Where We Are
About The Gambia
The Gambia is one of the smallest and one of the most densely populated countries on the African mainland. It is a 300 mile pencil of land pointing into West Africa from the Atlantic with a coastline of only 70 miles. It is surrounded by Senegal, and split lengthways by the River Gambia. The Gambia was a British colony until Independence in 1965.
Totalling about 1.8 million, the population is diverse. The largest ethnic groups are the Mandinka, Fula and Wolof. Other significant ethnic groups include Jola and Serahule, as well as immigrants from Sierra Leone and Ghana, and European, Lebanese and Mauritanian communities. Gambian people are often multi-lingual, speaking African languages and English. About 90% of the population practises Islam. There is a significant Christian population and indigenous cultural practices are widely observed.
The Gambia is politically stable, has a democratically elected head of state and a multi-party democracy. Gambian people are very patriotic and have a reputation for friendliness, hospitality and tolerance.
As in many African countries, there is a great deal of poverty. The Gambia ranks 165 (of 187) on the UN Human Development Index. The country lacks natural resources. The majority of people depend for their livelihoods on three key industries. Agriculture and fishing have been in relative decline for some years, increasing pressure on the food supply. The tourist industry has grown, resulting in a significant amount of urban drift, particularly in the coastal area south of the capital, Banjul, with consequent social pressures. The Gambia has also suffered an extensive ‘brain drain’, although remitted earnings are an important source of foreign exchange. Despite this, a shortage of foreign exchange means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to import essential commodities, including rice.
Sea levels are rising as a result of climate change, causing flooding in and the salination of the rice fields (rice being the staple food). The Gambian Government was forced to appeal for international relief at the beginning of 2012 as a consequence of greatly reduced crop yields resulting from the failure of the rains the previous year.
Food security is high on the list of priorities of aid and development organisations working in The Gambia. The Government is trying to address these and other issues – health care, education and housing – with progressive domestic policies and by enlisting international aid whenever possible, but it faces an uphill struggle through lack of capacity and resources.
Initiatives such as those being taken by BEECause can make a very important contribution to the economy and the livelihoods of the rural poor in particular.
Beekeeping in The Gambia
The annual bee cycle is divided into three seasons:
January to June is the productive period when honey and wax can be harvested. This is also the time when the hives need to be most actively managed. Although seasonal, honey and wax are seldom stored by producers to achieve higher prices later in the year. This is not affordable: the money from the harvest must be used to buy seed.
July to October is the dearth period when there is little beekeeping activity. Most beekeepers are farmers and this is the planting and growing season for many crops.
November to December is the renewal period, during which time hive and equipment maintenance and the siting of hives take place. It is also an active time for colonisation. A new colony requires a full productive period to become well established.
Traditional hives are usually harvested once in around May/June. Often harvesting results in the colony absconding. Grass hives, although cheap, won’t withstand the rainy season. As a result. they have to be stored and colonised again the following season. KTBs can be harvested several times in a season and, if maintained, last indefinitely.
Yields of honey and wax vary – typically 5-8 litres of honey and 1.5-2 kilos of wax per harvest. 30 litres from one harvest of one KTB is the highest we have achieved. Honey and wax prices have increased around 25% per season since 2012. In 2014 the price to producers was between Dalasi 100-150 (£1.50-2.25) for honey and Dalasi 125 (£1.90) for wax. Demand far exceeds supply.
BEECause activities take account of the bee and farming cycles so ideally beekeeping training programmes take place from September to November, and field work from November to June to avoid conflict with crop planting and crop management. Access to more remote areas can be difficult during periods of heavy rain.