Connect with us


The Stings That Make Elephants Fly

In the village of Gazini, elephants leave destruction, dung and huge footprints. That was until two entrepreneurs created a buzz to stop the tusked raiders in their tracks.



Eleven villagers sit under the shade of a marula tree, in the heat of midday, deep in the KwaZulu-Natal bush in a village called Gazini. They have been up since 4AM to tell their stories in search of a small solution to a large problem.

A week before, a herd of elephants trampled through the vegetable patch. Villagers woke to see an elephant in their backyard peering through their door. The backlash has been violent and bloody – earlier this year, villagers killed an elephant and stripped it to the bone.

Gazini is a scatter of farms two kilometers from the South African border with Mozambique; electricity or cell phone reception is unheard of. The villagers here live hand-to-mouth deep in the bush.

The villagers complain the elephants emerge from the bush in the dead of night, to strike terror into their homes. The reason the elephants roam is because their home in the bush is getting smaller by the year.

Listening patiently to the villagers are two entrepreneurs, Mmabatho and Desmond Morudi, in white overalls, who believe their business can help the villagers sleep easy.

“The thing that made [the threat] clear to me was when we did a trip along the border fence. There you can see exactly where the fence has been broken and where the elephants cross over. We could see the broken poles snapped in half like twigs,” says Desmond.

The entrepreneurs believe that building 200 beehives, in a two-kilometer barrier will not only fend off the elephants but also make money. The villagers could be forgiven for being sceptical.

“I don’t think they are convinced, it’s still a test to see if it

really, really works to deter the elephants,” says Mmabatho.

“It’s [understandable] why they would believe such a large creature wouldn’t be scared of something so small,” says Desmond.

The Morudis have been working around this village since October. They start work early; the bees get aggressive as the day wears on. The hives hang on wooden poles, 10 meters apart, linked by barbed wire. If touched by an elephant, the hives swing and stir up the bees.

“So far we’ve put up a fence with 40 hives. Two hundred will be the final amount. The challenge is 200 hives is quite a stretch, it means they have to run through other villages of people who don’t even know that the project is going on. There is also the issue of leaving space for cars driving past as well as border patrols. You don’t want to cut the elephants off totally. You just want to cordon off the sensitive areas and leave behind a path.”

The buzzing beehive fence is the brainchild of Lucy King in Kenya, Head of the Human-Elephant Co-Existence Program for Save the Elephants, where she realized that elephants are scared of African honey bees and will avoid beehives at all costs. The bees sting the elephants’ soft skin, eyes, face, trunk and mouth.

The fences have an 80% success rate. They are made from local materials and are cheap, costing $150 to $500 per 100 meters, says King from her headquarters Nairobi.

The beehive fences have been so successful with human-elephant conflict (HEC), 13 countries have adopted similar projects, one of them being the Morudi’s growing business, The Village Market.

“We’ve obsessed over [King’s] manual and her work in Kenya… At the same time we were trying to find villages that we could work with. We had the skills, we had the knowledge, we needed the natural vegetation,” says Mmabatho.

In the shade of the marula tree, they have taken King’s research one step further. They want to use beehive fences as part of a R2.5-million ($180,000) dream to harvest, bottle and deliver wild, high-quality honey to suburban shopping aisles.

“In general our jars sell for R55 per 375g. Then we have Mmabatho’s baby, the raw high quality, for R75 per 375g. We aim to develop a luxury brand, bringing more orders to a premium market. We work on 35kgs per hive per harvest, which is once every three months,” says Desmond.

This means, by January, 11 bee keepers of Gazini could have yielded R49,000 ($3,500).

It’s been a long journey to this odd business for Desmond and Mmabatho. They come from modest homes in Kimberly and Pretoria.

“Our desire was to develop communities we grew up in, providing help for people and business opportunities.”

The idea was born in the home of Mmabatho’s grandfather in Winterveld, a rural town 68 kilometers northwest of Pretoria, in 2012.

“Bees would get into our ceiling and produce so much honey that the ceiling would cave in. Like every other family, we would try and smoke them out and kill them. But they would always come back,” says Mmabatho.

Instead her grandfather took the family on a beekeeping course and Mmabatho was hooked. She started her own company called Iliju Bee Farm.

