Ghana: Can bees be key to sweetening the economy?

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Wednesday, 6 April 2022 08:52

Clinic in Misrata uses bee stings to allegedly treat patients
Mohamed al-Zawawi, owner of a medical clinic, puts bees in a beehive at his garden in Misrata, Libya May 23, 2021. Picture taken May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili

Ghana's honey producers will be receiving a new policy to regulate the operations of its business and exports to expand the National Honey Production and Investment Policy enabling the country to achieve a trillion-dollar sector in 2030, as projected by the World Bank. Up until now, the unregulated industry has allowed the widespread use of pesticides making the prospect of a thriving honey industry a large feat.

The announcement was came from Anthony Morrison, chief executive officer of the Chamber of Agribusiness in February. The hope is Ghana will be able to tap into the global honey market.

With the launch of the “Make Ghana’s Honey Fit for Export Project”, there is hope that the honey industry could expand significantly enough to create trade links and increase economic wealth in the country.

For economic viability, the continent, including Ghana, will have to compete with China, which can produce honey at competitive rights, even while facing allegations of diluted honey using cheaper products such as corn syrup.

Courage Besah-Adanu, project coordinator for the new government scheme, says the project will help improve the quality of honey for export.

“It’s a project we are yet to carry out, but now we don’t have any policy yet for the honey industry. We can only envisage that if we have such a policy, it will help the industry in that direction in the future.” Besah-Adanu expects the project to make more progress by the end of the year.

Toxic buzz?

Researchers are more cautious in their optimism about Ghana’s soon-to-be thriving industry. Africa also represents a small but growing part of the global pesticide market, with countries in the EU among others exporting banned pesticides to the continent.

Despite a ban on neonics within the EU, certain countries have continued to export pesticides to 21 African countries.

Although neonic exports to both Kenya and Ghana were banned, the fact that they were being used close-by has had residual effects. A recent report points to Ghanaian and Kenyan farmers needing to pollinate crops by hand since the number of insects – who would pollinate – has declined due to pesticide use.

As Unearthed reports, with less research available about the effects of agrochemicals in African environments than in Europe or North America, it is difficult to estimate the amount of damage that the presence of these chemicals could cause to Ghana’s ecology.

Professor Godfred Darko is an academic researcher at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. One of his research papers addresses the presence of pesticides in honey in Ghana, which pose a significant threat to beekeeping development.

The use of neonics and other pesticides in Ghana is widespread, and in 2020 Ghana  imported chemicals from Spain and Greece.

Current pesticide use should be thoroughly investigated and results dispassionately considered if we want to upscale the production of honey.

“Beekeeping in the country is not regulated. Hence, farmers adopt any production approaches they deem fit. I think that regulating the operations will improve the quality and production for sustainability. Upscaling production will rather decrease the incidence and level of cross-contamination in bigger batches produced at once,” wrote Darko.

Speaking about the potential dangers of neonic use in farms and areas with proximity to honey (of which there are many in Ghana), Darko wrote: “Neonics are widely applied as insecticides on several cash crops in Ghana. When absorbed into pollen and nectar, they could harm the bees that visit the plants. Existing data shows that neonics are toxic/poisonous to bees.”

He added: “Current pesticide use should be thoroughly investigated and results dispassionately considered if we want to upscale the production of honey.”

But there remain natural challenges to the expansion of the honey industry. The added growing impact of climate change is another risk to bees, creating harsher environments for the insects and their habitats to thrive.

Climate change challenge

In Libya, OpenDemocracy reported that, according to estimates from the independent Libyan Organization for Beekeeping, beekeepers in Tarhuna and Al-Jafra plain lost at least 2,000 out of around 4,500 bee colonies last summer due to heatwaves.

“The warming of the planet and drastic changes in weather patterns resulting from climate change can lead to a loss of habitat and nutritional stress to the bees. These will ultimately lead to a decline in the bee population and a significant reduction in honey production,” wrote Darko.

With the impact of climate change becoming a growing concern for the continent, is it beekeeping a sustainable and primary means of income for the rural population?

Bee-nifits

Beekeeping has long been a tradition in West Africa, going back 3500 years ago, when it had considerable importance both as a food source and in the making of honey-based drinks. The EU and many charitable organisations are currently promoting West African honey production as a sustainable means of income for local communities.

Strangely, beekeeping could alleviate even things like social issues where women migrate from the north to the south in search of greener pastures.

Moreover, this is not the first government-backed venture into the honey market. Ghana was third on the list of countries eligible for export to the EU, but due to quality controls, they could only sell the product as lower grade baking honey.

Emmanuel Jeil, an academic at the University of Norway, wrote a paper on the “challenges to sustaining beekeeping livelihoods in Ghana”. Jeil believes that the practice can help alleviate poverty in the country. “Strangely, beekeeping could alleviate even things like social issues where women migrate from the north to the south in search of greener pastures.”

“If Ghana is interested in going the green way – embarking on green economic projects – then I think that the starting point should be beekeeping,” Jeil wrote.

Scepticism of Ghana’s project

Bees for Development, a not-for-profit in Ghana focusing on training and using beekeeping to build communities, is sceptical about the government project, having not heard about it or received any correspondence from the government. Giacomo Ciriello, project manager, tells The Africa Report that this was “not surprising”, with similar past ventures not coming to fruition.

“African African honey and African beeswax is hugely profitable, but honey sectors are chronically underreported in the world, especially in middle-income countries,” he says.

Kwame Aidoo, Director at Bees for Development Ghana, believes there will need a lot of progress and effort to fulfil this project. “Beekeepers need to be trained. Local beekeepers are often sidelined. People come and train them and then they go, leaving farmers alone. We’ve met people who are squeezing honey with their hands,” Aidoo tells The Africa Report.

Apiculture Development Coordinator Isaac Mbroh seconds the damage that untrained beekeepers can bring about during the production process. “Each year they start the beekeeping process all over again, for some even harvesting the honey is a problem,” he says.

Ethical opportunity

The Bees for Development model runs on a sustainability model, focusing on teaching beekeeping to younger children who can contribute to their parent’s farming businesses.

Not necessarily intended as a sole source of income, it can provide an ethical opportunity to expand. If the government adopts this method and invests in local beekeepers, Ghana’s honey industry may soon look more profitable.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options