Sappi Project Helps Communities Sustain Themselves

Isaac Buthelezi with his bean field in the background.

Sappi has reported that its outreach programme has borne fruit, with local communities able to sustain themselves even through the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Sappi-sponsored programme helps communities adjacent to forestry plantations to become beekeepers. Non-profit consultant and founder of the African Honey Bee programme, Guy Stubbs, who has more than 30 years’ experience in small and micro-enterprise development, was struck by the incredible resilience being demonstrated by the families that have been part of this beekeeping project. Collectively, since the beginning of the year, the participating families have harvested about five tonnes of honey, earning close to R360,000, despite the national lockdown.

During a recent survey undertaken in the Sokhulu community in KwaZulu-Natal, where the project has been running for the last couple of years, and a new community in Thembalethu, Mpumalanga, where training had not yet begun, Stubbs noticed some marked differences in people’s approach to the situation brought about by Covid-19. ‘While the families in Thembalethu were watching TV and waiting for government to hand out food parcels, the 100 families that we interviewed in Sokhulu were producing honey, 85 were growing vegetables, 27 were producing eggs and 39 were producing chickens for meat,’ he said.

Sappi Southern Africa’s General Manager Communications Mpho Lethoko commented, ‘The approach of this beekeeping project we support is based on our overall philosophy of supporting ABCD – Asset Based Community Development – in our communities. Most of these beekeeping families participate in our Sappi Khulisa supplier programme and are already part of the valuable forestry supply chain. By learning to harvest honey, grow vegetables and produce poultry and eggs, they are not just producing food to feed their own families, but many of them are also supplementing the income they make from selling us their timber, by also selling this produce,’ she said.

The survey into how they were coping with the challenge of Covid-19, was aimed at measuring the impact of this method of poverty alleviation, which African Honeybee had been developing since they launched the beekeeping project in 2016 with Sappi as their main stakeholder, along with funding from the government of Flanders and the IDC. The initial goal of establishing 125 beekeepers was soon surpassed and by the end of 2019, there were 1600 families involved in the project on different levels, with some 900 keeping bees and a further 400 hunting honey without starting uncontrolled fires. About 400 participated in self-help groups that save and invest in new income generating activities and a further 300 are involved in other income-generating activities.

Because Stubbs and his team were involved in essential services, they were able to issue their staff with permits when the national lockdown was imposed, which enabled them to continue with the project. The house in the Sappi Village in KwaMbonambi which is used in the project for the extraction and processing of the honey collected from the beekeepers, was used to convene small Covid-19 compliant meetings. ‘We obviously couldn’t meet in large numbers so in consultation with the savings group members, just the chairperson, secretary and treasurer of each group would meet separately, while other members would submit their savings via letter. All wore masks, sanitised before each meeting, and strictly observed social distancing,’ said Stubbs.

Bongi Sibiya harvesting spinach from her garden.

Refilwe Ramohaladi, the savings group facilitator, reports that the self-help savings groups are helping a lot of people now during Covid-19, because they have money to start their own businesses that can earn them money, or savings that are helping them get by. ‘There is so much need because many of the people who had jobs in the city, and have lost them, come home and are hungry,’ she said.

While conducting the survey, Stubbs also reported that he was greatly encouraged by the fact that he was welcomed by a literal hive of activity in Sokhulu, where participants in the project were busy harvesting honey, growing vegetables, producing eggs and poultry and people were proud to show him what they were growing or producing. ‘It was such a contrast to the visit that I had to Thembalethu where the greetings were from families who were all asking for financial assistance of some kind’, he said.

One such successful Sokhulu entrepreneur is Sandiso Maghabi who said, ‘My clients have grown during Covid-19 because they can buy good quality meat right here in Sokhulu. I’m now farming with 50 chickens every two months.’

Stubbs sees the success of this project – from living in a state of dependency to becoming self-sustaining and sustainable – as a solution that could be replicated elsewhere in the country. ‘We, as a country could come out of this pandemic as a nation strengthened at its core if families can produce their own food, and even make some money from selling the excess. They will be far less reliant on social grants and food parcels,’ he said.

Sandiso Maghabi shows off one of his 50 chickens.

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