Her work with Iliju Bee Farm led to Mmabatho shaking hands with ministers and members of the top 100 entrepreneurs of Europe. She also dined with Richard Branson. In 2013, Mmabatho was selected as one of the brightest young minds in South Africa, and again as one of the emerging changemakers by Spark International.

Things got even busier and Mmabatho’s husband, Desmond, left the comfort of corporate accounting to help manage the business. But success proved to be a devil in disguise. The business grew too quickly and couldn’t cope. They took on a bee expert who left a year and a half later and Iliju collapsed.

Then they started The Village Market at the end of 2014.

“As we learned more about bees, and their plight, that’s when it all came together. Lucy King’s study came after we had established Winterveld. Nora Taiga, of the Peace Foundation, now Elephant, Rhinos & People (ERP), paid Mmabatho a subsistence salary of R10,000, then introduced us to the people of Gazini,” says Desmond.

“At the beginning of the year the crossings were getting quite significant. Previously it had just been bulls, but then we started seeing breeding herds coming through,” says Nonceba Lushaba, KZN Coordinator of ERP.

“From the elephant’s point of view they have realized that there are easy pickings here. It’s kind of like a naughty child who goes to pick sweets.”

In Gazini, finding the bees is half the battle. Once the hives are built, the beekeepers take the hives to their homes in Gazini and attempt to colonize them.

Bees are fussy dwellers; they need water, plenty of flowering plants, protective vegetation and far from direct sunlight. Once the bees have moved in, the keepers close the entrances at night and then transport the colony to the beehive fence. Work starts before dawn. In their bee suits they walk with the hives on their heads to this farm. It is so remote you need a 4×4 to navigate a maze of bush trails to find it.

“Another important issue is researching bee diseases. Bee health is important if we want to conserve them. Research needs to keep track of these growing issues.”

Threats, like the varroa mite that attacks bees in the hive and contributes in part to colony collapse, are global concerns. This is why the couple have teamed up with the University of Pretoria (Tuks) Zoology and Entomology department’s Bee Group that will add valuable research to elephant behavior, bee repopulation and disease control.

Even though US and Europe honey bee colonies were under threat from Colony Collapse Disorder for almost ten years, the African honey bee  was safe from the impact of industrialized apiculture. This according to research by Robin Crew,  professor of Entomology and leader of the Social Insects Research Group in the University of Pretoria’s Department of Zoology and Entomology.

In Crew’s book “A World Without Bees”, the fact that Africa has the largest number of wild honey bee swarms in the world has contributed to wider genetic diversity and therefore populations are not as severely affected by diseases.

The beepocolypse, as it was called, could even be resolved with recolonization with the African honey bee because of its resilience.

Their Gazini project has even caught the eye of the African Union which granted $15,000 to the bee research at Tuks.

“It’s not just the sake of doing research for the sake of research, but using it to solve community problems. To help developed communities,” says Desmond.

On the morning of inspection, Mmabatho finds suspicious larvae in one of the hives. It turns out to be waxworm. These pests eat cocoons, pollen, the shed skins of bees, and chew through beeswax.

“We need the bees to focus all their energy on making the honey. As soon as invaders enter the hive they expend all their energy getting it out, which of course affects production,” says Desmond.

The couple believe that deforestation, pesticides and insecticides also affect the bees. They instead plant strong smelling plants and herbs, like spring onions, to discourage pests and also plant flowering vegetables like tomatoes to encourage pollination.

“We are trying to encourage our farmers to use organic methods so they don’t affect the bee populations. That is why, in addition to this, we sell veggies to markets,” says Mmabatho.

Once the honey is ready it its transported 600 kilometers to their bottling plant at the Riversands Incubation Hub that opened in September in Fourways, north of Johannesburg.

“The problem we have with honey in South Africa is a lot of it is imported. Because of important laws we need to irradiate it. You will see in the shops it will say it’s ionized by radiation in order to increase shelf life. The impact of that is that it takes away the good qualities from the honey.”

“There is also a lack of variation of honey in the market. We introduce some product differentiation;  infusing honey with lemon or cinnamon.”

Raw honey is murky and beige in color, a completely different experience from what you see in the shops.

“People are used to seeing this brown liquid here on the shelves that’s what they associate with honey. They don’t appreciate the real raw product will crystallize,” says Mmabatho.

