Almost 20 years ago, Zambian Canadian eco-entrepreneur, Dan Ball went into a remote part of Africa to help two dozen struggling beekeepers sell their honey. He said, “I can help you, let’s start a business.” Today Dan has trained over 6000 beekeepers and exports 800 tonnes of honey every year to Europe.
But Dan had a problem; with a growing list of 3000 people waiting to be trained and equipped as beekeepers, he needed to generate more income. So he turned to long-time friends, Canadian artist-entrepreneurs and former Zimbabwean residents, Paul Whitney and Liz Connell, “Help me value add our honey,” he said, “help me bring it to Canada and the US.”
With virtually no retail or grocery sales experience, Paul and Liz decided it was time to think outside the box; maybe even design a new box. In 2012 they launched the African Bronze Honey Project to bring the honey to Canadian schools as a fundraising project. The Project is an innovative, healthy and educational way for school kids to learn about some of the issues rural Africans face while earning substantial fundraising dollars for their own school projects. Students learn a valuable lesson with every bottle sold.
The African Bronze Honey Project sets aside a percentage of profits for more training – supporting entrepreneurship and beekeeping in Africa. African Bronze Honey is one of the most delicious foods on the planet produced from one of the least developed places in the world. Call it, “Empowerment in a bottle.”
Since Dan’s humble beginnings in the Zambian bush, many great things have happened. Dan and his company Forest Fruits Ltd. have successfully trained over 6000 independent beekeepers. They produce over 800 tonnes of exceptional organic forest honey each year. In an area where there is almost no employment and cash was non-existent, these efforts have transformed thousands of lives.
The beekeepers are trained and equipped for free and are taught numeracy and literacy. Earning money by beekeeping can mean a metal roof, a bicycle, books or school fees. They earn a reliable source of income from their own efforts, in their own environment with a positive environmental and social impact. Honey collected from wild bees is a practice as old as time. Dan’s idea was to use tradition and local assets to create a sustainable solution to poverty and unemployment.
In 2014 Engineers Without Borders (EWB) noted the work of The African Bronze Honey Project by granting the Project a ‘Social Entrepreneurs for Change” Fellowship. Known for its ‘game changer’ philosophy, EWB had sent a number of young engineers to Dan’s project over the years. The Fellowship allowed the African Bronze Honey Project to up its game by reaching a broader audience and forging important new connections.
One of those connections was the Fair Trade Federation. In the fall of 2014, the African Bronze Honey Company was granted membership to the Fair Trade Federation in recognition of its’ fair trade and fair business practices. Toward the end of 2014 the African Bronze Honey Company also received certification as a B (Benefit) Corp. B Corps use “the power of business to solve social and environmental problems”.
In December, 2014 another door opened and we walked through it. Organic foods retail giant, Whole Foods Markets called. With more than 360 stores in the US, Canada and the UK and with their unwavering commitment to high quality, sustainable and fair trade food, we knew we found another place to call home. In the newly opened Lansdowne Whole Foods Markets store, African Bronze Honey sold out all stock on the first day. 2015 will bring expansion to Whole Food Market stores across the country in addition to many other health food and specialty stores throughout Ontario and Quebec. Watch for us coming your way soon!