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Creating a buzz: Beekeeping on the upswing in Haiti

Bring home the honey, Honey! LE3602 "Bees on a Vine" by Jean Sylvionel Brutus

Bring home the honey, Honey! LE3602 “Bees on a Vine” by Jean Sylvionel Brutus

Honey has always been in great demand in Haiti and there was a time when the island country’s needs were met by local beekeeping.  However, political upheaval, environmental degradation, and a bee blight combined for a triple whammy that nearly killed Haitian production.  Those beekeepers that continued to struggle on did not have access to information or tools which would allow them to maximize production and in fact, it is something of a miracle that they were able to harvest honey at all under the circumstances.  Most beekeepers were reduced to not using hives, but rather tending to the bees wherever they happened to build their nests. Others were managing their bees in traditional hollow log hives, harvesting the honey by smoking the bees out and then removing the honey after the bees left. Though that method is inexpensive for the beekeeper, the honey retains a smoky taste  and the farmer is unable to check brood health without damaging the comb. A sorry state of affairs no matter how you slice it.

Enter Farmer to Farmer, a program administered by Partners of the Americas and Funded by USAID.  Farmer to Farmer set out to reestablish the once thriving beekeeping industry in the country by sending successful beekeepers and agriculturists from the United States to Haiti. Their goals were simple: train young Haitians to work in the industry; help transition old hives to more modern ones; and educate beekeepers about disease, production and processing. As a result of their efforts, many Haitians are producing enough honey for their own communities with plenty of extra to sell to others. Just one year after the Farmer to Farmer program began its work, more than 1,000 beekeepers returned to raising bees and more than 300 hives were restructured. Honey production has increased from three to seven gallons per hive, generating significant income for Haitian beekeepers. In addition, beekeepers are now communicating with each another and forming beekeeping associations, recognizing the need to organize in order to increase profits and reduce costs.

The amber liquid along with other hive products like propolis hold countless health benefits, which make producing it an ideal industry for impoverished nations. It has antibacterial properties that make it an effective topical agent for wounds. It is used as a skin care product, a sweetener for foods and beverages, and as a treatment to take the sting out of sore throats. The honey business has also provided micro-enterprise opportunities for women in Haiti who use the beeswax to make candles and crafts for sale.

Meghan Oliver, a program officer of the Farmer to Farmer Beekeeping Project believes that revitalizing local enterprise is a key ingredient in eliminating the cycle of poverty in countries such as Haiti. In the case of reviving honey production, she says, “Increasing cash in the hands of poor farmers is going to empower them immeasurably. The money they earn can be spent on their most important needs, whether it’s a generator for electricity, for repairs to their home or school fees for their kids. The best thing is that THEY earn and THEY decide.”


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

No Sugar Added

SRS is helping to clean up the streets of Por-au-Prince by paying bottle collectors for plastic.

SRS is helping to clean up the streets of Port-au-Prince by paying bottle collectors for plastic.

Haiti is fascinating; an endlessly interesting place about which to research and write.  The challenge though, as in so many things, is to report with reasonable balance. Sharing good news and bad, resisting the urge to shine and sugar-coat or conversely, to paint a bleak picture in gloomy shades of black and blacker.

That having been said, the story of a company called SRS Haiti is one that can be told in balance.  SRS stands for Sustainable Recycling Solutions, the brain-child of Andrew MacCalla and Brett Williams, who got together with Mike Shinoda of the rock band Linkin Park, and Louis Blanchard, President and CEO of Haiti’s leading drinking water company to clean up the streets of Port-au-Prince under a for-profit business model of collecting plastic waste.   Their idea was to create a social business with a goal of establishing a lasting recycling industry in Haiti. They set out to provide job opportunities to Haitians and help protect the environment by cleaning up the streets. In 2012, the dream became a reality.  SRS opened for business and, in a society that depends largely on word-of-mouth communication, their collection enterprise soared immediately into the stratosphere.

But the blessing of SRS’s meteoric popularity quickly became a problem. Every person who brought in plastic needed to be paid for it, and as it became more well-known, the company simply couldn’t keep up the pay-out. Specifically, in its first month of operation, SRS received more than seven times the amount of plastic it had originally projected. After six months, SRS was completely swamped and had to shut the doors, under the very real threat of having to close down completely.

