Bee-keeping boosts Liberia’s rural economy

Sando Mensah used proceeds from beekeeping to open a provision shop and change her thatched roof to zinc (Photo: UNDP/A.K.Bah)

Years of war and over-dependence on forest resources in rural Liberia led to environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and destruction of the rural economy. Wild bee harvesting for example, uses smoke with a risk of forest fires while the use of fuel wood for charcoal production to serve the insatiable desires for charcoal in Liberia’s urban areas. The harvesting of wild snails, a delicacy in Liberia, also contributed to the destruction of Liberia’s West Africa Upper Guinea Forest - 42 per cent of which is located in Liberia – the largest portion of any single country in West Africa.

Sando Mensah, 41 and mother of six in the town of Handii, Bong County in Liberia, used to burn charcoal to augment her paltry income.  In the process of making the charcoal, Sando and other charcoal makers felled thousands of trees and burnt forests, with the attendant environmental consequences. Now this has changed, she is no longer burning charcoal but engaged in beekeeping as an alternative source of income.

Highlights

  • 150 farmers in Bong County, rural Liberia engaged in various income generating activities like beekeeping and snail-raising as a result of UNDP support with funds from the Small Grants Programme (SGP)/the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).
  • A farmer owning ten beehives, one snail-cage can potentially generate USD 1,200 from honey sales and USD 50 from snail-raising.
  • According an Equator Initiative Case Study Series notes that a beekeeper who owns 20 beehives could harvest 60 gallons of honey per year, generating USD 1,200.
  • Liberia hosts large biodiversity including over 2,000 flowering plants, 600 bird species, 150 mammals and 75 reptiles. The project helped to reduce pressure on Liberia’s forests thereby helping to restore Liberia’s biodiversity and forest.

“Beekeeping is better for me. It is less work and I can do it and look after my rice farm easily. I visit the bees two to three times a week. I started producing 3 gallons of honey in the first year and then this year I produced 5 gallons. I am now making more beehives to be able to produce more honey. Beekeeping has really changed my life for the better.” Sando Mensah said.

The West Africa Initiative of Liberia (WAIOL) an Equator Prize winner in 2012 received support from UNDP and funds from the Small Grants Programme (SGP)/Global Environment Facility (GEF) to develop alternative livelihoods in rural Liberia. WAIOL promotes beekeeping and snail-raising among other initiatives as alternative sources of income for rural men and women. Participants in the project also benefit from training in leadership, small-business development and a revolving microcredit loan scheme that serves as startup capital.

The impact on the lives of ordinary Liberians in the rural area has been immense. According to an Equator Initiative Case Study Series, a beekeeper who owns 20 beehives could harvest 60 gallons of honey per year, generating USD 1,200. The report also notes that additional USD 50 can be generated from one snail cage (stocked with 100 snails sold for USD .50 each during the dry season). The report also suggests that a farmer owning ten beehives and one snail-cage can potentially generate USD 1,200 from honey sales and USD 50 from snail-raising.

The impact of the project on biodiversity in Liberia is also significant. Liberia hosts large biodiversity including over 2,000 flowering plants, 600 bird species, 150 mammals and 75 reptiles. The UNDP support alone directly provided alternative livelihoods for 150 farmers in Bong County, Fuamah District in Liberia through beekeeping and production as well as snail-raising. Other partners have also provided support to WAIOL’s work in other parts of the country.

Ezekiel Freeman, the Coordinator of WAIOL said “Providing alternative sources of income and engaging in community initiatives will reduce the pressure on forests and the environment.”

Sando Mensah explains that the UNDP supported beekeeping project has changed her life for the better “Beekeeping has really helped me to get a living because I used to live under a thatch roofed house. I have changed the thatch roof as I now sleep under a corrugated zinc roof. I have also been able to start a small shop with the proceeds from the beekeeping and honey production.  I have also been able to pay the college fees for one of my children in the city. I am hoping to expand the beehives so I can produce more honey and help my other kids to go to college when they finish high school.”

Years of war in Liberia destroyed livelihoods and the rural economy, leading many rural folks to be increasingly dependent on forest resources for both food and fuel through hunting bush animals for meat, harvest forest snails and wild bees. The war also devastated various income generation options driving many young people into the city to engage in low-paying, risky jobs like mining.  Years of conflict also led to displacement of rural communities, destruction of land and cash-crop plantations further increasing the dependence on the forest resources for income, food and fuel.

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