Women honey producers in Casamance: The women of Saré Souma become self-sufficient through innovation

Involving women in beekeeping activates in the community helped men and women to work together and break down cultural barriers.

The Vautier hive

Because of their tenacity, fearlessness and enthusiasm for their work, and also thanks to the Economic Development of Casamance Programme (PADEC 2009–2018, funded by Global Affairs Canada), women from Saré Souma were successful in turning their village into a hot spot for honey production in Senegal.

The beekeepers of the Groupement de promotion féminine [women's advancement collective] of Saré Souma, in the Kolda region (670 km from Dakar, the capital), produce a honey known throughout Senegal and even beyond. They produce several varieties of honey and also collect the wax, which is used to make candles. Most of the Saré Souma honey is purchased by merchants in the region or sold directly in a specialized retail boutique set up in Dakar. The boutique is managed by an agri‑food producers' cooperative and is operated using support received from PADEC. But the beekeepers of Saré Souma also take part in local, national and now international trade fairs in search of new markets.

In the village, beekeeping had been practised using traditional hives, hung in trees, but it was reserved for “caste” membersFootnote 1 and elderly persons. In addition, it was considered inappropriate for a woman to practise beekeeping. Even the most intrepid of women viewed it as a last resort. Our budding beekeepers not only chose to break taboos, they also opted to introduce a more modern type of hive: the Vautier hive, named after its designer, a French dentist and long-time resident of Dakar who is an avid beekeeper. This new hive offers significant technological advances. At the same time, the collective benefited from the construction of a honey processing facility, which improved both the quality of the product—the honey met agri-food standards—and the financial viability of the activity. It was the beginning of the marketing of Saré Souma honey.

In 2011, thanks to PADEC and the women's involvement, the beekeeping facility was restructured, including the acquisition of more effective specialized equipment (extractor, ripening tank) and the boring of a fully equipped well (pump and tank). These new investments once again increased the facility's processing capacity.
In addition to equipment, the members of the collective benefited from capacity-building sessions focused on harvesting techniques, honey processing and packaging, the use of raw wax, and administrative and financial management. The women also took leadership training. But they obviously had determination, since they stuck with it in spite of the men's resistance. The president of the collective, Fatoumata Niamadio, remembers a time when the men provided them with absolutely no support: “‘You are wasting your time,' they said. ‘You will never succeed in this activity. We have never seen women practise beekeeping.'” 
But revenge can be sweet: their former detractors are now the first to encourage the women of Saré Souma. The increase in their incomes has translated into a marked improvement in household living conditions, which can be seen in better housing (“permanent” houses rather than huts). In reality, all of Saré Souma is benefiting from the vitality of the women beekeepers. For example, the women financed the rehabilitation of the village's well and provided the school with tables and benches. “Beekeeping,” said the president of the collective, “has had positive and encouraging results in our community, helping to increase incomes and create jobs. It has also allowed members to establish solid and productive social relationships. The social position of women has clearly improved in terms of marital harmony and access to basic social services.” 

The success of the women of Saré Souma has had a ripple effect in Casamance. PADEC has  supported nine other collectives, most of them women's collectives that want to set up beekeeping facilities. The project has also supported the creation of three agri-food production cooperatives. PADEC is therefore contributing to the economic empowerment of women and to gender equality in one of the most disadvantaged regions of Senegal. More than 4,560 women have received support from PADEC.

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