I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer based in Rundu, Namibia, a town of about 70,000, so it is always nice when I have the chance to see rural Kavango Region. Last November, I traveled with my colleague to Omega, which is far into Kavango East, near the border with Zambezi Region and about 250km from Rundu.
The history of Omega is interesting. After independence and the creation of Bwabwata National Park, the San people (also known as Bushman) who were traditionally nomadic in the park area were forced to relocate to the army base which had just been closed. Families were assigned to former soldier barracks and there were some amenities for the community like a large hall that served as a youth centre, etc.
Over time, the infrastructure has deteriorated. There is a pronounced lack of care of the residences combined with poor maintenance of community areas. There are 14 shebeens in the small community and alcoholism is a big problem.
One group that is trying to break out of this cycle of poverty and start an income-generating activity is Bushman Honey, led by community activist David Musavanga. They have been working since 2006 to establish a profitable business based on the traditional San practice of locating wild swarms of bees and gathering honey. Several community members attended a government-sponsored beekeeping training, but David is the only one who has continued to follow through to bring this source of jobs and income to Omega.
Over the course of five days, my counterpart and I conducted an assessment of the group’s needs and challenges and trained group members in basic business skills. They were enthusiastic and welcoming of this new information and for the first time, they were able to make financial projections regarding their project. They had just received a major grant through the Regional Council which allowed them to build a fence and a water tank to support the establishment of a garden, which will be used as another way to generate income and also to keep the bees at the site, since the lack of food in the winter months causes the bees to migrate and new swarms must be captured the following year.
The Bushman Honey production process
- A project member locates a bee hive in a tree or a local community member informs the group.
- Two project members in bee suits use smokers to calm the bees and then locate the queen at the centre of the hive.
- The queen is captured and carefully placed in a specially designed matchbox.
- The matchbox with the queen is placed in the bee box and the colony of bees eventually moves into the hive.
- The box is taken (usually by foot) back to the project site where it is hoped that the bees will adapt to the new environment.
- They conduct weekly bee box inspections until the bees adapt to the new environment and start to produce honey (this takes several months).
- A queen excluder is used to keep fertilized honeycombs out of the top boxes which are used to produce the honey.
- After enough honey is produced, they remove the frames with the honey combs and use a hand-cranked machine to extract the honey.
- The honey is filtered with a sieve and put in the sun for 2-3 hours (to age I think).
- The honey is then jarred with labels that were designed, printed and shipped to them by a tourist who was interested in helping the project.
- Their customers are locals, tourists and some jars are mailed to customers in Namibia.
We made a follow-up visit to Omega recently, and the group captured their first wild bee swarm of the year. They are also planning a small-scale garden and have planted some fruit trees to support their project. Project members know an impressive amount about beekeeping, they just lack training in business development skills. I hope that in coming years a Peace Corps Volunteer could be placed in Omega to better support this motivated group and help to develop other much needed small businesses in the area.