Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reviving My Blog

It has been almost three years since I left Malawi, and even longer since I posted a blog on this page.  In May of 2010 I flew straight to New York from South Africa to start working at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, and quickly got swept up in the life I'm currently living.  Obviously a lot has happened in my life in that period of time.  I am engaged to marry my life partner and the women I love.  We've become Brooklynites, and bought a home in Sunset Park.  Beekeeping has become much more than a side project for me.  I've learned a tremendous amount from some of the best beekeepers in the northeast United States, and am always learning more and more.  I mange an expanding apiary at Stone barns while consulting and teaching a wide variety of bee keepers and bee lovers on the side.

Keeping the bees at Stone barns has led to one opportunity after another, and now it is leading to a chance to travel back to Africa.  I was offered an opportunity to volunteer on a project through the USAid farmer to farmer program in October of last year, and now I will leave for Uganda in one weeks time.  The project is being implemented by CNFA a DC based non-profit international development organization.  The project was requested by a Ugandan community based organization called the Liberty Development Organization (LIDEFO).  According to my scope of work report LIDEFO has mobilized 700 farmers (200 women and 500 men) in the Kasese region to establish apiaries and they are currently producing 2.5 metric tones of honey per harvest twice a year.  This may sound like a lot, but if you consider that it 700 farmers are harvesting each time, than that would mean about 6-8 lb. of honey per beekeeper, which is certainly on the low end.

The beekeepers in Kasese bring their honey to a bulking center where it is filtered and packed into half liter containers to be sold locally LIDEFO expressed that the Kasese beekeepers have been having problems with honey that has too high of a water content or has been contaminated.  My role will be to work with and observe the beekeepers throughout the process of harvesting, transporting, filtering, packaging, and storing to help identify hazards that compromise the final product.  We will then organize some trainings based on our findings, and ultimately produce a best practices manual that will be translated and distributed to the beekeepers.  It's essentially the same process that goes into developing a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan.  I'm also planning sessions on wax processing, other bee products, making increase splits, and general apiary management.  I will be in Kasese working with the beekeepers for a week, then will work on the manual in Kampala at the CNFA offices.

It would be pure hubris to think that I am going to go there as a foreigner and revolutionize the way they keep bees and produce honey.  I am not going there with those delusions at all, but I do think that it is always valuable to get an outside perspective in any operation, and I fully intend to devote my complete focus and energy to giving the Kasese beekeepers the most helpful assessment I can.  In Malawi the best thing I did was empower a much more experienced local beekeeper than me to share his knowledge with enthusiastic learners.  His name was Bwana Mgogoninga and he was a fantastic teacher.  We organized several workshops together with great success.  I may not have the time to identify and develop a working relationship with somebody in Kasese like I did with Mgogoninga, but I can still highlight local knowledge instead of posing to have all of the answers.

I have been researching existing beekeeping projects in Uganda and I came across a wonderful UK based organization called Bees for Development who has worked a lot in Uganda, they have printed manuals on Market access for beekeepers and a guide to honey packing in Uganda,  I bought everything they offer related to Uganda and have gleaned lots of good information from them.  Bees for Development also put me in touch with a national beekeeping organization that they helped start called The Uganda National Apiculture Association (TUNADO) it's great to be bombarded by acronyms again! I will meet with the director of TUNADO the monday after I arrive in Kampala to get input from him on this project, and find out what support they can offer to the Kasese beekeepers.  Apparently LIDEFO has not worked with TUNADO up till now, so I look forward to seeing if this might be a beneficial relationship to foster between the two organizations.

Okay, so why am I writing about a project in Uganda in a blog called Dan in Malawi?  Well I couldn't imagine traveling all the way back to Africa and not seeing my friends in Malawi so I've decided to make a quick sojourn back to the warm heart of Africa.  When I'm done in Uganda, I will fly to Malawi for one week.  I already mentioned that a lot has happened in my life since I last wrote a blog post, well much more has happened in Mwazisi to be sure.  As I was leaving a cell tower was being built with in range of the trading center.  Now I hear the village has been connected to the electric grid!  The road has been paved to the trading center.  And there has been two more Peace Corps volunteers to serve in Mwazisi; the first one being my replacement Prashanth, who is finished and back home now, a the second Kristen an English teacher who is there now.   Also in the time since I left some of my students at the secondary school have moved on from Mwazisi, while others have had children and are making families in Mwazisi like thier parents.  I also know that some of the people I loved very much have died.  I have to realize that a trip back to Mwazisi won't just be happy reunions,  there will also be hard realities to deal with.  But the good always comes with the bad.  No matter what, I am excited to get back to Mwazisi, and I look forward to sharing both the good and the bad from the entire trip.   

1 comment:

Colorado Gal said...

Dan, I think this is incredible-- I'm really looking forward to hearing more about this trip. Hope all is well, old friend!