The importance of bees and their near-extinction state is no news. But is anyone actually taking action to save the fluffy honey-makers? “Bee The Change”, a small but ambitions project by Dawn Musil is using beekeeping skills and supplies to both help the bees and create jobs for the economically-disadvantaged people. 

A terrifying prospect of the bee-free world

Did you know that without bees we won’t have: apples, mangos, onions, coffee and Oh-my-god, even… Avocados! And this is just a short list. In fact, every third bite of food we take is made possible thanks to our pollinator friends. That measures out to 90 percent of agricultural crops in the United States, which contributes an average of $19 billion to the US economy. A very worrying statistic, considering that it is estimated that for the past decade, beekeepers have seen a steady decrease of their bee populations by 30 percent each year. There are, of course, organisations and projects aimed at resolving this crisis. Recently, a new one was born.

Dawn Musil grew up in a house where they depended on food-stamps, and she was the first to attend college. Dawn understands the economic struggle for low-income females and her love for bees and the environment inspired a perfect match for addressing these challenges. However, it wasn’t until Dawn visited a small village in Myanmar that she realized that women in poverty needs to be addressed with on-the-ground work and it needs to be done soon. This is when Dawn realized her background had been preparing her to address these challenges and Bee the Change was born!

Busy Bees

Dawn Musil, now the founder of Bee The Change, also has a background of diverse experience including research, engineering coursework, writing, education and conservation. Together with Nora Benson and Hayley Gocha they will bring standardized apiary designs that can be built from simple wood and mesh to communities in need of job creation and economic empowerment. Five beehives, with associated equipment and suits, will yield several jobs and honey supplies to be sold at market, not to mention the environmental benefits of beehives engaged in pollination activities so critical to our food supply.  This venture uses the well-understood science of beekeeping – at a local level – to generate impacts in nutrition, job creation, economic opportunity, agriculture, and the environment.

What if we could save honeybees and end poverty at the same time?

To help fund this project Dawn turned to WelkerMedia Fellowship programme: “I am a passionate Ecologist and beekeeper who believes that the intersection of social and environmental impact and the power of technology to impact both of these. As a Resolution Project Fellow, I have seen the value of a network and mentors and how much value this can have in building an idea and I hope to gain this support from WelkerMedia Foundation.”


 

So what Are they changing? 

Where did this idea come from, aside from the bee crisis issue? As it turns out, rural coffee farmers are suffering from crop lost due to leaf rust and beekeeping offers a supplemental income to provide more economic opportunities. There are also women in low-income communities who can get supplemental income through the sale of beehive by-products. Simultaneously beekeeping has declined since 1980s with the arrival of the Africanized Bees. These bees create dangers for local citizens and have also left a gap in the local pollination and honey markets. Bee The Change solves all of these issues by teaming up with local communities. No doubt, the problem is deeper than a potential loss of the avocado toast.

Bee the Change is reviving beekeeping in rural Panama to offer economic opportunities to rural farmers and revive apiculture that was decimated by the spread of Africanized Bees

And even though “many conservation organizations are addressing the lack of bees through encouraging more beekeepers and many NGOs are endeavoring to address poverty, using beekeeping to address poverty is a novel concept being piloted by a few other organizations. However, our specific focus on women also addressed a focus group that often is neglected when it comes to offering them entrepreneurial and agricultural opportunities for sustainable income.”

There is even an App for it!

“Technology is rarely used in the ancient art of beekeeping but it has the potential to keep communities safer and prevent bee-colony loss. Furthermore, the crop challenges of these small-scale farmers are largely ignored since they don’t produce large-scale yields and their livelihood is threatened unless we provide supplemental income such as apiculture(beekeeping).

Through use of our SwarmApp we are allowing beekeepers to track their swarms through social networks to both prevent risk to citizens of swarming bees and prevent financial loss of bee colonies.”


First steps to success

“In the spring of 2015, we placed our first four hives in Franklinton Community Gardens. We have taught 12 women beekeeping through the four current hives and have been able to sell our honey giving them each supplemental income of $100 after the product sales(sell 60 lbs of honey and lotions and chapsticks made by hand at the farmers market.) We were able to offer them subsidized CSA shares (community members and their families $35 worth of fresh, organic vegetables from the gardens each week). With the community engagement we are able to educate about the importance of bees and put four more beehives which totals around 240,000 more pollinators in this urban area that often lacks pollinators.”

Dawn is currently working in Panama and Guatemala to work on implementation of the project in these two countries, particularly where female workers are experiencing great loss due to Roya. “We are currently working with 15 individuals in Panama. The plan for scaling the project is to work with these 15 women to teach them beekeeping and through sale of hive by products give them income and put a portion of the proceeds back into increasing the number of hives and each year adding at least 5 women beekeepers who are able to be supported by the project.”

The financial side of things

At the moment, Bee The Change is supported by a combinations of grants, contracts, donations and personal income. As for the future financial needs, the team has it all figured out: “As the number of hives grow, the number of products produced from the hives will increase and thus the income generated can increase over time. Income will also increase over time as hives become more established and have higher yield and the customer base for products from our locations abroad grows and develops. We are currently dependent on donations and partial sustainable income from product sales.” WelkerMedia Fellowship would be more than helpful to this team of bright and entrepreneurial girls!

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