Plants and Bees
Report From Kenyan Intern, Edwin Ruto
The Elephants and Bees project is a smart step towards sustainable development and towards tackling challenges of climate change. Whilst the main objective is to use bees as a natural deterrent for elephants to prevent crop raiding and in turn reduce human elephant conflict, there are many more benefits derived from the project and its associated activities which should not be overlooked. In my first week as an intern at the Elephants and Bees Project in Sagalla, where we work closely with the community, I realized how valuable the project and its activities are to the local people. The project works to change negative attitudes against elephants, eradicate poverty through the provision of sustainable and reliable livelihoods, improve ecosystem health and services and provide solutions to challenges of climate change.
The project uses bees as a natural deterrent to protect farms from elephant damage, it is important to understand the benefits bees provide to our lives and their strong evolutionary relationship with plants where humans and animals are the main beneficiaries. Plants are a core source of nectar to bees and the availability and abundance of plants resources and varieties in our ecosystem will mean there is lots of nectar for the bees, reproduction success, more bees, increase in bees’ activity and eventually more benefits such as honey and wax that can be obtained from the bee’s activity. On the other hand, plants depend heavily on bees as main pollinators and therefore having more bees in our ecosystem (through beehive fences) will mean we have more plants resources and varieties for human and animal survival. Therefore there is a strong direct correlation between bees and plants, where change in numbers of either plants or bees will impact the availability of the other and the benefits associated with it. The Elephants and Bees project is promoting this relationship and aiming to increase the benefits we derive from the plant-bee relationship amongst the community.
Honey is an important source of food, income, medicine and preservation to communities in Kenya such as Sagalla, and all over the world. The value of honey is determined by its quality, which is dependent upon the plant varieties where bees collected the nectar to make the honey. The medicinal value in honey depends on the medicinal value in the plants which were used and their ability to cure various illnesses. Therefore increased plant varieties in the ecosystem will influence the value of honey and its ability to cure disease. Honey is no shortage in Sagalla – thanks to the beehive fences!
Local communities in Kenya, and other countries across the continent depend on agriculture as the main source of income and food. However issues such as increased human population and change in climate and environmental conditions have created challenges to the agricultural sector. The Elephants and Bees Project provides a more resilient and sustainable livelihood option to the local communities, that is less sensitive to weather and climate parameters as compared to agriculture. The Sagalla climate consists of relatively low rainfall and high temperatures further increasing the challenges of farming. The vulnerable location of these farmers next to Tsavo East national park makes them prone to elephant crop raiding exacerbating the struggle to successfully harvest. The beehive fences around these farmers provide relief to some of these challenges, farmers are able to generate additional income through honey sales, the bees act as a deterrent to elephants and prevent them from devastating their crop, and bee activity will improve pollination in the farms which will eventually contribute to improving crop production. By reducing elephant crop raiding events, human elephant conflict is reduced helping to alter peoples negative attitudes towards elephants, this will help in the long term to promote elephant conservation.
Today, the biggest global threat affecting every living thing, aspect and dimensions of life is climate change. Climate change is the change in statistical distribution of weather patterns affecting lives in one way or the other. Climate change experts have provided two options to tackle these challenges; adaption and mitigation. The Elephants and Bees project works to provide both options in Sagalla, a major adaption is the provision of an alternative livelihood that is sustainable; the beehive fence provides honey and is less sensitive to impacts of climate change. The livelihood is resilient to weather and climates extremes providing the Sagalla community a reliable climate change adaptation option for current and future generations.
Mitigation involves efforts to reduce or remove the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Elephants and Bees project also contributes to reducing emission and removing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. While the community enjoy the benefits of honey harvesting, they are less likely to depend on agriculture and less conversion of land for agriculture production. Instead they are able to protect forest and plant resources to increase bees forage for more honey production and this helps to reduce poor agriculture practices and land use change in Sagalla reducing greenhouse gas emission in land use change and agricultural sector. Also, the community understand the importance of having an abundance and variety of plants that will influence the property, quality and quantity of their honey, they are able to protect and conserve plants and plant diversity for these reasons and through this, they increase carbon sinks through plant resources that contribute in removing GHGs from atmosphere. The beehive fence along the farms will also increase pollination activity and increase abundance of plant resources in the area which will increase carbon sinks that will help absorb carbon dioxide therefore contributing to mitigation of climate change. Increased plant resources due to bee activity through the construction of beehive fences will in the long term influence micro-climate for the better.
After visiting the projects permaculture farm, I was fascinated by the different plant varieties being tested and observing those that were able to thrive well in the area despite the challenging climate conditions. The testing of survival of different plants in the area can provide the best crop and plant options for the community and ensure future food security with current changing environment and climate conditions. With the availability of fruit trees being tested in the permaculture plot e.g. mangos, oranges and pawpaw, this could be a long-term solution to the community. When the fruit trees are grown in large scale, they will create a shade and influence the micro climate of the area, reduce water loss in the underlying ground because of the shade they create. Other Plants and crops like bananas, vegetables can then follow under the shades of these fruit trees (under influenced micro climate and retained water by the shades) these plants and crops will influence soil fertility and allow growth of many other plant and crop varieties in the area and ensure successful ecological succession of vegetation that can be very important to the Sagalla community.
During my first week at the Elephants and Bees project, I was fortunate to participate in the Voi agricultural/livestock show, where we showcased the project and its activities to spread the word about the beehive fences and its associated benefits. I observed how the project idea is appealing to the surrounding communities. Many people had lost a friend or family member due to HEC, they were encouraged by the project and saw it as the best solution to their conflicts with elephants. We were invited to educate people and students in neighbouring communities and help to implement the project in their own homes.
In conclusion, while we experience climate change amongst other threats impacting our lives today, The Elephants and Bees project could provide a pathway to improve all aspects and dimensions of life and to reduce environment and climate threats. While we cannot certainly predict the future, we can always predict consequences of human choices. I strongly believe the Elephant and Bees Project provide us a pathway towards sustainable development. This project will improve livelihoods and income to eradicate poverty and improve socio-economic status of the community. It will also improve ecosystem health and function by reducing human-animal conflict and conserve elephants which are keystone species of resources. The economy will improve eventually as a total sum in eradication of poverty through sustainable livelihood and improved economic benefits accrued from our ecosystem. By protecting the elephants, we will have improved economic benefits from elephant conservation such us tourism among others. All these benefits will be increased if the project idea is replicated on many areas and done on large scale to maximize the many benefits. After my first two weeks working with other hardworking, passionate interns and local staff all of whom have a great spirit of team work, working to provide the community with solutions to help improve their well-being, I have found happiness in myself, it has been an amazing learning experience that has equipped me with skills to enable me to prosper.