Outeniqua Eco Hives, an innovative bee-farming project with the possibility of endless job opportunities has just been launched on the Garden Route.
More than 1000 beehives are being established in the SAN Parks- managed Wilderness National Park - the first phase of a three-year project in which local communities will harvest honey and its by-products for the South African and international markets.
The initiative involves several stakeholders including SAN Parks, George-based NGO Christian Medical Services and Relief, local crates producer ProBin and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Outeniqua Eco Hives CEO Tjaart Smuts confirms that South Africa consumes 3000 tons of honey each year, of which 1000 tons are imported mainly from China. Recent legislation also prohibits new import licences being issued, mainly because the quality of the imported honey was in question.
The market for honey, and by-products such as bropolis, beeswax and venom, continues to grow and South Africa needs to produce much more for local and possible international demands.
The initiative was particularly welcomed by SAN Parks for which it meant a possible solution to future job creation for some of the staff, which they had inherited after the recent transfer of land from the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) to SAN Parks.
The former DWAF employees are currently part of the plantation exit programme in which state-owned plantations are being rehabilitated to its original Fynbos-state. In about 16 years' time there will be no forestry operations in these areas and their employees will be without work. This beekeeping initiative affords opportunities to the local communities and can empower them to establish their own businesses in the region where they are already living. Bee keeping would also benefit the re-growth of Fynbos in rehabilitated regions as bees contributed towards pollination.
The first groups identified to participate in the project are the communities surrounding the former forestry stations of Colin's Hoek, Karatara and Bergplaas.
Communities will be asked to identify among themselves persons most suitable for the projects. Intensive training in bee keeping and entrepreneurial skills will start as soon as bees have moved into the hives. The programme would initially be implemented on small scale to test its strengths and weaknesses.
Twenty people will be trained and each given 108 hives to manage. As they complete the training process, and prove themselves capable, the individuals will take ownership of their hives. Outeniqua Eco Hives will then go into contract with them for the provision of honey and by-products.
Hives are harvested every six weeks in summer and every eight to ten weeks in winter, and deliver between 29kg and 42kg honey per year.
Financial projections - which exclude the harvesting of propolis, beeswax and venom - estimate that the project could show profits in its second year.
Processing and packaging of honey will initially be contracted out, but it is the initiative's intention to eventually train others in the same communities to provide the necessary post-harvesting services.
Other possible opportunities include eco-tourism (tours that include trips to the hives and processing plants) and the making of protective clothing for bee keepers.
Should the programme be successful, it can easily be extended to other SAN Parks property which incorporates about 150 000 hectares of protected area from Wilderness to Tsitsikamma.
OEH also plan to roll the programme out into the rest of the country.
The demand for high-quality, eco-friendly Fynbos honey and its by-products are so high that it could possibly employ endless amounts of people in the future.