Beekeeping as a win-win solution around Virunga National Park

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The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most biodiverse areas of flora and fauna in the world. However, the area in and around the park is also under pressure due to conflict, armed rebels, illegal activities and population growth. IUCN NL partner organization IDPE identified that a beekeeping cooperative and professional support have the potential to reduce deforestation and to support livelihoods of communities around the park.

Header photo by: Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

Pressure on the park

Many communities around the Virunga National Park live from fishing, small livestock rearing and agriculture; around 80% of them live below the poverty line. This situation leads to environmentally destructive activities such as the search for construction and fuelwood. Some people also practice slash-and-burn agriculture, leading to degraded soils and threats to the existing flora and fauna. Human-wildlife conflicts are common among communities who have their fields around Virunga National Park; wildlife feeds on their crops. This fuels the conflicts between the communities and the authorities of the Virunga National Park.

Interest in a beekeeping cooperative

Based on the results of field surveys by IDPE, several communities expressed interest in professionalizing beekeeping and setting up a cooperative. Some communities already practice beekeeping in an artisanal way, which facilitates bringing this to a next level.

Also, since the Matebe dam was built in the area in 2016, many hotels and companies emerged in the area, which increased the demand for honey. A liter of honey currently costs 10 US dollars on the local market and non-professional beekeepers produce between 10 and 200 liters of honey during a harvest period. This makes beekeeping a serious alternative to livelihoods with threats for the environment.  

Through a community-to-community approach, people inspired each other to join. As a result, 900 men and women from several tribes have already joined the cooperative.

Reducing deforestation pressure

Beekeeping provides several advantages for environmental protection as opposed to other forms of livelihoods. By reducing slash-and-burn agriculture, bush fires will be reduced. Reforestation by fruit trees improves livelihoods and cultivation of honey trees facilitates pollination. ‘In parallel to the beekeeping, communities will carry out reforestation using melliferous and fruit trees. The aim is to create a buffer zone around Virunga Park, further reducing human pressure on the remaining nature,’ says Paul Villaespesa, East Africa expert at IUCN NL.

Reduction of human-wildlife conflicts

‘Beekeeping can also help to decrease human-wildlife conflicts,’ Villaespesa adds. ‘Human-animal conflict is a common problem in the region. The park’s wildlife enters the communities’ farmlands and feeds on their crops. As some animals in the region, such as elephants, do not like the presence of bees, beekeeping could be a solution to this problem.

Cooperatives stimulate peacebuilding

The area in and around Virunga National Park is marked by conflict. Due to this sensitive setting, the cooperative intends to include everyone interested in the cause regardless of their ethnicity, sex, religion, etc. ‘We hope that the beekeeping cooperative unites people and stimulates former enemies to join the cause of environmental protection and green development,’ Villaespesa says.

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