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Beekeeping in Africa 
Bees are vital insects due to their role as pollinators. Researchers at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found that “three out of four crops across the globe producing fruits or seeds for human use as food depend, at least in part, on pollinators.” In Africa, bees take on the additional role of defending crops from an unexpected threat: elephants. Beekeeping in Africa holds multiple benefits for communities.

Human-Elephant Conflicts

In many African countries, free-roaming elephants bring the risk of damage to farmland and trees. For farmers living near the edges of forests, elephants can be a detrimental force that cripples crop yields and income. Because of this, farmers will often confront migrating families of elephants with aggression if the herds come too close.

In South Africa, elephants often target marula trees for feeding. Because locals hold these iconic fruit-bearing trees in high regard due to their cultural significance and economic value, damage to marula trees by elephants is a root cause of their conflict with humans. As the elephant population continues to dwindle due to poaching and habitat loss, many farmers feel the need for a more reliable system of protecting crops while subduing the need for hostility. Over the past decade, the Save the Elephants organization has studied the ability of bees to mediate human-elephant conflicts by preventing the large mammals from encroaching onto farmland, and the results have been surprisingly successful.

How Bees Can Help

The Elephants and Bees Research Project, an initiative of Save the Elephants, aims to “explore the natural world for solutions to human-elephant conflicts.” This initially Kenya-based program aims to supply farmers with beehive fences, a unique bee-based system to repel wild elephants. The system employs multiple beehives that are along the perimeters of farms and connected with wires.

If a wandering elephant trips the wire by walking in between the hives, the hives will open and release the bees. Elephants have mostly durable, two-inch-thick skin around their body, but the soft skin around their eyes, mouth and trunk makes them vulnerable to bee stings, and thus, overly afraid of the small pollinators. A 2007 study by Lucy E. King et al. found that elephants will even run from the mere sound of bees buzzing.

In 2015, the Elephants and Bees organization experimented with its beehive fences near groups of marula trees in Jejane Private Nature Reserve, South Africa. A research team led by Robin Cook from the University of the Witwatersrand found that the marula trees surrounded by beehive fences faced less impact from elephants than the unprotected trees in the control group. The success of Cook’s tests motivated Save the Elephants to train locals in beehive manufacturing and beekeeping skills.

Bees for Business

The most obvious way that the Bees and Elephants program improves business for African farmers is through the ability to protect crops. According to the program, the beehive fences cost about $1,000 for a one-acre farm. Depending on how successfully the beehive fences prevent crop raids, beehive fences can increase yields. Additionally, owners who introduce bees to their farms can expect increased levels of pollination, which leads to the production of higher-quality crops.

Beyond protecting crops from wild elephants, the Bees and Elephants program aims to promote beekeeping in Africa as a business in itself. The organization purchases raw honey from farmers who use their beehive fences, ensuring that the participants have an alternate source of income. Save the Elephants’ “elephant-friendly honey” program encourages more farmers to get on board with this natural, inexpensive and income-generating solution to human-elephant conflicts.

Expanding the Bees and Elephants Program

Save the Elephants has introduced beehive fences to 14 countries in Africa and three countries in Asia. In some counties like Meru, Kenya, the government is recognizing the benefits beehive fences bring to farmers. In May 2022, Meru’s Governor Kiraitu Murungi approved the distribution of 3 million Kenyan shillings ($25,581) worth of beehives and beekeeping equipment for the construction of a 5-kilometer fence that will border the Lower Imenti Forest. Murungi plans to allocate additional funding in the following financial year for “more beehives [that] will ring-fence the entire forest.”

The Elephants and Bees program highlights the significant abilities of bees to act as both pollinators and protectors. As the program’s leaders discuss expanding their work to countries like Angola and Indonesia, it is worth considering that more than 3,500 species of bees play a role in expanding farmers’ crop yields, thereby reducing hunger and increasing income.

Overall, beekeeping in Africa holds benefits that span far beyond honey production. By protecting crops and increasing crop yields, bees play a significant role in improving food security and reducing poverty.

– Evan Lemole
Photo: Unsplash

Hunger in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America, sharing a border with Mexico and Honduras. Active volcanoes border the nation, carving high mountains and desert valleys into the landscape. Despite its beautiful scenery, however, Guatemala is considered to be one of the most unequal societies in the world. With a population of over 16 million people, nearly half of Guatemala’s population struggles to afford even the most basic of food items, and according to the World Food Program, two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day. As a result, Guatemalan citizens continue to flee to neighboring countries, seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families. Here are five things you should know about the impact of hunger in Guatemala.

