Nature and livelihoods in sweet balance

IN the hills above Trelawny, the award-winning Sawyers Local Forest Management Committee (LFMC) Benevolent Society in the Cockpit Country is combining beekeeping and agroforestry in a winning combination to reduce poverty and reverse biodiversity loss in this valuable region of Jamaica.

Their latest exploits come three years after being awarded the Forest Heroes Community-based organisation award for the top LFMC group in 2018. Now they are partnering with the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to show that nature-based solutions to development make good sense.

Through a project designed to preserve natural resources while generating sustainable livelihoods in harmony with nature, Sawyers, with UNDP/GEF SGP support, is aiming to strike a balance between nature and livelihoods in the Cockpit Country, which continues to be threatened by unsustainable practices. A report on drivers of land cover change says these practices are largely led by small-scale farmers cutting trees to make yam sticks and charcoal. But sustainable livelihood alternatives like beekeeping deploy nature’s biodiversity warriors and pollinators to support income-generating opportunities that are kind to the environment.

A US$118,000 grant from UNDP/GEF SGP, matched by US$120,000 in cash and kind, plus sweat equity from Sawyers LFMC financed 60 hive boxes for 11 bee apiaries in addition to beekeeping training from RADA for nine individuals in 2019. The grant also backed the conversion of a 40-foot container into a solarised office and facility, with water harvesting infrastructure, to extract and store honey and farming inputs; aided in the distribution of seedlings and other inputs for 65 farmers; was utilised to set up an automatic weather station; and was also utilised for the reforestation of 13.5 hectares of forest reserve with agroforestry crops for honeybees to feast on. This benefited 20 farmers and the honeybee’s plant-to-hive production line.

For the past two years, project development and implementation engaged more than 600 residents in and outside of Sawyers, providing livelihood opportunities in farming and beekeeping for 230. As trained beekeeping teachers, Toussaint Brown, president of the Sawyers LGFMC, and his eight peers in turn trained 15, bringing the cohort of trained beekeepers serving 11 apiary sites to 24. They are also training two other beekeepers in a neighbouring community, spreading the skills and opportunities further afield.

Two of the group’s 11 apiaries are managed by Sawyers LMFC and the other nine by communities bordering Sawyers. They collectively supply honey, bee pollen and beeswax, and will trade under the group’s Liquid Gold brand pending accreditation from the Bureau of Standards of Jamaica. Market data indicate beekeeping is an inroad to poverty reduction. Jamaica is forecast to earn $1 billion from honey sales by Jamaica’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and a 23 per cent return on investment according to Jamaica’s trade and investment agency Jampro. Globally, honey’s market size was valued US$9.21 billion in 2020 with a compounded annual growth rate of 8.2 per cent, according to a market analysis report by Grand View Research.

Sawyers LFMC is determined to cut into this pie. “Last year we got 16 buckets of honey – one bucket holds 22 bottles of honey, and one bucket means $55 000 – a total of $800,000”, Toussaint revealed. He said the project expanded on inputs previously received by another agency but added critical training and equipment like a honey harvester to assure results. “Because of the GEF small grant our knowledge base was expanded and we learned more about harvesting of the honey. We were able not only to sell honey, but we were able to sell other by-products such as pollen and wax. We got 11 pounds of pollen and sold 53 pounds of wax for $2,500 per pound”, he said.

“(Beekeeping) generates more money than our usual practices of planting just yam,” Toussaint explained. Now they are expanding by selling their services and bee colonies to other groups that are planning to venture into apiculture. Sawyers’ group splits the hives, allowing them to keep a bee population in the box while earning $30,000 per box, he said.

Revenue from the business has financed care packages for the less fortunate during the first year of the novel coronavirus pandemic and a donation to the community school.

“I have benefited quite tremendously. It helped send my kids to school and with throwing a little pardner [group savings scheme],” beekeeper Jacqueline Williams declared.

“Personally, I am one of those who plays an integral part in rearing the bees,” Toussaint said. “It has moulded me into a holistic person where I see I can start a business on my own. I can generate income for me and my household.”

UNDP/GEF SGP national coordinator in Jamaica, Hyacinth Douglas said mandatory training is one of the keys to the results now being reaped. “It is important for beekeepers to develop skills and knowledge to manage honeybees in an effective manner in order to promote and improve bee health. It’s also to ensure that they develop good standards of beekeeping in order to minimise pests and disease risks to the bees,” she said.

“We were trained on how to care for the bee, how the bee helps the forest with pollination, how to harvest honey, and honey processing,” explained Christina Sinclair, Sawyers LFMC member who is also a beekeeper.

Working symbiotically with the new bee populations are the project’s agroforestry installations on 13.5 hectares in Sawyers and on the plots of 65 farmers. By distributing timber trees and low crops such as sweet pepper, scotch bonnet pepper and pineapple the project is working to ensure that the agroforestry method takes root in Sawyers, providing a source of pollination, food for the bees and reversing forest degradation in watershed areas, Hyacinth said.

“Lives and families of the farmers have tremendously improved because of this project. They were able to make ends meet and extend a helping hand to other persons in the communities. Farmers have expanded their fields and they are telling us they have been harvesting a lot of peppers weekly and bi-weekly,” said Toussaint.

Leneva Dale, farmer of the Alps district in Trelawny, is one of the 65 who have adopted this renowned climate change and adaptation method on his farm. “It’s been real profitable, man. Everything good. It’s good; only through the COVID come in it kinda break it down, but it still going good and improving. I would say about eight to 10 more harvest,” he said.

Beverly Brown tends a pineapple field near the LFMC office and believes they will harvest no less than five-pound pines come July/August. But they must keep watch. “Because the pine shooting out, we do not weed, or they will be stolen” she said.

In the middle of the pineapple field, the brand new automatic weather station is helping farmers with their crops. “We use it to track the weather patterns, so now we can tell when there will be a lot of rainfall so the farmers can prepare for that. Knowing ahead of time helps us know when to plant and how to plant, and when they will have to do their own watering. It definitely helps us reap more. We also have less spoilage,” she disclosed.

Buzzed by their successes, the group is making plans to upscale the GEF SGP intervention by strengthening the Sawyers enterprise and their honeybee by-product lines, and engaging in climate-smart agriculture. They are also getting ready to help neighbouring communities in the Cockpit Country get into beekeeping.

Hyacinth Douglas is excited at the prospects for building income-generating skills and poverty reduction. “My high point, of course, would be the built capacities of the group and the community, as well as their proven commitment to become stewards of the environment,” she said. “In the end, we got what we came for.”

The community wins. Biodiversity and the forest are set to win too.

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