When Life Gives You Elephants, Make Honey (And Money!)

Nov 9, 2020 | Commentary

By Andrew Wight – Forbes

When Mavis Nduchwa, a social entrepreneur from Botswana saw farmers struggling to deal with elephants trampling their crops and homes, she saw a golden business opportunity: bee hives could both scare off elephants and restore bee populations.

Nduchwa, founder and CEO of Chabana Farms, an agribusiness best known as the producers of Kalahari Honey, says oral traditions in her village told her what scientists have started to fully document: elephants really don’t like bees.

“Growing up, I knew that elephants fear bees: the buzzing sound as well as the bees going into their nostrils,” she said.

But to turn this factoid into a business model, she had to conduct trials to prove that building beehives on the borders of farms would actually work to repel elephants in Botswana which has the world’s largest elephant population.

Nduchwa, who is also a 2020 WE Empower Awardee through the Vital Voices Global Partnership, says while other start-ups in the region also assist women from disadvantaged situations, her company aims to produce a sustainable life-long project that takes into account both local livelihoods and the environment.

Kalahari Honey trains and supplies more than 500 rural women in elephant-infested areas with beehives that they use as living fences along their farms. In addition to this protection, these women can harness a new income stream by harvesting the honey, which Kalahari Honey buys back and sells as raw organic desert honey.

Mavis Nduchwa, founder and CEO of Chabana Farms.
Mavis Nduchwa, founder and CEO of Chabana Farms, an agribusiness best known as the producers of … [+] MAVIS NDUCHWA

“We’ve set up our first bee demo farm where we will learn more behaviours of how bees can help protect farmers, wildlife as well as the environment,” she said, adding that they are doing further research on the African honeybee Apis mellifera scutellata and the local plants in Botswana.

“Though the use of indigenous knowledge raw honey had always been used in my community to heal certain ailments, our country is a desert and certain plants have medicinal powers whose traces are found in the honey,” she said. “Botswana is a desert and most plants are succulents with a strong and unique taste which makes Kalahari Honey stand out.”

Nduchwa says she learned many business lessons from her grandmother, while growing up on a farm in the remote rural village of Semitwe near the north-eastern city of Francistown, Botswana.

“I learned that what you grow or tend to religiously will bear results… and that making money depends on the quality of your product,” she said.”

Elephants in Botswana
Botswana’s Growing Elephant Population Creates Conflict with Humans. GETTY

Nduchwa says Kalahari Honey is now expanding into two other neighbouring countries.

“We believe that communities should tap on the resources around them to solve their everyday lives as well as grow their economies, through our work,” Nduchwa said, “We believe that the model can be scaled to other Global South nations to assist on finding solutions to their challenges.”

Nduchwa says Covid-19 has meant the company has had to close business and reduce employees temporarily due to imposed national lockdowns in Botswana.

“We had to diversify as we have been heavily dependent on the tourism sector as one of the biggest honey consumers,” she said.   

Bees are also vitally important to farmers in Colombia. Colombian entomologist Diana Obregon has been trying to find out the role pesticides play in the decline of the bees that pollinate Lulo, an iconic fruit in Colombia.

Obregon, who is now a PhD student in entomology at Cornell University and a Fulbright scholar, says that without bees the production of Solanum quitoense fruits (known as lulo) would be reduced by 51 percent.

Additionally, another female social entrepreneur improving lives and creating jobs in southern Africa is the Rwandan mechanical engineer Christelle Kwizera.

She grew up in the aftermath of the country’s genocide is now using a network of boreholes and purified water microgrids to give over 100,000 people access to water – especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Andrew Wright is an Australian science journalist based in Medellin, Colombia since 2014.


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