What used to be the long rugged ride down to Kavula Village in Bua Province is now a smooth ride since the Chinese have paved the road. But you will still be covered in dust if your truck does not have air-conditioning, because you will have to open the windows to let in the breeze to survive the tropical heat.

Over the two years I have travelled often to Kavula to meet with the women in the village, who are making honey to provide a source of income for them. The money they earn mainly helps finance their women’s group and the activities they want to do in their village.

I have learnt that making honey is no easy task. First you have to grow flowering plants so worker bees can visit and feed on the nectar and return to fill their hives. This all occurs over a period of three months. Then the honey has to be collected to supply the market.

Usually the women of Kavula start the honey extraction process in the morning. While a couple of women are tasked with retrieving the hives, the others set up all the equipment they need to extract the honey. The women have to work quickly, efficiently and as a team to minimise disturbance to the bees, because these docile bees can easily turn angry, if you make them feel threatened. This whole process can take up to 6-7 hours. During one of my earlier visits, I saw what happens if you stress the bees out. Basically the bees got impatient to get back into their hives and ended up chasing all the processing ladies out of the house!

Providing a regular supply of honey to a market is hard given the amount of time needed and challenges that the women have to face while processing the product. For example, they have to deal with bad weather, or the challenge of managing their other community obligations that can take up a lot of their time. The ladies are fortunate, however, that they received training with bee keeping expert Mr Darmend Prasad from the Department of Agriculture on fixing hives and extracting honey. (see 2014 blog http://wcsfiji.org.fj/a-sweet-workshop-on-bees-in-kavula-village/)

While the ladies have perfected their local honey making skills, they have yet to secure a reliable market which can buy their honey at a premium, instead of the current low rate of FJ$7.50/kg. With support from the Flora Family Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) plans to work with the women again in 2015 to help them access premium markets. My steady advice to the women has been that they need to be consistent about collecting and processing honey, so that they can produce a high quality product. They also need to build credible, strong working relationships with their clients.

Although I have worked with many projects while at WCS these last twelve year, working with the women of Kavula has been one of my more rewarding experiences. These “super women” juggle so many things, from indoor chores to childcare, to developing small businesses to supporting community and religious functions. These ladies are truly inspiring, and I look forward to sampling their honey for many years to come!