Team WCS is in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to help promote conservation through beekeeping initiatives.
Many rural villages, located along the borders of Mt. Rungwe Nature Reserve, had previously earned income by exploiting the resources of the reserve (timber, in particular). By helping these villages create a sustainable honey production business, WCS hopes to provide an alternate source of income for the beekeepers and promote conservation of the nature reserve.
This is where the Haas IBD team comes in: evaluating the current honey operations and helping WCS create a sustainable business model.
A quick 36 hours to Mbeya
After 23 hours in the air and 13 hours of layovers, we arrived safely in Mbeya
Half way through…
The first half of our trip has been quite busy – meeting the WCS team, getting acclimated to Mbeya, visiting three producer groups around Mt. Rungwe, sampling the local cuisine, scouring the market for honey competitors, assessing potential equipment suppliers, and interviewing anyone in sight (okay maybe it just felt like that).
In order to understand the operational challenges of the honey initiative, as well as the motivations of the individual beekeeping groups, we spent significant time in our first week visiting the three villages selected for the pilot beekeeping project.
WCS was also able to introduce us to three local beekeeping experts, trained in Africa and the U.S., to help us understand operational best practices and help us identify areas of improvement for the honey initiative. Mr. Ephraim Kilon (pictured below) generously shared decades of beekeeping knowledge and directed us to the best hive craftsmen in Mbeya.
Honey Market & Customer Analysis
We also spent time in the first couple weeks analyzing the local honey market in Mbeya. To accomplish this, we interviewed retailers, performed anonymous store visits, set up a focus group of local customers, conducted primary research, and assessed competitive products (including a honey taste-off, naturally).
Toward the end of the first week we were able to sit down with two government agencies: the Small Industries Development Organization (SIDO), which provides training and resources for small businesses, and the Vocational Education and Training Authority (VETA), which provides vocational training – including carpentry (beehives!) – for students in each region of Tanzania.
Observations & Challenges
Upon arrivale, one of the first things we did was sample our Mt. Rungwe honey. It’s darker than the honey we consume in the U.S. (and not quite as visually appealing for us Americans) but it tastes great, with a big, sweet flavor profile and nice viscosity. One key problem, however, is that the lids we use do not seal adequately. We came to find out that it is not just a problem with our supplier: the cap and liner seals that we take for granted in the U.S. are simply not readily available in Tanzania.
One of the early impressions we had, while working on this project from the U.S., was that the villages / producer groups were quite close to Mbeya and as such, the product should be relatively easy to get to market. It turns out the villages are about an hour drive away, and part of that drive requires a serious all-wheel drive SUV due to harsh road conditions. That, combined with the fact that nobody in the villages owns a vehicle, makes distribution a challenge as WCS tries to turn operational control over to the villages.
Donor vs. Sustainable Models
One of the more complex cultural issues that we’re facing – one that is less common in the developed world – is training the producer groups to think of the honey operation as a self-sustaining business rather than a donor-funded operation. Trying to convince the beekeepers that they need to invest some of their profit to replace decaying hives, for example, is not an easy task. They want to have the money up front and assume hives will be donated – the concept of reinvestment to keep the business alive over the long-term will take significant education.
One of the key positive takeaways from our first week is that it appears beekeeping does provide conservation benefits. Apiaries, set up along the edge of the protected forests, motivate the owners of the hives to protect the area from fires, a major benefit for the reserve. It also serves as a shield of sorts, as people are generally timid about passing a group of 30 or 40 bee colonies to enter the forest.
Exploring Southern Tanzania
With the help of the WCS team, we were able to make the most of our first weekend, exploring the Mt. Rungwe Nature Reserve (with a few highly knowledgeable tour guides) and relaxing on Matema Beach, an incredible oasis along Lake Malawi.
We spent most of our day on Saturday hiking with the WCS team in Mt. Rungwe and hoping to catch a glimpse of the Kipunji, a critically endangered species of monkey native to the area. Thanks to our guides, we were able to watch a group of Kipunji as they passed overhead. Standing in the middle of the forest – perfectly silent – while having a staring contest with the Kipunji was certainly a highlight of the trip.