3 March 2014
The trees of southern Malawi have a new, tiny but effective security guard: the bee.
It's not as ridiculous as it sounds. Local families are earning a secure income from their beehives - so they no longer need to cut down trees to make charcoal to sell.
The bees also protect key areas of the forest - people avoid them because they don’t want to get stung.
In Malawi, farmers talk about the changing weather - the unpredictability of rains and the increasing dry spells. All of these can damage or ruin a crop.
Science suggests this is the impact of global, man-made climate change.
But it is also likely to be exacerbated by local practices, such as deforestation to make charcoal.
The bees are helping to break this vicious cycle.
When people don’t grow enough food, they must find other ways to make money.
Cutting down trees and burning the wood for charcoal is something many people turn to, even if they understand the damage they're doing.
Just 8% of the country has electricity, so energy sources like charcoal are in high demand.
Our partner, WESM, helps people find other ways to make money - ways that don’t damage the environment.
‘Before being trained about bees, the money I earned was not reliable.
'I got most of it by chopping down trees for firewood and charcoal,’ says Anthony Loga.
‘I couldn’t send my youngest child to school at all and our second-born sometimes had to miss whole terms.’
Income from selling the honey is regular and relatively secure.
It gives people the cash they need to send their children to school and to set up other small businesses, like cooking and selling scones.
Anthony adds: ‘One big bag of charcoal is sold for the same price as one single pot of honey, so my finances are much improved. I am happy to be sending all three of my children to school.’
It’s not only the honey these buzzing, mini environmental warriors produce that helps to safeguard the trees.
They also provide physical protection for the trees around the hives.
Bees may only sting once, but when there is a swarm of them, they are a formidable force.
‘The bees also act like watchmen to protect our trees from anyone else coming to chop them down,’ observes Anthony.
The relationship is mutually beneficial. Bees help the families make money, and in return the families help the bees to survive and thrive.
Bees are amazing creatures. 30% of the world’s crops rely on their role in pollination - crops that play a key role in ensuring food security and the export industry.
A bee may be a tiny insect - but it makes a very big impact!
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