Beekeeping has a big impact in Liberia thanks to North Shore foundation

Kent Bubbs Jr., (left to right) Kent Bubbs Sr., Gerry Bubbs and Landis Wyatt hold examples of products made from honey which they help produce in Liberia through their humanitarian organization Universal Outreach Foundation. Photo: Jason Payne/Postmedia

Kent Bubbs Jr. of Universal Outreach teaching farmers in the African nation to make honey and coconut oil so they’re able to provide for their families’ needs

People ask them when they’re coming home.

In fact, Kent Bubbs Jr.  and Landis Wyatt arrived home on Friday when they landed at Monrovia, the capital of Liberia on the west coast of Africa.

The husband and wife team, he from West Vancouver and she a Saskatchewanite, spend about 10 months of the year in the impoverished African country, teaching local farmers how to become beekeepers, among many other things.

The couple set up the operation in 2007 after Bubbs Jr. scouted several other countries on Africa’s east and west coasts.

The two have taken over the Universal Outreach Foundation, set up almost 20 years ago by Bubbs’ parents, Kent Sr. and Gerry, with the proceeds from selling their family oriented mountain resort, Whiskey Jack.

“Junior went through Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda,” Bubbs Sr. said of his son’s scouting trip. “The mandate was, we want the poorest place in the world. He arrived in Liberia and said, ‘There’s no doubt Liberia is the place if we want to be where things are in the worst state possible.’”

Malaria, which has struck Bubbs’ Jr. three times and almost did him in the first time — Wyatt has so far been malaria-free — seems to be the biggest danger, Bubbs Jr. said.

Most families there survive on subsistence farming and their incomes average little more than $400 a year.

“When we were working at the school one of the things that was always happening over the three years we were building schools was people were always asking us for jobs,” Wyatt said. “They’d come by and ask, ‘Have you got any jobs? Have you got any jobs?’

“Well, no we didn’t, not with us. But they needed an income? Let’s find a way to do it.”

The solution Bubbs Jr. and Wyatt came up with was matching the locals’ subsistence farming with a beekeeping program.

“I’d been an amateur beekeeper and it seemed like a good fit,” Bubbs’ Jr. said.

When they began the bee program there were a half-dozen beekeepers in Liberia, selling honey in mayonnaise jars at the side of the road. Today they’ve trained more than 2,000 farmers in beekeeping.

“People can continue doing their sustainable farming, which is essential. They don’t have to change what they do to change their families,” Wyatt said. “They now have an added source of income.

“Beekeeping was just a lovely fit with a nation that farms.”

And the beauty is, she said, supply has created demand in a country where barely anything Liberian can be found on grocery story shelves.

At harvest, Liberia Pure Honey, a social enterprise owned by Liberians, guarantees to buy all the honey produced.

Those farmers previously feeding their families on $400 a year are now supplementing their incomes with up to $4,000 or more a year in honey sales, Bubbs Jr. said.

The foundation has also branched out to teaching people how to cold-press high-quality virgin coconut oil, which is later sold on the honey model.

And both the honey and coconut enterprises have the added benefit of slowing down deforestation of what’s been called the last great rainforest in West Africa, because it offers income from a source other than cutting down trees, Wyatt said.

Most of the donations Universal Outreach receives come from Metro Vancouver. The foundation guarantees that 100 per cent of donations go into bricks and mortar, and into the training projects. Kent Sr. and Gerry Bubbs cover the five per cent of the budget that pays for administration.

There have been hurdles and hardships too numerous to mention here; the success of the programs is a welcome salve.

“People ask us when we’re coming home,” Wyatt said. “I try to envision myself back (in Canada) and I can’t imagine making the contribution and impact we’re making in Liberia.”

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