TRAFALGAR VILLAGE, West Berbice, Guyana (AlertNet) – Rural women living on the coast of Guyana have turned to beekeeping to boost their income while at the same time helping preserve the mangrove forests that protect the coast from rising seas.
Mangroves comprise just one percent of the 160,000 square kilometres (62,000 square miles) of natural vegetation in this South American nation. But the mangroves stabilise sediment and play an important role in coastal protection, vital for a coastline vulnerable to rising seas and heavy storms, problems experts link to climate change.
Now a project funded by the government of Guyana and the European Union to strengthen the country’s sea defences is giving local women the opportunity to profit from keeping bees, which thrive in and around the mangroves.
The scheme aims to give the women an economic stake in preserving the mangroves and thereby help protect some of the country’s prime agricultural land on the coast from flooding.
Donette Cummings, a recent convert to beekeeping in Trafalgar village, has learned through the project about the varied benefits of the mangrove ecosystem.
“I know that the mangroves protect the coastline from the sea and that (they are) a home for the bees. The mangroves have a lot of flowers and you get a lot of honey at a faster rate from them,” Cummings said.
She and some of her neighbours began keeping bees in October and are looking forward to their first honey harvest.
“We hope that in a next three months we start getting honey, and from our projection we think it will be good for us and at least bring in some income,” she said.
Experts believe that as climate impacts strengthen in Guyana, a $1.1 billion Guyanese dollar ($5.5 million) government effort to restore and protect the country’s mangroves, which is now underway, will prove much less costly than the ongoing expenses of repairing and maintaining the country’s artificial sea defences, which can cost about 9 million Guyanese dollars ($44,000) per kilometre.
“The mangrove breaks the energy of the waves coming in,” said mangrove ranger Raymond Hinds, who is trying to educate locals about the risks from damaging mangroves.
Coastal residents often cut down mangrove trees to make staves on which to grow vegetables, Hinds said.
About 36 women in Demerara county and about 48 women in Berbice are currently involved in the pioneering beekeeping program, offered as part of the mangrove protection effort, Hinds said.
“The women, through their activities, are playing their part in protecting the sea defences on the coast, since 90 percent of our agriculture is done on the coastland,” he said.
If the women see someone trying to cut or damage the mangroves, they now will raise an alarm, he said, because “automatically these women have an interest in the protection of the mangroves.”
As well as harvesting honey from wild hives of bees in the mangrove forests, the women are tending their own apiaries.
The project provides materials for building hives, as well as protective clothing and equipment such as smokers to tranquilise the bees. Training in beekeeping is also provided, and an expert visits the hives to offer regular advice.
Charlotte Harris, one of the apiarists in Trafalgar, is experimenting with ways to increase the yield from her domestic hives.
“We may have to go seek a wild hive to improve our colony,” said the elderly farmer. “As long as we have a good colony we will have good honey that we would be able to export.”
In addition to honey, the women manufacture and market ornamental baskets and candles made from beeswax.
Most of the women are treating beekeeping as a supplement to their usual livelihoods raising chickens or processing spices, but Hinds sees their new enterprise as essential to Guyana’s wider environmental and economic security.
“What happens if the mangroves are not there? Then the water comes in and damages crops and livelihoods and everybody loses,” he said.
Johann Earle is a Georgetown-based freelance writer with an interest in climate change issues.