Thriving Communities and Thriving Ecosystems through the Bee


Building a world of resilient communities

Thriving Communities and Thriving Ecosystems through the Bee

 By Wangui Kamonji, orig. pub. in Transition Network – January 26, 2018


Wanjiku Mwangi pours out the golden liquid onto her finger checking the flow and the colour. She puts some on her tongue, tastes and smacks her lips. “Yes, this is good honey,” she says.

Wanjiku is a co-founder and director of Porini Association. She has been integrating her spiritual path with reviving traditional nature wisdom in Kenya ever since she was introduced to the spirituality of nature through an immersion program in Botswana in 2004. Over the years Porini has hosted dialogues on indigenous environmental knowledge and laws with communities in Kenya, mapped cultural landscapes, and is now connecting bee custodians along a honey trail that runs from central Kenya to southern Ethiopia.

I sat down with Wanjiku to talk about her path and how this latest project both ensures thriving communities and a thriving environment through bees and honey.

How did you come to this work?

I had worked for government, private sector, and consultancies in Kenya, Tanzania and the UK when I was invited to the Botswana Process. That’s where the story of trying to connect with nature and questing for what African spirituality and what the spirituality in nature is really started. That brought me back to looking at my ancestral lineage and connecting with that. After the process, I and other Kenyans co-founded Porini Association and began to look for communities in Kenya that were still steeped in their indigenous knowledge and connected to nature to continue the dialogues we had begun in Botswana.

How did these dialogues go?

We had numerous dialogues with communities. But we faced a lot of resistance because what communities wanted was money in their pockets. They said “You people are always coming to talk, talk, talk but we want to see where we can do something and get money.” So that niggled me for a long time. And I could see that yes, money is important. That’s how we live today. But how is it that we could get the money and still respect nature?

How did you deal with this challenge?

My answer came rather fortuitously as I held a ritual to bless a piece of land I had bought and one of the elders present gifted me hives.

When we had our first harvest I was really touched to see how much honey the bees had been making while I was just mucking about. That really hit me. So I started the quest to understand bees. And it’s at that point that I saw the question that the communities had been asking about money or prosperity come into play. Honey can give you money. But what I really wanted to stress is that the bees actually point towards nature more than we imagine. Once you start watching the bees and you connect with your bees, you see and learn the different plants they’re going to and which water they’re drinking. So I started connecting with the bees and with time designed the current flag-bearing project for Porini which is An African Honey Trail.

Tell me about An African Honey Trail

I wanted to connect as many ‘honey peoples’ as possible because I felt that they had been forgotten. The ‘bee custodians’, as I like to call them as opposed to beekeepers, had held the space for bees throughout our previous generations. And yet the hunter-gatherer is pitched at the bottom of the strata of livelihoods. Actually they need to be at the top, because without bees the farmer will not have any pollination, the pastoralists will not have wild herbs growing, and even for the fisher-folk, the trees next to the river give flowers that the fish use to rear their young. It dawned on me that there was much need to bring them out of the woodwork and at the same time invite more people to become keepers of the bee.

At the same time I knew that the bees would drive people to be more careful about their ecosystems and their immediate environments because they have to think about what the bees are eating, so they would start to safeguard their environments. So hopefully the project will bring the two together. If somebody raises the question of money it’s there. If you raise the question of the ecosystem it’s there.

You distinguish between bee custodians and beekeepers. Could you tell me about the difference?

An elder, Ole Sikoi, told me, “Don’t go bragging that you have bees, because you don’t own the bees. The bees own you, they choose you. So if they’ve chosen you, you’re very fortunate. And the bees will make you prosperous because they will guide you and show you, and they will make your environment much richer.”

I realised that in all the material I was reading the emphasis tended to be really skewed: have beehives so you can get money, so you can pay your kids’ school-fees, buy a cow, or pay your medical bills. I relegate the word beekeeper to people who only think about the bee for commercial purposes.

