.
With the small “starter kits” of materials they build income-generating equipment (like beehives or chicken enclosures) and they start to earn a small income, through selling vegetables, eggs, chicken meat and honey. This means that poor rural families (of 5 individuals or more) earning less than R10,000 per year (mostly from government grants), in remote rural areas where there are no jobs, can double their annual income. With their products, the children also receive better nutrition from more protein and vegetables. This means that they have improved health and wellbeing and perform better at school, breaking one of the most fundamental poverty cycles.
At the end of 2020, the model will be self-sustainable. Each level of the value chain will be incentivised to support the others. AHB has used franchising principles to achieve this. The families who keep and protect their bees are the micro franchisees, the beekeepers are the micro franchisors, the honey processors are social franchisees, and the off-taker is the social franchisor. A project measurement and evaluation tool called ImpactApp is being developed that collects product traceability information, enables value chain management, poverty alleviation measurement and registering attendance.
It is hoped that by the end of 2020 – using the training manuals, the ImpactApp, basic technical, social and entrepreneurial skills, and some start-up funding – we should be easily able to replicate the model in other parts of South Africa, on the continent and across the globe. AHB is now a SEED mentor for entrepreneurs who want to replicate the AHB model in different areas.
AHB has a clear long-term vision to make the communities self-reliable and empower them to determine a better economic future for themselves. At the same time, beekeepers protect the environment which has a multiplicator effect once community members become aware of the economic and environmental benefits of the beekeeping activities.
Understanding the importance of collaboration, AHB has joined forces with Sappi Forests (one of South Africa’s top 40 public companies) who work with the same communities AHB is involved with. Sappi has provided AHB with a house in a secure environment where processing and project management takes place. Sappi has benefitted from their partnership with AHB largely due to a School Outreach project that AHB ran to educate local children about the dangers of fires started for destructive hunting honey, and the possibility of generating income from honeybees if they are conserved.
Research has shown that the honey hunter fires that cause damage due to uncontrolled burning are mostly started by children when they take honey from wild bee nests. AHB showed the children how to use controlled fires and protective gear and how they could generate income from moving bees into hives. This schools programme reached over 10,000 children in 2017 and increased members by 700 families. For Sappi the project has resulted in a steady decline in honey hunter fires and improved relations with its neighbour communities.
Agribusiness Development Agency has assisted AHB in setting up an HASSP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) standard processing plant in a container. Most importantly AHB has secured an off-take agreement with Peels Honey to by the honey from the beekeeper families and then share 50 % of the profits. Peels benefits because they can sell fully traceable honey where consumers can see who the exact beekeeper, their location, the season and contributing plants were for each batch.
AHB has been funded by the government of Flanders through the Industrial Development Corporation under the Social Enterprise Fund, as well as by Sappi and the Agribusiness Development Agency. The main objective of AHB has always been to establish financially sustainable value chains, among the bottom of the pyramid: vulnerable families from poor, rural communities in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. So, if AHB, (not wanting to become dependent on the communities it is trying to help), achieves its goal by the end of 2020, the project in Northern KwaZulu Natal will be financially independent, not requiring further financial input. AHB then hopes to raise new funding to replicate its model elsewhere.
So bottom line: the AHB model is good for profit, good for people, and good for the planet.
The AHB Difference
Our programme scores high marks in terms of promoting:
- sustainable micro-enterprise development
- addressing solutions for food security
- capacity- building
- poverty relief
- organic agriculture
- preserving biodiversity
- enhancing agriculture through pollination
- creating new niche export markets
At African Honey Bee, we believe in helping rural, disadvantaged families transform their lives through their own God-given talents and the miracle of raw honey production on their doorstep.
The programme focuses on more than just skills development and job opportunities – our holistic approach empowers communities with the self-confidence and sense of hope that can ultimately build a viable, self-sustaining future free of ongoing grant or donor funding.
By using available natural resources, combined with the simple gift of vegetable seeds, a young fruit tree, day-old chicks and feed, or a flatpack (the materials for making a hive), AHB beekeepers and their families can be liberated from the cycle of poverty forever. They can be set firm on a path of controlling their own lives and providing for their families through their own efforts, no longer dependent on others for their wellbeing. AHB’s focus on Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) – whether those assets are one’s family, the abandoned scrap material that can be transformed into beekeeping tools or protective clothing, or the timber offcuts that can build a beehive or chicken coop – allows us to give our communities a hand up, rather than a hand out.
Through family-owned and operated micro-beekeeping businesses in rural communities that can profitably compete in local and fair-trade markets.
At AHB, we produce traceable, gravity extracted, superior raw honey that is good to eat, good for the environment and good for the community.