Jerejef Arame, Jerejef Allah

At dusk in a southern region of Senegal, West Africa, three men don winter coats, rubber boots and pull on canvas sweatshirt with attached veil and put on rubber gloves tying strips of old fabric around the cuffs to secure the openings to make sure none of the tiny, but deadly creatures we plan to rob invade the makeshift suit.

We are going to collect honey in mangrove forest just beside the small village of Sangako at night from African bees. Also known as killer bees. The three men have been doing this for years, their wisdom precedes their age and they understand the risk they take for the liquid gold they hope to find.
Continue reading “Jerejef Arame, Jerejef Allah”

On-Going Research: Apis mellifera nectar, pollen and propolis sources

I haven’t really written about this per se, I think some people know that I’ve been working on this since I was in Senegal (2012) and found “Plants for Arid Lands” published by International Bee Research Association on the bookshelf which had a small chapter Bees and Honey in the Exploitation of Arid Land Resources by Eva Crane. Through more and more literature review and a cross-referencing local plant databases/writings with known nectar sources I’ve gotten to have a pretty comprehensive list going.

So a little background. There are 7 species of the 200,000 bees that specifically produce honey in massive amounts. These we call honey bees or Apis mellifera. There are races of these that have been breed over time. Much like we have races of humans, we are all still people, we all come from certain places making us identify with those locations and in some cases even have specialized characteristics. Example of races in honey bees would be Italian (A. mellifera ligustica), Carniolan (A.  mellifera carnica), Caucasian/Russian (A. mellifera caucasica) and African (A. mellifera adansonii)

From Tropical and Subtropical Apiculture (1986) FAO
So of these 7 honey bees in the world, many of them are region specific. As you can see from the map bee originated in a few place and migrated into others. Typically assisted by humans, bees there were able to colonize and survive. This is due to a few factors, one being food or fodder resources, second being habitat, and third would be climate. All of these factors are interconnected.
 
Not scientific based, but an idea on differences between race characteristics
Honey bees are generalist when it comes to plants, meaning they will touch many different flowers for a multitude of reasons. Some for nectar, others for pollen, some for propalis, but few plants can provide more than one of these. The plants themselves are specialized. Also the bee will follow the bloom of one plant until it’s finished. So if a mango tree is in bloom it will continue to look for mango flowers until the bloom has ended.
Color is also a major part of how pollinators find food

Evolutionary plants have created flowers to attract pollinators to increase fertilization and thus dissemination of themselves. Nectar within the flowers assists in attracting certain pollinators, such as honey bees, to visit the flower taking pollen and transferring it to the stigma, or female part, in order to create a seed. Nectar us a sugar-rich liquid produced by glands called nectaries. Bees use nectar, mixing it with an enzyme in their ‘honey stomach’ to create honey once it’s stored in wax comb, water content is evaporated to below 18.2 percent and is capped with wax. Honey is the main food source for bees in the hive.

 Bees also use pollen, plant’s male gametes, as a food source. Pollen is the protein source
needed for rearing one worker bee from larval to adult stage requires approximately 120-145 mg of pollen. An average bee colony will collect about 20-57 kg (44-125 pounds) of pollen a year. By natural instinct, bees will collect only the best entomophily pollen grains that are higher in nutritional value.
Propolis, often referred to as bee glue, is used in the hive to seal cracks, crevices or encase carcasses that cannot be removed from the hive. Typically collected from the sap or resin of certain trees and small number of flowers. Propolis has been used medically
for its antimicrobial, immunostimulant, and antioxidant properties which vary due to location in which it is procured based on plant sources in the area.

So based on region, in any given place there are bees (everywhere except Antarctica and the South Pole) there are only 250-300 plants that bees are able to take nectar, pollen and propolis from. And given you need approximately one million blooms to produce one cup of honey, you need many many blooms of those given plants.

Looking at plant phenology (the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life) the way in which these 250-300 plants’ blooms appear is also quite amazing. Many of them do not overlap and if they do, there is one in which the bees prefer due to either quantity each bloom produces or more likely the amount of sugar in the nectar. Much like if oranges are in season you’d eat them, but if mangoes came in to season you’d prefer the mango as it’s sweeter and juicer.

Great example of nectar source calendar for Western North Carolina

 

Due to climate change and the change of priorities when it comes to research, little has continued to be documented on these ideas (nectar, pollen and propolis source plants and their phenology). Many of the cited literature I have found is from the 60’s and 70’s. Also at the local level internationally, many host-country nationals are aware of this and have a vast knowledge of these plants. The names they known them by are local names rather than the scientific, but capturing this information and further researching to find the Latin names and some times specific varieties I believe will be instrumental to maintain and increase honey bee habitat.
Example of local nectar source list per Beekeeper Richard Underhill from his trip with Winrock International to East Africa

So I have started collecting lists, as many as I can find and cross referencing them. Most are through scientific literature. Dr. Eva Crane (foremost researcher on honey bees) was no slouch, her Trust has 40,000 abstracts available to search along with her publishing 300 papers and many books over her lifetime. Others are found through beekeepers I’ve heard of or found through the wonderful place of the internet. Most beekeepers are amazing people who are willing to help out each other to further honey bees, habitat and generally overall goodness on the planet. Currently I have reviewed many many articles and journals, 22 of them have viable lists that I’m extracting, cleaning and adding to my main list. Then sorting, removing duplicates, verifying correct taxonomy (science of defining groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups as these tend to change over time especially with plants) and adding in any bloom dates, propagation information or nuance information of the plant.