You can’t just look at it as the bees making the honey for you to make money because we’re actually robbing the bee of its honey. You’ve got to respect that so that when you harvest, you don’t harvest all the honey. Or in the drought you help the bees with some clean water.

I use bee custodians to distinguish that it’s not all about the money. And the reward from the bee is to allow you to take some of the honey and cash it so that hopefully you can grow the bee some more flowers. So bee custodians is what I’m for. I champion that very much.

African Honey Trail sketch map. Map by Hanna Söderström.

How does the trail function?

We go into communities and find the bee custodians, engage with them, build trust and begin dialogues.

We’ve devised a system to track the ecological calendar. Most of the custodians actually have the calendars in their minds. They know at this time, this acacia is going to bloom. If there’s an impending drought they know so they store their honey. We thought we should start to record these ecological calendars so that new people wanting to get into bee custodianship would begin to see it. To be able to relate to your bees, you need to be in touch with the cycles of nature. You must follow the ecological calendar.

We’ve given out digital cameras for people to photograph flowers so that we can align the naming. We can figure out the botanical names and get to understand names cross-culturally.

We also encourage the custodians to keep diaries. And we say it’s for them really to get back into the pattern of reading the ecology, it’s not to report back.

Then we have quarterly gatherings and people trade their stories. And as we do this, we are collecting indigenous knowledge stories that have been around for years. We want to uplift this because indigenous knowledge has a deeper connection to the bee and to the ecosystem yet the modern bee keeper thinks that modern science is more important and traditional knowledge is not important.

I am also planning to have a beehive stop at the beginning of the trail where we can have an exhibition running, a museum, and then a shop that will sell the honey and other bee products. Honey is such a sacred thing that you don’t want to imagine that it’s going to be adulterated as some middlemen do.

This is also thinking about sustainability because grants are not sustainable. Once you don’t have the grant there’s nothing going on so one has to think about how to get money in a decent way that ploughs back in to the work and especially into the ecosystems which is where it begins.

At this beehive stop we hope to also have a place where we can start to engage children because children are very open and they will always remember. They keep the knowledge and it influences the way they think in the future.

You’ve mentioned as challenges funding coming into Porini; money for communities; people not seeing indigenous knowledge as important; ignorance about the bee and prejudice of people preferring modern technology over indigenous hives. What are some of the ways you confront these challenges?

Well, ultimately I think we are on the path regardless. Because when you look at the indigenous people they never received any funding but they keep at it because that’s their livelihood, that’s their path. So we continue.

What are some triumphs along the way?

Along the honey trail we’ve had rituals in each one of the stops, and the bees have come and occupied the hives so that’s been really good.

The enthusiasm of the younger generation has been overwhelming because I didn’t think they would find it cool enough to get into bees. Hopefully in that coolness and in that engagement they will start to safeguard the environment.

The hives we’ve installed have been well received and appreciated and some communities have gone ahead and installed more of their own. The realization that they had forgotten about the bee for me was quite a bit of an achievement. For example, when a chief in Mount Forole at the end of our dialogues said that they would now start including the bee in their traditional prayers in which they pray about the rain, the children, the livestock, etc.

smoking hives for installation. Image thanks to Porini Association

How do you take care of yourself while doing this work?

There’s always turmoil because I’m trying to hold my path on deepening my spirituality, running an organisation, being the family member that I am, and trying to balance my friendships and other relationships.

The sanctuary I built on this land is where I come and reflect, heal and recharge.

It’s amazing how quick we are to charge our phones, we carry power banks and the minute you walk into a restaurant you’re looking for Wi-Fi and battery outlets but we’re not as quick to recharge our own batteries. It’s a really important thing, and sometimes I have to stop and say – just like the phone goes off and you have to stop and charge it so you also have to stop and recharge your batteries, otherwise you could just fizzle out.

For me nature is where I go for the battery outlet, it’s where I go for the Wi-Fi. It’s where I connect and recharge and then I can pick up another day and start.