5 Things to Know About Hunger in Guatemala

  1. Changing weather patterns cause food shortages in Guatemala. According to National Geographic, unpredictable weather patterns were what induced a devastating 2018 drought that was determined to be one of the worst in Guatemala’s history. Farmers rely on consistent weather patterns, and just a few unexpected changes in rainfall can spell disaster for food supplies. Guatemala has suffered from several long and sustained periods of drought over the past decade, and continues to experience increasing numbers of hurricanes and natural disasters. Severe El Niño storms and droughts are increasing in their intensity, forcing many families to flee their homes in hope of a better life.
  2. Children are the most vulnerable. A recent article by Reuters reports a 24% increase in malnutrition in children aged five years or younger. Even during the peak of the rain season, Guatemalan farmers are struggling to keep staple crops like wheat and grain safe from dry heat. As periodic drought continues to weaken Guatemala’s peak rain season, children experience the brunt of the impact, with their families are unable to afford food for daily meals.
  3. The government is working to improve nutrition. For some children, school meals may be the only ones that they receive. To address child malnutrition, the Guatemalan government passed a new law to increase investment in school meals for children. This law increases the reach of its school meal program to all of its departments, benefiting over 2.5 million school children across the country. Additionally, this expansion increases the economic impact of these nutritional meals, requiring 50% of the food for the program to be purchased from local farmers, in order to bolster local businesses.
  4. International organizations are focusing on female empowerment and education initiatives to fight hunger. The World Bank is working to target female farmers and connect them with markets for fresh food, including school feeding initiatives. By empowering these female farmers in Guatemala, the country is simultaneously increasing income equality and replenishing the food supply for impoverished children. Pilot programs by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization have shown success in strengthening these ties between female farmers and schools, ultimately keeping children in education and empowering local farmers. Overall, the programs have overwhelming public support, with 95% of school children enjoying the new menu implementations.
  5. USAID is contributing to Guatemalan efforts to reduce hunger. In addition to empowering local farmers and strengthening education initiatives, USAID currently oversees three main initiatives to increase the effectiveness of medical, educational and economic measures combating hunger in Guatemala – Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative and the Global Climate Change Initiative. These initiatives include programs to expand the current Guatemalan infrastructure in partnership with nonprofit organizations, increase access to basic health care for citizens in rural areas, provide education and community outreach to convey the importance of a nutritious diet and streamline access to medical care and treatment for malnutrition.

The Guatemalan government and international organizations are working collaboratively to address the serious problem of nationwide hunger. While current projects are seeing substantial progress, sustained efforts will be needed as climate change continues to increase the influence of erratic weather patterns.

Amanda Ozaki-Laughon
Photo: Unsplash

food safety in el salvadorThe ability to have access to safe and nutritious food is essential to maintaining life and good health. Unsafe food contains harmful parasites, viruses and bacteria that can lead to more than 200 diseases, from diarrhea to forms of cancer. Approximately 600 million people become ill after consuming contaminated food each year, which results in 420,000 deaths and the loss of thirty-three million healthy life hours. Food safety and nutrition are linked to cycles of health. Unsafe food causes disease and malnutrition, especially with at-risk groups.

Education on Food Safety in El Salvador

Women in El Salvador are participating in an educational program supported by the World Health Organization that teaches safe hygiene practices and food safety. The WHO works in collaboration with El Salvador’s government and other United Nations partner organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UNICEF, UNWomen, and the World Food Program (WFP). The program aims to address foodborne illnesses and poor nutrition by educating local women who then pass on their knowledge to other women in the community.

In preparation for the village workshops, there are two ‘train the trainers’ workshops held to train health promoters who can then go on to educate women in other villages. The women teach others how to host their own educational workshops. Women are chosen as leaders since they play a vital role in food preparation and safety.

Teaching Subsistence Farming

In El Salvador 1 in 10 people live on less than $2 U.S. a day, which makes it hard to buy food.  A large sector of the population lacks the proper education about nutrition needed to grow food themselves. This program provides women with education about farming, specifically focusing on five keys to growing safer fruits and vegetables.

  1. Practice good personal hygiene. Good hygiene begins in the home with a clean body, face, and clothes. People must maintain cleanliness to curb the spread of pathogens and prevent food contamination. A toilet or latrine must be used for proper sanitation.
  2. Protect fields from animal fecal contamination. In areas where animals live in close proximity to humans and fields, it is imperative to control the risk of exposure to fecal matter. Exposure to animal feces is correlated with diarrhea, soil-transmitted helminth infection, trachoma, environmental enteric dysfunction and growth faltering.
  3. Use treated fecal waste. Waste may be reused as a fertilizer for agriculture, gardening or horticultural, but must be safely handled, treated, stored and utilized.
  4. Evaluate and manage risks from irrigation water. Be aware of all risks of microbial contamination at all water sources and protect water from fecal matter.
  5. Keep harvest and storage equipment clean and dry. Wash harvest equipment with clean water and store away from animals and children. Remove all visible dirt and debris from all products.