After all of that, I would love to share it on a website such as Zooniverse, to further have citizen scientists help identify where the plants grow and the bloom pattern in that location, hopefully on a global scale. This information would then assist beekeepers, land owners, farmers, environmentalists, policy makers, and others to maintain and increase habitat and food sources world wide.Lack of knowledge is one thing, but in this day and age of information the world is becoming and smaller and smaller place. People want to help bees, I don’t believe we need more beekeepers, we need better beekeepers, farmers, stewards, with better information to make a better place for all of use.Currently my abstract for this project as been submitted and accepted to Apimondia (the international beekeeping conference), I am looking for support in order to attend and present my abstract in Daejeon, Korea in September. I have contacted various organizations for support as well, but is currently pending response.Please feel free to pass this along to anyone who might be interested in the information, I would love to collaborate further on it. Thank you for your time and support.

  

Bees: Yes I have been working with them here!

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If you know anything about me, I’m sure you are wondering “why
hasn’t she written about bees there yet??” 
It’s true, I have been holding off for a few reasons.

Guard bees at one of the first beekeepers I met in the neighboring village to mine.

One of the first beekeepers I found and was willing to show me his hives. He doesn’t sell his honey but keeps it for his family

 First of all the bees here are different. I was able to work
them back in February with a master farmer that a few other volunteers work
with. I had done my homework and talked to a few beekeepers I knew that had
worked in Africa, former volunteers that had done some work with bees while
here and an NGO that I was lucky enough to come in contact with in my training
village.

Profils, an NGO based in Mboro, my training village and works with many groups and beekeepers in my region.

Bees here (mostly Apis mellifera adansonii or scutellata based on who you ask)  are much more aggressive and abscond (to leave there hive in search of a new one for many reasons) more often (behavioral traits that are occur in most breeds of bee). The keepers I have met work for the most part the same, taking safety precautions with wearing suits, gloves, boots, having smokers handy and never going out alone to work the hives. Which are all good signs.

Mielangerie (honey house) in Sangako and their hives in the mangroves
At another volunteer’s site in Dalsame Sereer with a beekeeper who partners with women’s groups and other NGO’s (from left to right:the view from his encampment, womens group and another volunteer, some shae honey that we had with our tea)
Since then I have been touching base with various groups,
attending meetings, finding new beekeepers that want me to come visit and had
the opportunity to teach at a Master Farm Field Day explaining basics of how we
captured bees for the farm (all in wolof and french). 
Left: at a meeting with beekeepers discussing bee pests and treatments, Center: talking with a group at the Master Farm about capture hives, Right: happily walking out to check some hives in the Mangroves.

Happily I have been able to find many beekeepers that ask for my help, opinion and will simply show me what they know so I can better understand how to work with the bees here. We share information, no one is more right than the other has I have always learned from beekeepers and the bees themselves. There is always more to learn.

AND I was able to harvest some honey from a hive I started at the Master Farm. I would like to harvest more but would like to borrow an extractor to do so to save the wax rather than cutting the comb out as it helps the bees to give you more honey rather than using resources to build more comb.
Some of MY 1st African honey, I remembered to take a picture before I ate, shared and gifted it away
Of course there are a few more groups I know of that I would like to talk to further about partnerships or simply to better understand what their goals are working with bees in this region or Senegal-wide. As being a Peace Corps volunteer I am more visible, travel more often, and sharing information and resources is more ‘normal’ for me to inquire about than most Senegalese.

Currently I am working on a gathering information on list of plants that are nectar sources in this region, making a calender of the bloom dates and finding the local names for the plants in the 5 major languages spoken in this region so it can be used to plant, locate and increase the amount of nectar sources for the bees here. Like anywhere in the world here, bees here are a big deal. But having people understand basic behavioral traits (and they can be selected through breeding) while increasing and improving the quality of there nectar sources will create a stronger ecosystem for the bees but also strive to give the beekeepers a year around income from honey rather than around the rainy season as it is now.

