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Bees and the busy rural youth

Jony Girma was one of the six finalists of the GFAR and YPARD’s Youth Argripreneur Project, who proposed a “Self-help Business Model in Harmony with Nature”, a plan to establish a demonstration site inside beekeepers’ villages in rural Ethipoia where beekeepers can receive training, share experience and put new technologies to the test before adopting them. By equiping beekeepers, especially youth, with the right skills and knowledge about seasonal activities and markets, Jony hopes to increase the contribution of the honey sub-sector. As one of the YAPpers, he received an intensive training helping him strengthen the business plan proposal presented with measurable milestones. Jony was also able to better engage in social media campaigning activities to ensure his project gained support. In addition, he has now has a mentor to help guide him during this upcoming period and make sure his project does succeed.

And now, it is 5 months later and he continues to relate his experience thus far…

The natural forest landscape with brilliant colors in Southwest Ethiopia is impressive and it suggests the end of rainy season.  September, the beginning of spring with wonderful natural flavors, colorful topography and interesting aromas, is a pleasing season for beekeepers. The entire road to the village and into the forest and hills around the villages are covered with huge flower-bearing plants.  The bees are busy visiting flowers to collect nectar and pollen, rearing their brood and preparing honey. By working with bees we are trying to convert this potential into an opportunity to create employment for the rural youth.

With the YAP intervention, the first fifty rural unemployed youth I oversaw the training on how to exploit this potential though organic honey production. Baseline data were collected to have the benchmark information. The selected trainees are below age of 30 years. They don’t have land of their own; a few of them rent land and the others are growing crop on family land. The training, which was conducted in the month of August, covered different practical techniques, including hive making from locally available materials, seasonal colony management, quality control, post harvesting handling, organic honey production and others. In addition, youth level business training including financial literacy, saving and investment were provided. Since the trained youth have the responsibility to coach other assigned beekeepers, mentorship skills are also part of the training. The training was provided in previously established the learning center inside the youth village.

In order to make follow up and technical support easy, the youth organized in groups of five according to the distance between their homes. This was to give the youth the chance to support each other during colony management. They have entered into a contractual agreement to supply their product and receive technical support in return. In addition to producing honey from their own bee farm, responsibility will be given to the youth to follow up and coach out-grower beekeepers. They will earn income from sales of their honey produced from their farm and incentives from honey collected from other beekeepers through a coaching system.  For the first production season they committed to supply two hundred kilograms of organic honey each. Since there are three honey production seasons the quantity of honey to be supplied will increase.

After the training, the youth started working on constructing transitional beehives from locally available materials such as bamboo, tree branches and others, based on hive specifications they learned in the training. In addition, they are now developing an apiary site on small piece of marginal land at the border of a family farm. To facilitate technical support, mobile text messaging is being used for easy communication. The youth send texts when they need any support or have problems. Since beekeeping is a seasonal based activity, it needs serious follow up and real time hive operation. The technical staff working at the demonstration site will send the youth seasonal colony management information.

For example, text messages will be sent to notify the youth to check their beehives when the honey is ripe and ready for harvesting at our demonstration site. This helps to have ripe and quality honey which addresses a big challenge for the sector in the country.  They have quality honey, it is easy to earn a price higher than market price. It motivates the youth to expand the business and produce more honey. The motivational training provided to youth makes them think about their vision and exploit all opportunities around them. Moreover, this youth-inclusive business model encourages the local government office to support the youth in facilitating loans and arranging grants of small pieces of land for apiary establishment in groups.

This intervention is one step towards developing a sustainable organic honey supply chain. It is a win-win approach for both parties—for the young producers and for the buyers. It helps keep the youth linking to technical support and sustainable markets. For the companies, in addition to having a sustainable supply, this approach helps to create a traceability system and guarantee quality organic honey supply. This is an example of a self-help business model; both parties will commit themselves to sustain the system as far as it benefits them.

Through this intervention with a business approach, thousands of rural youth will be benefited. It is one of the major assignments of the government to create employment for the rural youth. However, the government has no window to support such interventions, which has big impact on rural development. This is a challenge for many entrepreneurs in the country. The formal bank system needs collateral to develop such businesses, but many youth do not have collateral and so cannot access support from the banks. At the moment, the asset entrepreneurs have is their vision, experience and ambition to create a business which contributes to social development. Simple financial support will bring a big change on the ground by encouraging entrepreneurs to develop different models of support.

I hope the next result of this intervention encourages me since we are going to see the honey supplied by the rural youth and they will start to earn money. The next main assignment is to do some serious follow up based on the designed system. Moreover, some new beekeeping tools will be made available for the youth at the learning center. Keeping the youth on the right track in the commercial beekeeping system is vital to see the desired outcome of this intervention. Starting from the next honey production season, I will continue working with my brothers and sisters.  Now I have set these youth to work, busy like bees to make their life sweet like honey.

Find the original blogpost on the GFAR blog.

Blogpost by Jony Girma (jgmeshesha(at), one of six finalists in the Youth Agripreneurs Project, a pilot project targeting young agricultural entrepreneurs (“agripreneurs”), co-organized by GFAR and YPARD. The YAP Finalists launched their projects during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. Read the original YAP proposal here.


Photo credits: Jony Girma

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