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Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo clean caterpillars harvested from the trees surrounding their village.

From: Insects – Footsteps 115

Why insects are important and how we can look after and benefit from them

‘In our community there is a lot of unemployment and I was struggling to even pay the transport costs for my children to go to school,’ says mother-of-three Lonny Ndlovu from Bushbuckridge in South Africa. ‘That is why I started beekeeping.’

Along with other members of her community, Lonny was invited to take part in a project run by local organisation African Honey Bee.

Central to the project is the recognition that God blesses each of us with gifts including relationships, abilities and local resources. When we understand what these gifts are, we can use them to transform our lives and reach out to serve others.

Getting started

The first step is to establish self-help groups. These give people the opportunity to identify the collective resources and skills available to them. They also learn group management and financial skills, and start to save small amounts of money.

This money can then be invested in businesses such as beekeeping, chicken farming and vegetable growing.

Participants, known as honey bee guardians, learn how to make their own beekeeping equipment using locally available and recycled materials. For example, old clothes are turned into protective gloves and hats, and empty paint cans are used to make smokers. (Beekeepers use smoke to help keep the bees calm during hive inspections).

The guardians learn how to make their own beekeeping equipment.

The guardians learn how to make their own beekeeping equipment. Photo: Guy Stubbs/African Honey Bee

Environmental benefits

The guardians learn about the importance of bees for cross-pollination, and how to look after them in a way that both restores the local environment and contributes to self-sufficiency.

Lonny says, ‘I want to improve my life, my family life and my community life. I want people to respect the environment and realise that the environmental problems we have are really serious.

‘Beekeeping is encouraging people to look after the trees and other plants that the bees need. If we look after the bees then the bees help us through pollination. We put the hives near the crops and the pollination helps us to grow good-quality vegetables. We can also make a lot of honey to eat and sell.’

As well as cross-pollinating crops, the bees pollinate the surrounding natural vegetation. As the trees and other plants flourish, they improve the soil by holding it in place and protecting it from the sun, rain and wind. Rainwater caught by the trees soaks into the ground instead of running off, reducing the risk of drought. The trees also attract birds, animals and other insects, some of which are important for pollination and natural pest control.

Food on the table

With her savings, new knowledge and flourishing businesses, Lonny is now in a position to support others in the community. She is the manager of a drop-in centre for vulnerable children where she teaches them how to look after the environment, support the bees and grow their own food.

‘Now I have a lot of jobs that I am doing and my family is improving,’ she says. ‘More people have jobs in the community, including the young people, and the children can go to school and on to higher education. The improvements in our community are very big. Everyone is now able to put food on the table.’

Central to all of this are the bees. ‘I love my bees very much,’ says Lonny, ‘so I have decided to expand my hives. I also want to help my self-help group to look after their bees better, and I want to support more people in my community to improve their lives.’

Communicate bravely

Discussion questions

In a group or on your own, reflect on the following questions.

  • Have you noticed any change in the number of bees or other pollinating insects (eg butterflies) in your area? If you are not sure, ask some of the older people in your community if they have noticed any changes.
  • What can you do to make your area more attractive to bees and other beneficial insects? What economic and environmental benefits do you think this might have?
Book magazine resource

Further reading

The organisation Bees for Development has an online resource centre that contains many training materials, books and other resources for beekeepers and beekeeper trainers. The resources are free of charge and some are available in several languages. resources.beesfordevelopment.org 

Bees and flowers

Honey bees and flowering plants depend on each other. The bees take pollen from flower to flower, which fertilises the plants and allows them to reproduce.

In return:

  • the nectar in flowers gives bees the energy they need to build, maintain and regulate the temperature of their nest
  • the bees use nectar to make honey to eat and beeswax for nest construction
  • pollen provides the protein and other nutrients bees need to raise their young
  • resin collected from tree buds and sap contains antimicrobial compounds that disinfect the nest.

The bees make honey by passing nectar from mouth to mouth until the water content is reduced. Then, in the winter, they use water to dilute stored honey so they can use it for food.

Sadly, in many places bee populations are declining. This is mainly due to the widespread removal of flowering plants to make way for single crops that only flower once a year. Chemicals sprayed on the crops also kill bees and other pollinating insects.

One solution is to plant a range of crops, flowers, trees and shrubs that flower at different times and provide nectar and pollen throughout the year. In addition, natural pest management techniques should be used instead of chemicals wherever possible.

Written by

Written by Guy Stubbs

Guy Stubbs is the founder and Director of African Honey Bee, a Christian social enterprise in South Africa.

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