Keur Malick Fady: My home for the next 2 years


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“Nestled among mazes of mangroves, tropical forest and islands
that float on myriad waterways, the tiny town of Toubakouta is easily one of
the most beautiful spots of the Sine-Saloum Delta. It’s an excellent base for
excursions to the nearby Parc National du Delta du Saloum and the stunning Air
Marine Protegee de Bamboung, Senegal’s only functioning area of protected
area.  The whole area teems with wildlife
and sea birds, watching flamingos, fish eagles, herons and egrets prepare to
roost on the shore at nightfall is fascinating, even if you’re not a keen
bird-watcher.”  The Gabmia & Senegal
Lonely Planet, 2008
This was the first I had read about my site in Fatick. Beyond this I was told it was beautiful by numerous people. First word out of their mouths when I told them where my site was. So far this place sounded like not only a place I would want to visit…but to live for 2 years. How lucky was I.
Typical sunset that I’ve seen everyday for the week and half I’ve been here
Not only am I living in a beautiful place, I am the first volunteer in my village. Keur Malick Fady is about 600 people and about 11km or 8 miles from Toubacouta, a small resort town on the Mangroves. Being the first means I have to set the expectations of people of not only my village but of villages and people near by as well. Being the first means I get to start projects rather than continue them. Being the first means (hopefully for good reasons) I will be the one they talk about to  the next volunteer (they compare the old volunteers to the new ones even if the last one wasn’t that good).

My brand spankin’ new hut
 I get to decorate my hut, I get to plant a garden, along with figuring out the lay of the land, speaking the language and figuring out just what people do here. For the next 2 years I will work with helping with food security, increase variety of plants, vegetables, and fruits grown to help improve diets, along with working on various education, health and whatever project might pop up.

For example, I have been here only a week and half, I’ve noticed that not only do 2 small children (under the age of 6) have what looks to be abcesses but while helping pull water at one of the main wells, so do a few other women in the town. So I start to track down the nearest health volunteer and start picking there brain on best self care for abcesses (as I know how painful they can be), where the closest health post is (note: not a hospital or dentist, a place for check ups or simply medication) and if there are any other groups in the area working on health care visits to these small, sometimes remote towns and if possibly it would be “normal” to ask someone to come visit the town rather than tell these people to walk the 4km to the next town and shell out a good chunk of money to see a doctor for medication. I’m not a health volunteer, I don’t have medication to give these people nor money to treat every ailment they have. BUT I do travel more than they do. I have a brand new bike that I go to the next few towns on a weekly basis, I can ask questions at the health post and of health volunteers for best practices or if there are others in the areas having the same issue. This isn’t a project, but it could turn into one.

My namesake, Adam, and sister-in-law, Yassen, carrying water from the well. I can carry two of those by hand, but not very far or long. Typically my family uses 10 a day.
So far a typical day is nothing from typical, everyday here has been a little different. The first few days I’ve greeted almost everyone in the village by walking from compound to compound in the morning before people head to school or the fields to work or water gardens to say hi, introduce myself, ask questions, etc. This lead to a few people asking me to see their gardens (for example: to look at insect damage and help find what to use), fields (because I had asked about a specific crop or where they were) or something else they wanted to show me (sometimes it’s as simple as the kids wanting to practice the little english they new on me others this meant I would have lunch with their family from then on).
Large “Hai” tree and 1 room school house at Keur Mama
 I have visited the next town over, Keur Mama, to be introduced to the village chief, extended family and other notable people in the area. All of these people are potential work partners on projects, what ever those project might be. Peace Corps has a program of extending seeds to farmers, with a hook of course, for every kilo we give them, they must give us double back to increase the project year after year. This is with the understanding they had a good year with said crop. 
Typical village in my area
 Also with farmers we teach improved techniques, such as making and using compost, double digging beds, using 1 meter by 4 meter beds for vegetables, companion planting and others. Many of times projects find you, as I have already found with the abcesses. I might have very little knowledge of the problem my new neighbors, friends and family face, but it’s my job to help in whatever way I can. Even if it’s finding out that they need to go to the doctor and spend more money than they like to think about.
Onion beds in a field I visited-so beautiful
But I think the most common thing I keep saying to people I meet here is that America has the same problems they do. They think America has so much money, I keep telling them it’s credit. They think there are jobs in America, and I tell them that it’s a struggle there to find a job and when you do, you work long hours for little pay. They ask me if I can take them there, I show them the conversion into cfa (the currency for the country $1=500 cfa) for a plane ticket and ask them if they’ve even ridden in one (There eyes get big as they thought I took a taxi or bus to get here). If they do know how much it is, then the problem is getting a visa. I keep saying it’s the same in America, if I want to work in another country I need one too. And it is hard. Everywhere is hard. No place is easy.
Ibraehema and I on our way back to Keur Malick Fady from the next town over
Unless you find what you love to do, the thing that makes you want to stay up at night and do it, that makes your heart sing. And if you’re lucky you are able to get paid for it and be with your family at the same time. That is true richness. Being able to do what you love with who you love around you. Being content with what you have and where you are at. 
Strangely, after going through the 100 emails I had waiting for me today, writing this, and with Christmas right around the corner, I can say I am very rich, lucky and blessed to be able to do what I love with people I love here with me by email, text messages, thoughts, and support. I wish you all the happiest of holidays and all the love and warmth I can send from Africa. (it’s still 80+ degrees here in the heat of the day)