Honey also can be used in health and beauty products and is a natural anti-inflammatory. Scrubs, moisturizers and masks can all be made from the by-product of the comb.

This is one business that is helping a tiny village sleep at night and got a couple of bright African entrepreneurs buzzing.

Continue Reading


Cyclone Idai Aftermath: No Maize, No Money, No Future



The deadliest African cyclone, to date, tore through Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in March, leaving a trail of death and destruction. The worst is yet to come for survivors.

The deadliest cyclone to ever hit Africa, Idai, overnight, ripped through Mozambique and then tore into Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving a long trail of destruction in its wake.

Trees were uprooted, so were people, in the millions.

Roads were washed away, houses destroyed and bridges torn from their edifices. Worst of all, the raging muddy waters killed at least 847 people, affected about two million and destroyed several hundreds of thousands of crops. The devastation caused by the cyclone is almost unimaginable as, in these three countries, bodies could be seen floating in water where there used to be villages.

“This was unimaginable. I am in the military but I have never seen such. People are desperate for help and have lost everything,” says Brigadier General Joe Muzvidziwa, who is helping survivors in Zimbabwe.

For those who did survive, the worst is yet to come. Many of them will mourn the deaths of their loved ones on empty pockets and growling stomachs.

The drive to Zimbabwe’s hardest hit district, Chimanimani, is long and painful. A mere six days after the furious waters swept away most parts of the villages in the area, the ground is dry but the pain and destruction still palpable.

We struggle to drive into the villages as trees and debris still block the roads and bridges have been decimated.

We continue our journey on foot and meet many with no place to call home. One of them is Tsitsi Mungana.

Tsitsi Mungana in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai. Picture:

As we meet, she is trying to climb over a tree blocking the road, to make her way to aid agencies for her first decent meal since Cyclone Idai. She is walking barefoot and is wearing the only dress and doek (headwrap) she now owns. She mutters a few words to herself as tears stream down her cheeks.

“It’s been the worst time of my life. I don’t know how I am going to move on from this. I don’t have anything else left. My husband was swept away by the floods and was found about 10km away… We spent hours looking for my grandson. The rocks which fell off the mountain due to the heavy rains and wind covered his body and it took many people to find him. All our belongings and livestock are also gone,” says Mungana as she begins to weep uncontrollably.

She is one of hundreds of families who have lost loved ones, and thousands who are most likely going to starve this year.

According to Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi will collectively have to import over a million tons of maize this year to feed its people.

He says Zimbabwe’s maize imports could reach 900,000 tons in order to meet the annual needs of roughly two million tons a year.

“Meanwhile, Mozambique will most likely double the typical maize import volume of about 100,000 tons a year,” he says.

It’s going to be hard to find suppliers of maize because the key suppliers, South Africa and Zambia, are expecting low harvests this year.

“If we assume that South Africa’s expected production of 10.6 million tons materializes, then the country could have about 1.1 million tons of maize for export markets. A large share of this will, most likely, be destined to the BNLS countries (Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, and Eswatini), thus leaving a small volume for Zimbabwe and Mozambique,” Sihlobo says.

There is also very little to be expected from Zambia as the International Grains Council forecasts the country’s 2018/19 maize harvest at 2.4 million tons, down by 33% year-on-year. This will be enough only for domestic consumption.

Cyclone Idai also affected trade.

In its wake, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, the cyclone cost Africa infrastructure worth more than a billion dollars.

Port of Beira, the main corridor for Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Eastern DRC, closed its doors.

“We closed the port two days before the cyclone hit to allow us time to prepare for it by reorganizing and removing all potential hazards. There was a lot of damage to the port. It took another two days to clean up and, at least, make the port accessible. The damage was several millions of dollars. We are currently in talks with insurance to know how much exactly. It will take time and money to fix everything up. We are currently improvising just to make sure business goes on,” says Jan de Vries, Managing Director of Port of Beira.

Jan de Vries, Managing Director of Port of Beira.

Before this disaster, Beira port controlled 60% of the country’s imports and 40% of its exports.

“We handle about 300,000 containers per year and about three million tons of general cargo per year and a lot of fuel but we had to put services on hold… On the first day, it was tough to go around. Nearly all the roads were blocked, to some extent, with trees, electricity cables and many things. There was a lot of destruction. A lot of roofs damaged, buildings completely collapsed. This place looked like a warzone,” de Vries says.