Results

After participating in the program, the women involved began to change their lifestyles and safety habits. Women use mesh to protect fields from contamination from animals and can grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables while practicing food safety. Foodborne illnesses decreased in households where safety measures were practiced. Families that utilized the five keys at home reduced their chances of getting diarrhea by 60% compared to families in communities where these hygiene and safety measures were not applied. Families that began to practice food safety also had a more diversified crop production that contributes to improved nutrition.

 

Many people in El Salvador live on less than $2 U.S. a day and education on nutrition needed to grow food independently is sometimes lacking. In order to address these issues, The WHO, and other organizations, partnered with El Salvador’s government to host workshops on food safety and hygiene practices. While food safety remains an important issue in El Salvador, the workshops positively impacted food safety in the country by decreasing foodborne illnesses in households that applied the safety measures.

– Anna Brewer
Photo: Flickr

 

Supercomputer in East Africa
Scientists based in Nairobi, Kenya, with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Climate Prediction and Applications Center, are successfully combating the worst surge in locusts in 70 years by predicting the conditions and location of future swarms with a supercomputer. The new technology has shown to predict with 90 percent accuracy so far and has saved food crops in Uganda. The scientists’ hope is that a supercomputer in East Africa will protect crops from locusts for other countries as well. Locusts are large, tropical grasshoppers. They threaten the food security of many East African countries such as Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The Locust Problem

Since biblical times, locusts have plagued the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan). Locusts eat and destroy vital crops. The traditional spraying of pesticides has controlled the spread of locusts. However, between shortages in pesticides, armed conflicts and climate change, locusts have made a startling resurgence.

In addition to the shortage of pesticides, countries like Kenya lack expertise in controlling the threat to their food supply. Ethiopia is facing the same threat and does not have enough planes to spray its fields. The country needs planes to spray in hard-to-reach areas where workers cannot exterminate. Meanwhile, civil wars in Yemen and Somalia prevent any coordinated response to the surge of the plant-devouring bug. Furthermore, exterminators in those countries have no guaranteed safety in times of war.

Some have blamed the rise of locusts in the region primarily on the extended rainy season and warming seas that have accelerated egg hatching, with strong cyclones spreading the insect farther. According to The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), people need to address the problem soon. If not, the number of locusts could multiply up to 400 times by June 2020. This could leave approximately 25 million people hungry. The organization warned that the locusts, which have a generation life cycle of three months, have grown 20 times more each new generation.

A Supercomputer in East Africa Can Protect Crops from Locusts

Satellite information scientists, such as Kenneth Mwangi of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Climate Prediction and Application Center, used a supercomputer model to predict areas of locust breeding that they did not monitor on the ground. The model fills in the information gaps of where new swarms could hatch.

By determining where there may be an upsurge in hoppers, the model is able to target likely areas of breeding for future pesticide spraying. To get to those areas before eggs hatch is crucial in preventing the spread. It also saves money by preventing an uncontrolled swarm. Young locusts or juveniles eat vegetation and reproduce well in 50-70 percent humidity levels and temperatures between 86 F and 104 F.

To date, the supercomputer has predicted where these areas are likely to be with a 90 percent accuracy rate according to the scientists involved.  The Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa Program out of the United Kingdom funds the technology. It uses data such as humidity, soil moisture, wind currents, vegetation cover and temperature to predict where locusts will lay their eggs. The supercomputer then sends the prediction model information to other African countries so they know where to spray. This represents a critical period of time so that the people can begin their cropping season without incident. Major crops in Uganda include cotton, sorghum, millet and maize.

In one instance, the supercomputer warned the Ugandan Government of the likely migration path that locusts would take as they crossed the border from Kenya to Uganda. Then, the government mobilized the army to assist with the spraying efforts and killed millions of locusts and eggs. Uganda has not seen anything like it since the 1960s.

The supercomputer has proven to be an important tool at combating a new (and old) agricultural foe in East Africa. The ability to predict new breeding grounds and swarm migrations in the region has the potential to limit damage. It can also limit the cost of extermination on a grand scale. Uganda is evidence, thus far, of its effectiveness. But the UNFAO warns that if people do not mitigate the crisis soon, the new cropping season will coincide with a booming locusts population that would leave millions without the food on which they depend.

Caleb Cummings
Photo: Flickr