Mount Airy students get ‘bee’ grade
A “B” is normally an excellent grade for a student but, the “Bee” grade earned by 30 students of the Mount Airy All Age School is all the sweeter for their hard work.
The students are celebrating the production of 40 gallons of honey, their first “crop”, having for the past year participated in a bee-keeping and honey production project at their school, gaining valuable skill in apiculture which can later generate employment and income while contributing to the environmental health of their community.
Farming is not a major activity in Mount Airy, a small community in the Negril hills of Westmoreland, but it boasts a vibrant group of bee-keepers which have been receiving training assistance from the Coastal Water Quality Improvement Project (CWIP) — a bilateral initiative between NRCA and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
It is CWIP that has also been assisting the students of Mount Airy All Age with their project, with the aim of establishing apiculture as a viable means of self-employment and income generation as well as promoting preservation of the forests in the community which are very important to coastal water quality.
Mount Airy still retains a very natural environment consisting of dry limestone forest and seasonal ponds with wetland vegetation.
The community abounds with a wide variety of nectar-producing plants, trees and shrubs and provides a good habitat for birds and other wildlife such as the endemic yellow snake (Jamaican Boa). But, lack of employment in the area has also increased the threats to the natural environment, such as slash and burn farming practices and the burning of wood for charcoal.
With its proximity to the sea, the porous nature of the limestone and the use of the nearby West End Cliffs and marine areas for tourism, the maintenance of the Mount Airy forests is of great significance to the Negril Environmental Protection Area (NEPA), for water supply, flood control and the prevention of soil erosion.
The CWIP project is building organisation capacity within the Mount Airy community, raising environmental awareness and respect of the forests and establishing, through apiculture, a financially and socially sustainable project that will strengthen local community based organisations, specifically the Bee-Keeping and Citizens’ Associations and the Mount Airy All Age School.
The Mount Airy All Age School is playing a central role in the project. The colonies placed at the school as a “mother apiary” act as a training centre for students and other participants from the community.
Many of the children involved in the project come from homes where bee-keeping provides much of the family income so that the training and experience they get at school is of direct benefit to the household.
What’s more, NEPA, with support from CWIP and other donor agencies is working to strengthen the Mount Airy community association and in particular the bee-keeping group for greater sustainability. Their aim is to substantially increase the number of bee-keepers in the area, ensure the establishment of a central marketing system and use the profits of the project to foster community development.
With a honey processing centre planned for the Mount Airy All Age School, and the establishment of a monitoring and apprenticeship programme, the training of students in apiculture is part of a wider plan for the strengthening and environmental protection of the Mount Airy community.
The project has direct linkages to other NEPA projects including the Schools for the Environment Programme and the nearby Rock Spring Tree Nursery Project.