On the outskirts of Rumbek in the Western Lakes region of South Sudan lies Wulu.
Little is known about this village, but there is something sweet about it.
A group of women in this rural community have found new income opportunities through beekeeping and processing honey.
Thirty-eight-year-old Alice Mamur has for many years been beekeeping, a skill she learnt from her father and later from her husband, using traditional methods such as the use of beehives made from bamboo. She says that she used to produce honey for consumption in her home, making traditional beer and for gifting during wedding ceremonies.
In 2015, a programme supported by Oxfam, the UK charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, enabled Alice and other residents of Wulu to turn beekeeping into an income generating activity through training of modern beekeeping techniques, harvesting, processing and packaging the honey for consumers. There are similar programmes supported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Beekeeping afforded women like Alice independence.
“I am proud to be a woman working with my own hands to make a living to help my family,” said Alice Mamur. “I can now buy soap, pay my children’s school fees and put food on the table,” she said, tersely adding:
“I am a responsible lady.”
Tucked away some 25 kilometers away from Rumbek, a journey that takes nearly 2-hours by car due to poor road conditions, the beekeeping communities in Wulu sell their honey on the side of the road to motorists travelling to and from Rumbek.
“During the rainy season when the road is impassable, our business suffers,” says Alice Mamur.
Frequent insecurity along main supply routes also poses a threat to the business, cutting off Wulu from accessing bigger markets like Rumbek and the country’s capital, Juba.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) unveiled a plan in December 2017 to rehabilitate 2350 kilometers of road to improve security, create an enabling environment for humanitarian partners to reach vulnerable communities, and to help boost the economy as traders would be able to safely transport their goods.
The rehabilitation of road links will also enable UN peacekeepers to carry out more patrols along insecure roads, restoring confidence among local communities.
The thirty-eight-year-old mother of four says that she “feels safe” when she sees UN peacekeepers in her area.
“Sometimes I get discouraged because when we move into the forest to get the honey, we get harassed by men with guns. They steal our honey, slap us, and sometimes do other things to us,” said Alice Mamur.
“I feel safer when I see UN peacekeepers in my area,” she added.
With a promising market to turn beekeeping into a viable business, residents of Wulu, a primarily agriculturalist community say that there is an urgency to eliminate conflict between themselves and cattle keepers who migrate to their area with their livestock.
Beekeepers have raised concerns about cattle keepers vandalizing their beehives when they reach their communities during the seasonal migration period. Another concern is that the smell of the cows forces bees to flee the hives.
“We need a peace dialogue in the community so that those who are destroying the beehives can stop,” says Barnabas Dombolo Wany, the Chairperson of Wulu Farmers, Beekeeping and Marketing Association.
There is hope that peace and normalcy will return to South Sudan so that untapped markets like beekeeping and processing of honey can reach their full potential, enabling beekeeping communities like Wulu to have prosperous lives and enjoy the sweet rewards.