Thursday, November 19, 2009

No One Said It Would Be Easy

Having some fun showing off a bee-suit.

If I’m ever short on blog material, I can be rested assured to find plenty by heading into rural Zambia with a mission. A rent-to-own update is overdue, but this is actually a post about starting a new outgrowers system in Lower Zambezi.

First off – an outgrower system/scheme is meant to remove the marketing component of farming, so a buyer makes a deal with some farmers (possibly a contract) to buy a crop from them at an agreed upon price. It can include technical support to farmers and its also common for buyers to supply inputs for free and deduct that expense from the price they pay at the time of buying.

This old guy is really looking forward to becoming a beekeeper.

The goal is to get 125 farmers onto beekeeping in an area called Chiawa, which is on the northern shores of the Zambezi River. Most people have never tried beekeeping before but they are eager to do another cash crop. Common crops here include cotton, corn, bananas and sorghum. I have spent the past 3 days in an area where few crops are grown because elephants eat or destroy them. Oh ya, lets take a second to explain my current surroundings.

I’m currently being stared at by multiple frogs, which are really my friends because they jump around catching the bugs. The Zambezi river is about 20 meters away and I can hear the hippos making crazy noises every once in a while. It’s a 30 minute walk to the village where we set up 45 farmers in the past 2 days. Kind of a great feeling getting up and walking through 30 minutes of scrubby bushes (wondering if an elephant will get in your way) and looking forward to a day of mobilizing farmers to produce honey. Oh ya, and there are packs of baboons around too.

Why am I walking? It’s a long story, but our vehicle broke down twice and is now being carried back to Lusaka. Luckily we made out better than this tanker, who tried to cross the same river as we did.

Where was I? Outgrower system, no vehicle, lots of animals….right. Did I mention that its 38 degrees in the day time, in the shade…and at night its still too hot even with t-shirt and boxers on. I can definitely see why people pray for rain, not only to feed crops, but to cool things down. A wet towel on the head seems to work well.

The stories are plentiful, but at least here are some photos of the sweet progress so far. We built these hives in an attempt to reduce the cost down from $45 a hive to $20 per hive…we almost got there, but will end up selling them at a loss. PLUS we are doing a bit of a rent-to-own system with the farmers, they get two hives plus beekeeping gear for just $50 but only pay $5 down. It’s a tough job getting all the records right, and I imagine it’ll be a lot of work collecting the money, but maybe that’s just what it takes to get things rolling? Long-term we hope to get a couple local carpenters building hives so there is no loan type contract in place and we can just worry about buying honey.

A bike loaded with two hives ready for honey.

A new beekeeper signing a contract.