First published by Beekeepers Quarterly March 2010
At times I think Africa has become a laboratory for development workers experimenting with the lives of poor people. It’s hard not to be cynical when tackling seemingly intractable problems. I worked with development and conservation projects in East Africa for more than 25 years. All around me people were trying to “solve Africa’s problems” with big programmes, little projects, technology transfer, enterprise development, capacity building and so on. A few were successful; a lot have been failures.
Recently I started beekeeping again, in England – and have had time to reflect. I know Africa is still unique. I think this is its strength.
We lived on the Kapiti Plains in Maasailand south of Nairobi. In the far distance, on a clear day, we could see Kilimanjaro; and to the northwest were the Ngong Hills. We were in the middle of nowhere with lots cattle; and zebra, ostrich and gazelle, sometimes giraffe and occasionally lion. We heard hyenas at night and saw aardvarks on our way home after dark. Until we planted and protected seedlings in the compound the only trees on our parched 100acres were metre-high whistling thorns and a few Balanites.
Just as the wildebeest migrated out of the national park when the rains started, we had colonies of bees move into the walls of our house weeks before the rains came. The swarms came from the Ngong Hills, as the whistling thorn began to flower.
In some seasons there were lots of swarms. I bought a couple of top bar hives, a few Langstroths and a log hive. I moved bees from Nairobi to the farm and back again, and I learned a little about beekeeping in Africa.
I also spent time with friends like Tom Carroll who taught beekeeping at a college in the Rift Valley, and began to understand some of the nuances of beekeeping in this part of the world. I worked with Kenyan beekeepers, talked to researchers like Professor Kigatiira and explored ideas with Suresh Raina’s team at ICIPE. Later I became involved with some beekeeping projects, and designed a few myself – ultimately developing some strong opinions of the do’s and don’ts in beekeeping development.