He says at the port, roofs, doors and warehouses were destroyed but they are lucky because it is currently low season.

“Electricity supply had been cut off but we are very impressed by the government because power is being restored. Technicians from all over the country are working hard. Major industries have been reconnected and a few residential areas are now being connected. Rail and road infrastructure is also being fixed. Although we have to struggle a bit, we have opened the port and business continues,” he says.

The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) Sifelani Jabangwe says Beira is one of the major ports for the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region and its closure, no matter how short-lived, affected trade.

“Zimbabwe imports fuel and wheat through the Port of Beira. The closure caused a strain on the supply of these two commodities. We had trucks that were stuck in Beira for a number of days. The bigger impact is also on businesses located on the eastern sides of the country, like timber estates, fruit and tea producers, and even the diamond company, in that area, is now revising its targeted output because of the flooding,” Jabangwe says.

Henry Nemaire, the Chairman of the CZI Trade Development and Investments Promotion Committee based in Mutare, says most businesses have been severely affected and are looking for funding to rebuild.

“Some businesses are in areas that can’t be accessed with 30-ton trucks which they used to move their goods like timber… Power lines are cut off and there are issues around water supply systems which have been damaged. Smaller businesses were the most affected. Most of them are now trying to apply for loans to get new trucks and rebuild so they can get back on track,” Nemaire says.

Jabangwe agrees with Nemaire. He says it will be a long and harsh road to recovery.

“We are still waiting for reports from various companies affected by the cyclone which should start coming in soon so we can understand the actual loss that has occurred… there are already teams working with government to import the required maize to feed the country. We need additional support to make sure that people are catered for. We would need to feed people in that area for at least 12 months, which means a full-fledged program has to be put in place,” he says.

Cherukai Mukamba, a local smallholder farmer, says he relied on farming to make money. “I would sell maize and chicken, and sometimes cows, to make money to be able to take care of my children. A week before the cyclone, I had hired people who were going to help me with harvesting when the time came,” he says.

Cherukai Mukamba, a local smallholder farmer.

Like many in this area, Mukamba spent the night fearing for his life and that of his family.

“I was asleep and was woken up by very loud winds that I have never heard before. I went outside to look and right in front of me, was a bus rolling down the mountain. I could hear people scream and it crushed them before my eyes. I tried to go help but it pouring and I could see rocks fall off the mountain right into the fields and I had to go back in the house and say a prayer.”

The next day, Mukamba says he woke up to the biggest horror.

“Everything was destroyed; all my crops, livestock and part of my house. I went to check on the bus but didn’t find anyone inside. I heard that there had been three people in the bus and their bodies were found over 100km away. I couldn’t believe it. It is the worst thing to ever happen to us,” he says.

Mukamba’s story is one of thousands of stories in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.

These countries have weathered many storms over the years like Cyclone Leon–Eline and poverty, but this massive natural disaster will go down in history books as the worst and southern Africa will bear its scars for generations to come.

Continue Reading


Uganda Sees 11% Growth In Sugar Output This Year



Uganda expects sugar output to rise 11% this year as three mills under construction in the country’s northern and eastern regions come online, officials say.

“Production is currently at 450,000 metric tons. When three new factories that are under construction and development start producing, we will go up to a half a million metric tons,” Uganda’s Trade and Industry Minister Amelia Kyambadde says in an interview with FORBES AFRICA.

The East African country is only able to consume 360,000 tons per year, leaving a surplus for export in a region that’s grappling with deficits. Uganda exports sugar to the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Tanzania.

Underpinning the country’s sugar sector are millers, including Kakira Sugar Works, the largest producer. Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited – Lugazi and Kinyara Sugar Works are the other largest players.

READ MORE | The Industrialists Who Have Tasted Sucrose And Success

While this growth in output is imperative, the government is keen to see diversification in production to include industrial sugar as the country seeks to save its foreign exchange, Kyambadde says. 

“I see a bright future,” she adds, “but producers also need to diversify and produce the finer sugar. All of them are producing the bigger crystals but finer sugar for production is what we would like them to start producing.

“At the moment, we are importing that finer sugar.

