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Indigenous Terra Madre: Beekeeping in Kenya’s Ogiek Community

Frederick Kiplangat Lesigno is a 46 year-old beekeeper of the Ogiek people, some of the last hunter-gatherers in East Africa. They live in the Mau forest in Kenya, and have traditionally depended on forest resources for survival. In anticipation of Frederick’s participation as a representative of this unique community at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016, we conducted an interview with him. During the next edition of the event indigenous populations will be represented at the Conferences and the Terra Madre Forums, with a program of specific events open to the public and meetings dedicated to the network, in the Indigenous Terra Madre space in Valentino Park. There will also be a space dedicated to honey, “Let it Bee”, at the Palazzo del Rettorato of the University of Turin.

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What do you do for a living?
Our main activity is beekeeping. Some community members practice agro-pastoralism, though others still depend exclusively on hunting and gathering. This tradition is gradually being eroded due to increased deforestation and modernity. As an individual, beekeeping still plays an important role in supporting my family, but I also grow some crops and keep animals. I am also a member of Community Forest Association, working closely with the Kenya Forest Service with the aim of ensuring that the forest resources are used sustainably, and tackling deforestation.
How long have you been practising beekeeping?
My father introduced me to beekeeping when I was seven years old. We used to go to the forest together and I assisted him during the harvest, the preparation of beehives and their placement in tall cedar trees. I am making a conscious effort to ensure that the knowledge and skills are gradually passed down to my children. I am also training other community members, especially the youth who have lost touch with their traditions.
How much honey do you produce? How is it sold?
I have fifty traditional log hives in 28_07_Le comunità indigene a Terra Madre Salone del Gusto-gli apicoltori ogiek del Kenya6different parts of the forest, producing approximately 300kg of honey per year. Through collaboration with Slow Food, the Network for Eco-Farming in Africa (NECOFA), Manitese and other stakeholders, we have formed a cooperative, Marioshoni Community Development (MACODEV). The cooperative unites more than 300 beekeepers and is in charge of buying, processing and marketing the honey on behalf of its members. Before the cooperative we were only selling crude honey mainly to our neighbours but we now have our own processing facility where packaging is done. This has enabled us to sell our honey in shops in the cities of Molo and Nakuru.
What challenges do you face as a community?
One of the biggest challenges facing the Ogiek community is increased deforestation for timber, farming and settlement. More than a quarter of the Mau Forest has been destroyed in the last few years, over a quarter of a million hectares, and the destruction continues today. Indigenous trees are gradually being replaced with pine, eucalyptus and cypress plantations threatening the livelihood and food security of the community members who have managed the forest resources sustainably for centuries. Now many animals and resources that the community hunted and gathered from the forest face extinction. Increased use of agrochemicals in agricultural land surrounding the forest is highly affecting the quality of the honey produced and also leading to the death of bee colonies. Limited local apicultural knowledge and lack of awareness of honey’s health benefits are also affecting beekeepers in the area. However, through collaboration with Slow Food some of these challenges are being addressed and we are optimistic that the situation will improve with time.
Which foods are considered traditional in the Ogiek community?

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Honey produced using traditional log hives remain one of the most important traditional foods in the Ogiek community. Aside being a staple food, honey plays a key role in different cultural practices like childbirth, circumcision, thanksgiving and marriage ceremonies. It is also the main source of energy food during drought and famines, due its long life. Traditional beer is also made from the honey, which is drunk by the elders during their meetings, to ensure that those present would share as much information as possible! Antelopes, rock hyraxes, boars are hunted for their meat but deforestation has heavily affected their availability. Fruits, vegetables and herbs are also gathered from the forest.


Why are you coming to Terra Madre, and what do you expect from it?
I have been working with Slow Food for about four years, and I am now one of the beekeepers involved in the Ogiek Pure Honey Presidium. I am coming to Terra Madre to represent my community and meet other honey producers from around the world, so we can share knowledge, skills, traditions and customs. I would also like to taste other honeys from different countries, to better this unique product’s diversity. As a beekeeper I believe that some of the challenges my community faces are similar to other communities and Terra Madre can create a platform where possible solutions can be discussed.
Interview conducted by Samson Kiiru Ngugi – Slow Food Nakuru County

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