NASSAU, BAHAMAS – As The Bahamas Government continues to seek ways to stimulate economic growth and reduce the 10.7% unemployment rate, a source of inspiration may lie in Co-ops and The Bahamas National Beekeepers Cooperative Society Limited (BNBC).
With the philosophy “People helping people to help themselves,”community-centered Cooperative business enterprises bring together like-minded individuals focused on developing their business.
Co-ops like BNBC provide quality honey products for the market ensuring financial gains remain within this nation’s borders and in the hands of the owner members.
At its heart, a Co-op empowers individuals to grow their investment through a collaborative effort. And it is the shared experiences of economy, social and environmental awareness, cultural consciousness and entrepreneurial spirit that creates the common space, drives the member bond forward and are positively impacted as the Co-op gains momentum.
As the United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Cooperatives is 6thJuly, the time is right to take a closer look at an enterprise that places people over profit and expands the economic potential of the whole.
Under the theme ‘COOPS 4 Decent Work,’the UN’s goal is to highlight the important role Co-ops plays in growing the economy. The International Cooperative Alliance the supports Sustainable Development Goal 8 and promotes“sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work.”
Locally, the Department of Cooperative Development promotes, develops and regulates all Cooperatives in the country. This year’s International Day of Cooperatives theme is to demonstrate that issues such as income and gender inequality, and economic disparity between rural and urban areas can be addressed through the Cooperative experience.
Chairman of the newly formed Bahamas National Beekeepers Co-op, Alex Holden said the BNBC’s membership reflects this stance, with an even mix of women and men, Family Island representation, and healthy cross-section of professionals — from accountants and corporate managers, to police officers and entrepreneurs – the business of bees in The Bahamas has attracted a diverse following.
According to Mr. Holden, membership in BNBC is open to more than just beekeepers. The Co-op exists, he said, to serve all stakeholders – the bee enthusiast; persons interested in protecting the environment; individuals who want to support Bahamian entrepreneurs; and people who just love tasty, raw, organic honey. As stakeholders they come together for the common purpose of bee, beekeeper and the environment.
“The nature of Cooperatives lends itself to this industry in particular and it really is the best way to bring all these people together. It sets the stage for meaningful conversation and industry development,” said Holden. He says this purpose also underscores why the formation of the BNB Co-op is so important at this time. As a fledgling industry, Beekeeping has experienced tremendous growth in the last few years, but now the focus must be on standardization and structuring of the industry to ensure long-term sustainability and economic viability.
In its purest form, Mr Holden sees the Cooperative as people working to help people. And this is where it differs from a corporation he says, which is driven by profit and exists primarily to improve the economic position of the shareholder, but not necessarily the workers. It could also be argued that the Cooperative is less exploitative in nature than corporations typically are. To contrast, Holden says the Cooperative aligns the interests of the owner and the worker because they exist as one and the same, so the removal of that dynamic fosters a healthier work environment and more consistent, passionate, focused work.
As a new Cooperative, BNBC is focused on supporting and growing its membership through training and mentorship opportunities because the future of the Beekeeping industry lies in the hands of responsible beekeepers passing on knowledge to future generations. They have partnered with a number of relevant agencies, including the Department of Cooperative Development, The Bahamas League of Cooperatives Limited, and IICA to host workshops in a number of Family Islands, including Cat Island, Andros, Eleuthera and New Providence. The upcoming workshops will focus on the merits of working collaboratively to produce value-added products from the hive.
The health of the industry is also of critical concern, with honey quality, the welfare of the bees and the economy of the Beekeeper paramount. “By implementing scientific processes, we can ensure that the quality of Bahamian honey is produced at a premium and bee populations are healthy and robust,” Mr. Holden said.
Another focus of the BNB Co-op is to promote the use of the Bahamian bee. “We want to protect the native bees and nurture the development of our own bees because they are biologically suited to our environment. One of the problems we are facing is prospective Beekeepers purchasing foreign bee populations and bringing them into our ecosystem – the sustainable and ecologically way to get into the industry is to get your bees locally and the best way is to join the Co-op,” Mr Holden said.
He further explained that almost all of BNBC’s members offer bee and hive removal as a service, so they would have access to generous quantities of Bahamian bees. He also suggested two other ways to get local bees. For those persons willing to engage in a little adventure, it is possible to catch a swarm in the wild – using a trap and sugary solution as bait. Lastly, professional Beekeepers can split one hive into two if the population is large and stable enough.
These low-cost methods of gathering bees combined with the lucrative nature of the Beekeeping industry – commercial Beekeepers in The Bahamas can make more than $100,000 a year. Holden says import reports indicate The Bahamas itself has a market demand of 20 Million Dollars a year Beekeeping industry inclusive of honey, bees wax, royal jelly and other bee related products. With local Beekeepers capturing only a fraction of that market- reveals a capacity for tremendous growth and makes Beekeeping an attractive entrepreneurial venture. For less than $1,000 anyone can start a hive right in his or her backyard, Mr Holden said.
Beyond the actual honey and honeycomb, there are a number of value-added honey products that also bring economic reward for the Beekeeper, including bee’s wax and royal jelly, which is a digested pollen and regarded as a “super food.” It is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure, blood sugar, and aids in the healing process. The BNB Co-op is looking into the production of mead, a lightly carbonated honey wine.
The BNB Co-op is also focused on protecting the local Beekeeping industry. Like other sectors such as the poultry industry, that have to compete with often inferior, but lower costing foreign products, BNBC is concerned about the importation of impure honey that may not have been organically grown or harvested.
“One of the things that we’re doing is bringing in spectrometers and measuring devices that can ensure 100% honey purity. Bahamians are managing hives organically, but other countries, like China and India, they are not managing hives organically. In many cases the honey has been diluted with high fructose corn syrup. We take them at their word that is it 100% honey, but often it’s not.”
Looking forward, Mr. Holden says The Bahamas National Beekeepers Co-op wants to supply the local market with honey and meet the demand for bee products. “We hope to educate the wider Bahamian community on the importance of bees in the environment and wider eco-system and we hope that every Bahamian citizen takes a more active role in incorporating sustainable measures that will protect the environment and improve their lives.
Co-ops are truly an answer to reduce high unemployment rates globally. At the end of 2017 there were 16,048,886employees of Co-ops globally.