“So that has been our concern with them, that why don’t you diversify and start producing the sugar that’s ready for production,” she says.

But these efforts have largely been stalled by Uganda’s high power tariffs, according to Kyambadde.

“They (millers) say from this level, the ordinary sugar, they have to have another line that would make it finer. That means the consumption of power definitely is higher,” she says.

“So that is one of the challenges; that the costs of production are so high,” she said, adding that new power plants will reduce costs to an ideal five US cents/KW.

Uganda is also looking to establish new laws to govern the sugar sector but disagreements over exclusivity clauses relating to purchase of cane from farmers abound.

In March, President Yoweri Museveni declined to assent to the Sugar Act of 2016 that was passed by Parliament in November last year. His spokesman, Don Wanyama, says the president is concerned about the proximity of millers.

“It’s going to antagonize the old sugar players,” Wanyama says. “It’s (the act) not going to be assented to,” he says.

READ MORE | Ugandan Firm Uses Blockchain To Trace Coffee From Farms To Stores

“We hope this issue will be corrected now that the bill is being sent back to parliament,” says Jim Kabeho, the Chairman of Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association, the largest industry lobby.

“Farming constitutes 60 percent of our costs; yet someone without a single tractor and using cheap old machinery just wants to come and buy from your farmers,” he said in a phone interview.

Kabeho, also a director at Kakira and a board member at regional business lobby, the East Africa Business Council, warns that Uganda has lessons to learn from Kenya which allowed “market distortions” in the name of allowing competition only to end up with less production and having to rely on imports.

Yet for Ibrahim Baliitamuto, a cane grower in the eastern district of Mayuge, all that matters is price stability.

 “It’s very easy to make a fortune from sugarcane if the prices offered by factories are not changed very often,” Baliitamuto says.

“You can’t tell me about growing maize (corn) when I have a choice of sugarcane.”

Kyambadde says in returning the law to parliament, the president was being mindful of the big players.

“He thinks that the output of the small players is negligible, but we are still discussing that,” she says.

-Joseph Burite

Continue Reading


Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? They Make Bad Landing Strips For Flies




Scientists are providing new evidence to answer the longstanding question about why zebras have stripes. It appears stripes make terrible landing strips, bamboozling the fierce blood-sucking flies that try to feast on zebras and carry deadly diseases.

Researchers on Wednesday described experiments demonstrating that horse flies have a difficult time landing on zebras while easily landing on uniformly colored horses. In one experiment, the researchers put cloth coats bearing striped patterns on horses and observed that fewer flies landed on them than when the same horses wore single-color coats.

“We showed that horse flies approach zebras and uniformly colored horses at similar rates but that they fail to land on zebras – or striped horse coats – because they fail to decelerate properly, and so fly past them or literally bump into them and bounce off,” said behavioral ecologist Tim Caro of the University of California-Davis, lead author of the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

READ MORE | The South African Horse Industry: A Potential Billion Rand Market

Close cousins to horses and donkeys, the world’s three zebra species, known for their black-and-white striped bodies, roam Africa’s savannas eating a variety of grasses. Their stripe patterns vary among individuals, with no two alike.

There had been four main hypotheses about the advantages zebras accrued by evolving stripes: camouflage to avoid large predators; a social function like individual recognition; thermoregulation, with stripes setting up convection currents along the animal’s back; and thwarting biting fly attacks.

“Only the last stands up to scrutiny,” Caro said. “Most biologists involved with research on mammal coloration accept that this is the reason that zebras have stripes.”

African horse flies carry diseases such as trypanosomiasis and African horse sickness that cause wasting and can be fatal.

Breeding high performance bugs for animal feed

The researchers videoed horse flies as they tried to prey on captive zebras and domestic horses at a livery in North Somerset, England. Stripes did not deter flies from a distance, as they circled horses and zebras at similar rates. But the flies managed to land on zebras less than a quarter as often.

University of Bristol biologist and study co-author Martin How said stripes may dazzle flies somehow once the insects venture close enough to see them with their low-resolution eyes.

“In addition to stripes that prevent controlled landings by horse flies, zebras are constantly swishing their tail and may run off if horse flies do land successfully, so they are also using behavioral means to prevent flies probing for blood,” Caro said. -Reuters

-Will Dunham

Continue Reading