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Monkeys – meet the new denim recruits..



Why monkeys and what do they have to do with bees in Africa?

Working as a denim developer means I accrue a LOT of denim fabric. I have fabric hangers, swatches, old sample ‘legs’ and many pairs of jeans hanging around, which inevitably become obsolete after a season or two. Simply throwing these into landfill feels incredibly wasteful and so we have started to look for a better solution.

What if we were to make something with these fabrics? After several discussions with my team we landed on the idea of Denim Animals. We could use our denim waste and fill them with local wool, and if successful, perhaps our profits could go towards supporting charities that help animals - in fact, why not make denim toys of animals that are endangered, and attempt to bring awareness to their plight at the same time?


Initially we started with a denim version of the endangered North Atlantic 'Right' Whale, donating our profits to WWF. We then made denim Galapagos Penguins and Hawksbill Turtles, both species that are critically endangered, and also donated these profits to WWF.

For our next project we were keen to look closer to home. This led us to thinking about the world of bees and the important role they play in our eco system. It is well known that bees are crucial to the health of the environment around us, they pollinate food crops (including many of the crops used for animal feed) and they also pollinate wild trees and wild flowers. These trees and flowers then support other insects, which in turn, support birds, mammals and everything else up the food chain. With news in the press that bee populations were on the decline, we really wanted to find a way to support them. So we began by designing and developing our own denim bee and in the meantime tried to find somewhere to donate our profits.


We looked to a local bee company Paynes Bee Farm in Hurstpierpoint, Sussex who pointed us in the direction of the charity 'Bees Abroad’.

'Bees Abroad' is a grassroots organisation that works directly with communities abroad,

mentoring and training local beekeeping co-operative groups, having run projects in 15 countries around the world. Their three main objectives are to create opportunities, generate income and protect the environment.



We met with the lovely Trisha Marlow, Partnership Manager for Ghana for Bees Abroad and got to discuss and learn more about one of the current projects she was working on, an ecotourism project in the communities of Boabeng and Fiema in Bono East Region. The

project participants live adjacent to the internationally known Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, home to some 700 Mona and Colobus monkeys. The monkeys are sacred and are therefore, thankfully, not hunted in this area. Unfortunately this does mean that the damage and theft of food crops sometimes causes significant issues for the local subsistence farmers reducing food security and cash incomes.

In October 2019, 35 beekeepers were trained, 65 beehives sited and the project has gone from strength to strength, weathering bushfire due to an extensive dry season and “distance learning” due to Covid 19. The groups have successfully harvested meaningful amounts of wholesale honey and sold it for realistic market prices. This improves their ability to school their children, pay for health insurance, pay medical bills, repair their houses and so on. Not only that but the pollination from the bees has improved crop yields in the local area also.


This supportive project helps humans, bees and monkey all in one amazing swoop!


We at Denim Research want to support where we can so, following on from our success with our denim bees, we have created a small collection of denim bees and monkeys to use up our waste. We are hoping to sell these and donate our profits to 'Bees Abroad' so that they can continue their amazing work all over the world.


Please check the store for our lovely bees and monkeys.

Or please donate directly, if you can, to the Bees Abroad organisation who rely on business sponsorship and individual donations to support a variety of projects. Trisha can be contacted at trisha_marlow@beesabroad.org.uk for further information.


We sat with Trisha for a Q&A to learn more about how she’s making this all possible at BEES ABROAD

 

How much does it cost to set up a beehive and train a beekeeper in Ghana?


A beehive and metal stand currently costs £33 equivalent. We like to provide metal stands in Ghana as termites are ever a problem, trainers are well versed in termite-resistant woods for hives and showing participants how to stop the termites from climbing the legs protected by their sand tunnels! Training costs are far more variable, but will always be best use of resources.

 

How long does it take for a new hive to produce honey to sell?


For marketable amounts, realistically around two years - but nothing beats the taste of that first small harvest, hopefully after a few months. But, as with new beekeepers the world over, it’s quite a long journey to ensure the colonies are “happy” and strong for a hopefully secure income for the future.

 

What are the most popular 'other' items (such as beeswax candles) that can be sourced and made from the hives?


Quality skin products, lipsalves and medicinal balms using honey, beeswax and sometimes propolis (a wonderful medicinal hive product), plus locally grown shea and cocoa butters, coconut oil and moringa, and shoe polish. 

 

How much maintenance and care is involved day to day or week to week with a new hive?


With bees in Ghana, baiting with beeswax and perhaps lemongrass oil and checking for other inhabitants in the boxes while waiting for colonisation is a weekly-to-fortnightly task. Plus keeping the fast-growing tropical vegetation tidy around the above the boxes as several species of ant can be a big problem especially in forest and rubber plantation areas.

 

Are there any other wild animals that may threaten the safety of the hive?


Sometimes the cattle of the nomadic Fulani herdsmen knock hives over. Most other animals know better and bees tend to be eaten by lizards and pushed out by ants etc. The monkeys at Boabeng and Fiema are very clued up - and seek stored honey with poor defences rather than try to raid bee hives.

 

Do bees thrive or struggle in warmer climates?


Climate change extremes are causing various issues in Ghana - we have had road bridges washed away on one project making access to nine project communities challenging and a couple of apiaries flooded out too. This is very disheartening for the participants as you can imagine. Some apiaries have been resited due to unpredictable dryness leading to loss of forage. Land and food security are also big issues affecting the need for honey income and the tenure of apiary sites for landless beekeeping participants - often women. The use of bamboo as a sustainable and strong hive component is no longer available or affordable(!) in some areas as it is shipped to the cities for scaffolding. If beside the forests then all is generally ok - but ant numbers seem to be spiralling upwards and that leads to absconding. This all sounds a bit overwhelming but we are adapting our approaches rapidly and so far, so good.

 

Have you got any new projects in the pipeline?


Yes, there are six well-organised women’s co-operatives numbering around 250 women in the shea-producing area looking for another income stream and better pollination of the shea too. This will need funding and support for year one by February of 2024. If anyone would like to know more - or indeed ask about anything else about our work in Ghana then please drop me a line. Thank you for your support Rowan and Denim Research!


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