What’s your vision for the future of this work, and for Africa’s environment?

In Kenya I want to see a million hives go up. And if each country would adopt a philosophy or a policy to have more hives, the better. Give the bees more homes because at the moment there’s not enough old trees for them to hive in in the forests and our forests are dwindling.

The more people who have hives the more people will say “Oh no, don’t cut that tree. We must plant these flowers for the bees.” So catalysing more hives catalyses more safeguarding of the ecosystem. If more people got on board I think the world would certainly become a better place.

To really get the respect of the bee back and people in the frame of mind where when they see a bee they say “oh wow, wonderful, the crops are going to be pollinated”, or “wonderful, there’s going to be more honey”, not “oh wow I’m going to get bitten”. That’s really my big dream.

                              Ethiopian hives in tree. Image thanks to Porini Association

Home Depot’s bonuses underscore what workers get out of the corporate tax cut: Peanuts

Los Angeles Times

Home Depot’s bonuses underscore what workers get out of the corporate tax cut: Peanuts

By Michael Hiltzik          January 30, 2018

Home Depot's bonuses underscore what workers get out of the corporate tax cut: PeanutsHome Depot touts its bonuses, but most workers probably won’t receive the maximum $1,000. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)

It’s a safe bet that President Trump will devote part of his State of the Union address Tuesday night to talking up the great virtues of the tax cut he signed into law just before Christmas. He’ll probably try, like other Republicans, to depict it as a “middle-class” tax cut, the better to obscure the truth that its benefits flow chiefly to corporations and the wealthy.

Forewarned is forearmed, so here’s an advance cheat sheet placing the tax cut in perspective. The bottom line is that almost no workers have seen any direct benefits from the tax cut thus far. Dozens of corporations have announced onetime bonuses for employees, mostly of up to $1,000 each. Almost every one has attributed its largesse to the tax cut bill, but that’s just PR.

The drumbeat of coverage of these self-congratulatory announcements obscures how they’ve left the vast majority of American workers unaffected. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week, only 2% of U.S. adults said they had gotten a raise, bonus or other benefit due to the tax cut.

More to the point, the coverage obscures how cheeseparing these handouts are, even for those who receive them. Think of it this way: $1,000, spread over a year of full-time work (40 hours a week, 52 weeks), works out to 48 cents an hour.

Many workers no doubt will be gratified to see the bonus in their paychecks, though even if it’s paid out all at once, it won’t show up as $1,000, but as $880 or even less. That’s because bonuses are subject to withholding, like all other wage income. If the bonus is paid separately from your regular paycheck, it’s subject to a 22% bite; if it’s just added to your paycheck, it’s subject to your standard withholding rate.

Whatever the system, the bonuses that companies are beating the drums about are onetime payouts, with no guarantee that they’ll be repeated next year or the year after that. The bonuses, minimum-wage increases and other benefits being offered by employers don’t come close to passing a fair share of the tax cut to workers.

The corporate tax cut, however, is a gift that keeps on giving … to shareholders. These are the people who do none of the heavy lifting that makes a company thrive.

To see how this all works, let’s look at just one prominent company, Home Depot. Even if it were handing out $1,000 to each of its approximately 380,000 hourly workers, that would come to $380 million. In December, before Congress voted on the corporate tax cut but when it seemed to be on its way to enactment, Home Depot announced a share buyback program valued at $15 billion.

The company’s announcement was one of $70-billion worth of share buybacks announced by big companies in that period, a crystal-clear signal that the bulk of the expected tax cuts would be funneled to shareholders. A Home Depot spokesman says that the “reform is completely unrelated to our buyback decision, and the [$15-billion] is actually half of our normal buyback amount.”

Upon announcing the employee bonus, Home Depot CEO Craig Menear said: “This incremental investment in our associates was made possible by the new tax reform bill.”

