Harvesting with Hawa

by | May 10, 2022 | News

On Friday evening we visited Hawa and Issaka Ibrahim who live with one of their six children in Kojobator. We brought you news from Hawa not long ago, when she was awarded a prize as ‘Best beekeeper’ in the district at the National Farmer’s Day ceremony. Click here to read the story of how she began keeping bees with support from Bees for Development Ghana.

Kojobator comprises five households and is accessible by canoe, crossing an inlet of the Volta lake from a larger village called Apesika. It’s a beautiful, quiet place – dotted with small vegetable gardens and cassava plots, and surrounded by forests, marshy grasslands and the steadily growing buzz of honey bees.

Isakka Ibrahim meets us in Apesika and we cross the inlet to Kojobator on his fishing boat

Hawa and Issaka have agreed to serve as our ‘harvesting team’ in Kojobator. This year we have formed such teams across all the communities we are supporting in Afram Plains North. The role of the harvesting teams is to master procedures required to meet our quality standards, and to then support and train all beekeepers in their community to do the same.

We are committed to buying all honeycomb that meet said standards from beekeepers across the district, at a higher price than they have ever negotiated, and year-round. In each community we are also training a ‘honey collection coordinator’, a respected beekeeper who is in charge of registering beekeepers and distributing harvesting buckets. The honey collection coordinator then receives the buckets full of honeycomb, inspects and stores them until there are enough for us to collect. Together with them we are trialling an innovative digital traceability and supply chain management system we have been developing on the open-source platform KoboToolbox.

Over the past week we have visited 6 of 10 beekeeping communities we work with in the area to continue training harvesting teams and honey collection coordinators, going through the process in practice: from bucket release, through harvesting to consignment with the coordinator. These were the purposes of our visit to Kojobator.

Hawa greets us warmly, yet she wastes no time to tell us she did not know when we would be coming and her larger colonies were ready for harvesting. So she went ahead without us. That’s the sort of confidence we have come to expect from the best beekeeper in the district! Of course, we couldn’t be happier when she shows us a bucket full of perfect honeycomb.

But just when we think we might get away with not getting into our sweaty bee suits again – she tells us not to worry, there is more to be had! So we walk out to the trees and suit up to check on some of her neighbour’s hives. Hawa tells us the owner doesn’t check on them often, so she will do it for them in case it’s time for a harvest.

Hawa showing us honeycomb she has already harvested

Hawa checking on a neighbour’s hive

Hawa concluded that the colony was still building up and needed the honey they had. As we walked to the hive, Hawa and Issaka told us the bees often attack them a lot when they are harvesting and ask what they can do to mitigate that. Gideon, who manages our new honey and beeswax processing centre in Donkorkrom and has been leading the mobilisation of beekeepers across the district, observed how they approached the hive to see if he could provide some helpful advice. In the clip below he explains that weeding or clearing vegetation before opening a hive will cause a stronger defense reaction. He then explains how to use smoke properly – starting at the entrance, working around the hive, observing how bees react and giving them time to eat some honey.

The moment of hilarity at the end of the clip is due to Issaka earlier saying that they do like Gideon has showed them, knocking on the hives with the knife “KoKoKo” to let the bees know they have arrived. Gideon laughs and explains he does that on hives he won’t open to check up to where in the hive body the bees have built comb – a technique he has adapted from top-bar beekeeping. He says no wonder the bees are angry at you if you knock on their home to say you have come to steal! After the laughter, Gideon thanks them for asking and tells them that is why they are doing so well, because every time he comes there they are thinking and asking questions. And now Gideon knows he should better explain why he knocks “KoKoKo” on the hives when training beekeepers. Every day is a school day with bees!

Gideon with Isaac advising Hawa and Issaka on how to approach hives without angering bees

The second hive we visit is one of Hawa’s own and is home to a strong colony with plenty of stores. In the clips below, Hawa harvests some beautiful mature comb from it, while Issaka opens and closes the harvesting bucket and Gideon uses the smoker.

Hawa harvesting from one of her hives. The knife she uses is a cocoa harvesting hook adapted by Kwame, Director of BfD Ghana. We are finding that red light torches are very helpful for night time harvesting as bees don’t fly towards red light.
Hawa showing us beautiful mature honey comb before it goes into the bucket

When we return to the village we meet Shafik Aminu, the honey collection coordinator for Kojobator. Hawa adds the honeycombs just harvested to the bucket she showed us when we arrive. Then Shafik takes out his smartphone and opens up our “Honey buying form” on KoboCollect. The bucket weighs in at 18.8kg. That’s worth 376 Ghanaian Cedis. One of Issaka’s friends overlooking says to him “Ha! Now I see why you are following your wife into beekeeping – yesterday you were out fishing all day and came home with 20 Cedis!”. Shafik completes quality control checks and finishes the digital purchase form – which will update our records automatically and ensure we trace the bucket back to Hawa and release her payment when we receive it at the processing centre. Shafik writes out a receipt for Hawa and labels the bucket with her unique ID Code. We collect another two buckets from another beekeeper that Shafik has already recorded.

Hawa adding the evening’s harvest to the bucket she is selling to us
Shafik weighing Hawa’s bucket

Shafik issuing Hawa’s receipt

Hawa sends us off with her second eldest son Iacubu helping us take the buckets to the boat and cross over back to our truck parked by the lakeside in Apesika. Yakubu, age 21, is back home from college for the Eid al-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan. As we go, Hawa thanks Gideon for all he has done to help them get going as beekeepers and tells us these buckets are keeping her kids in school.

Hawa and Issaka are just two of several hundreds of beekeepers we are doing business with this year as we establish our honey and beeswax trading operation in Donkorkrom.

You may also like…