While the company was dangerously close to the edge, it didn’t fall over into the abyss.  SRS leadership put together business and marketing

This "trash truck" could become the "cash cab."

This “trash truck” could become the “cash cab.”

strategies which they presented to the Clinton Foundation in February of this year.  SRS was awarded a grant of $250,000 which has enabled the company to form partnerships and develop a market for their cleaned, sorted plastic for production of consumer goods. Since that infusion of funding, the future for the company and for Haiti, looks very promising.

According to the SRS website, collectors in Port-au-Prince have removed 4.5 million pounds of plastic from their streets.  Let’s say that the average 16 oz. plastic bottle weighs half an ounce.  (The actual weight varies from approximately .495 to .661 oz.) So some quick rough math reveals that the equivalent of 144 million 16 oz. plastic water bottles have been cleared from the streets and waterways of Port-au-Prince. Also, according to their website, SRS has paid out a little over half a million dollars to those collectors.  More quick math, that is approximately equal to 12 cents/pound. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot and in all honesty, it gives me pause, knowing that the price per pound elsewhere is MUCH higher.  That could be apples and oranges, though.  For now, let’s go with the fact that it IS payout, it IS sustainable, and it IS making a hugely positive environmental impact.

Co-founder Mike Shinoda initially was a something of a silent entity, but he has recently stepped out of the shadows to bring more visibility to the enterprise. Clothing manufacturer Eco Wear has partnered with SRS to buy plastic bottles to create a variety of consumer products, including merchandise for Linkin Park. That’s the fun and “sexy” aspect of the business.  More importantly, though somewhat less flashy, Giant Dragon has also become a major trading partner. With recycling operations in Hong Kong and the Dominican Republic, it announced that it has committed to purchasing a minimum of 4 million pounds of SRS plastic over the next year. To learn more about SRS and its operations, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INPIIidauok

Four million pounds of plastic off the streets and out of waterways next year.  No need to sugar coat that.  That’s terrific!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus


The Birds and the Bees

As you know by now, we at It’s Cactus are always interested in how people use and display our products.  Therefore, when a gentleman at one of the recent retail shows approached the check-out loaded with four birds and three bees and declared, “I can’t resist.  I’m hanging these together,” we all started laughing appreciatively and applauding his wit.  Birds and bees.  Gotta love it.  We’ve all heard that time-honored, picturesque euphemism for sex, but where did it originate??

Apparently you have to go back to England in 1825, when Samuel Coleridge wrote his poem “Work without Hope,” to find the first use of “birds and bees” as a metaphor for human sexual activity.  To quote:


“All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair –

A great display idea and a chuckle-inducing visual pun!

A great display idea and a chuckle-inducing visual pun!

The bees are stirring – birds are on the wing –

And Winter, slumbering in the open air,

Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!

And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,

Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.”


It might be a stretch, but it’s the earliest documentable hint of birds and bees together in that connotation.


Later, in 1875, American naturalist John Burroughs wrote a set of essays entitled, “Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes and other Papers.” Burroughs aimed to present the workings of nature to children in a way that they could easily understand and appreciate. One might also leap to the assumption that his descriptions were vague enough for the comfort and refined sensibilities of Victorian era parents. His work does refer to bird and bee activity, but conspicuously does not include any specific reference to the phrase, “birds and bees” with regard to sex.  It is therefore curious to me that he gets any credit for the metaphor at all, but so be it.  Theories are theories and who am I to argue?

Finally in 1928, American composer Cole Porter wrote “Let’s Do It,” which lyrically presents the pretty metaphoric picture in the song’s introduction:


When the little bluebird
Who has never said a word
Starts to sing Spring
When the little bluebell
At the bottom of the dell
Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong
When the little blue clerk
In the middle of his work
Starts a tune to the moon up above
It is nature that is all
Simply telling us to fall in love

Porter appears to have been making deliberate, if oblique, reference to ‘the birds and the bees’ and it is reasonable to assume that thereafter, the phrase became a part of the common vernacular.  Just for fun, I thought I’d listen to a Billie Holliday performance of the song on YouTube.  Wouldn’t you know it?  Her 1935 rendition didn’t include the introduction! I had to go to the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s 2011 film “Midnight in Paris” to hear the song performed by Conal Fowkes in its entirety.  So for the nostalgic and the curious among you – Voila! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eraOhezY23s



Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus/Beyond Borders

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