At least Menear candidly called it “incremental,” which usually connotes something small. What Home Depot failed to specify was how the bonus would be distributed among its hourly workers. According to a breakdown published by CNBC and drawn reportedly from a company employee meeting, the only workers who will receive the full $1,000 are those with 20 years of experience at the company or longer.

It isn’t clear how many of those 380,000 hourly employees have 20 years of longevity at Home Depot, but it’s probably not a large percentage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of workers in the retail trade is a little over three years. According to CNBC’s breakdown of the Home Depot bonus, workers with two to four years’ longevity will receive $250; five to nine years’, $300; 10 to 14, $400; and 15 to 19 years’, $750. Newbies with less than two years on the shop floor will get $200.

Other parts of the company’s statement also were less than candid. It said Home Depot would incur a $150-millon tax hit on “unremitted offshore earnings,” for instance. This is the tax the company will pay on profits the company had stashed offshore, awaiting the tax rate amnesty on those earnings delivered by the Republican tax legislation.

What Home Depot doesn’t say is that those earnings will receive a preferential tax rate of 15.5% maximum. If the money had had to be brought back under the full corporate tax rate of 21% established by the legislation, the charge would have been $203 million. If it were subject to the 35% corporate rate in effect prior to the tax cut, the charge would have been $338 million. In other words, Home Depot scored a tax break of $188 million on those overseas earnings alone. To be fair, the company also said the tax legislation will produce a lower overall tax bill this year.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have been touting the notion that the tax cut will yield a wage increase of $4,000 for the average middle-class family, but the evidence for that is nonexistent. Even some companies that have been crowing about their bonuses have been simultaneously laying off workers by the thousands.

The very day that Wal-Mart announced its own bonuses of up to $1,000 (like Home Depot, the maximum will go to workers with 20 years or more with the company) it announced that 10,000 employees would lose their jobs, chiefly due to the shuttering of many of its Sam’s Club membership stores. Kimberly-Clark announced last week that it would pare employment by up to 5,500, or as much as 13% of its workforce. As an indication of how the tax cuts really may impact the ordinary worker, the company said it would pay for severance and other “restructuring” costs partially with its savings from the tax cut.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzik writes a daily blog appearing on His business column appears in print every Sunday, and occasionally on other days. As a member of the Los Angeles Times staff, he has been a financial and technology writer and a foreign correspondent. He is the author of six books, including “Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age” and “The New Deal: A Modern History.” Hiltzik and colleague Chuck Philips shared the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for articles exposing corruption in the entertainment industry.

BBC Study finds the Taliban threatens 70% of Afghanistan

The Week

BBC Study finds the Taliban threatens 70% of Afghanistan

                                 AFP / Getty Images

A BBC study has found that Taliban fighters are now openly active in 70 percent of Afghanistan and have full control of 14 districts.

Last year, from Aug. 23 to Nov. 21, BBC reporters spoke to more than 1,200 people from all 399 districts in the country, and asked them about the security situation in their area. They found that since 2014, when foreign combat troops left the country after spending billions of dollars on the war, the Taliban has taken control of places like Sangin, Musa Qala, and Nad-e Ali in Helmand province, where from 2001 to 2014 hundreds of U.S. and British troops died while trying to get it back under government control. In the first nine months of 2017, more than 8,500 civilians were killed in attacks across Afghanistan, the UN says, and this month alone more than 100 people have died following attacks in Kabul, and Jalalabad.

The BBC says that in addition to being in full control of 14 districts, the Taliban is open and active in 263 districts, meaning 15 million people, or half of Afghanistan’s population, live in areas where the Taliban has a regular presence. There are 122 districts under government control, but violence still occurs in those areas. The Afghan government says it has control of most of the country, with President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazavi telling the BBC the activities of the Taliban and Islamic State “have been considerably curtailed.” It doesn’t feel that way to people like Sardar, who told the BBC he’s worried about what’s going on in his town, Shindand. “When I leave home, I’m uncertain whether I’ll come back alive,” he said. “Explosions, terror, and the Taliban are part of our daily life.” Catherine Garcia