Can honey make the world a better place?
None of my recipes on the Food Foundatioon site contain sugar, so many of you know how near and dear to my heart raw honey is as a natural sweetener. I search far and wide for the best honey I can find, because I use it medicinally and with deep respect to the bees and the land.
As Vice Chair of Slow Food South Bay, I spend my time researching who is growing slow food, who is making slow food, who serves slow food, and whose slow food organization treats their workers with respect and fair pay. We define slow food as good, clean, and fair food for all.
Though my focus is often as local as possible, I can always respect the growers and producers that are thriving in their local environments. And let's face it, we can't grow cacao in California so some products are best left to their native lands. But let's get back to my love for raw honey and a company that took it to a whole new level.
Meet Thomas Odenwald, one of the partners of COMACO, COmmunity MArkets for COnservation. Thomas left the world of tech and Walmart and all things commercial to work for this small non-profit that is growing organic products, conserving the land and the elephants that live on it, as well as helping reform the lives of the people and communities in Zambia, Africa. He's now one of us, dedicated to making the world a better place through companies that help us fall in love with our food and our lives.
COMACO has definitely improved lives by offering education for 64 chiefdoms and 140,000 farmers in Zambia. They teach conservation agriculture and help bring the products to market with a goal of achieving sustainable wildlife and forest conservation. I was sold when I came across the fact that COMACO helped 1400 ex-poachers learn new skills so they could earn a decent income. They collected 80,000 snares and 2,200 firearms helping heal communities that were suffering from the barbaric poaching by converting them to COMACO farmers.
According to recent surveys the Luangwa Valley, where COMACO operates, is one of the very few areas in Africa where the elephant population is now stabilized and through conservation agriculture, the land is flourishing. Before, deforestation was occurring as starving families cut down trees and sold wood for charcoal, Now, through grants and donations, COMACO has been able to increase the average income of a Zambia farmer from under $100 a year to $385 and they grow cash crops instead of cutting down trees.
So what do these farmers grow, honey! Well they don't grow honey of course, but they do have 13,000 active beehives alongside their peanuts, ground nuts, and rice. Bees in that part of the world have 2 functions for these farmers: as deterrent for elephant intrusion into their crops (elephants do not like bee stings) and as an additional income source. They also have an organic certification that is legit! One of my pet peeves in CA is when honey is marketed as organic, Really?
Bees are known to travel up to 2 miles easily, so how can you be sure your honey is organic when your neighbors are clearly toxic? However, in the Luangwa Valley of Zambia, where COMACO operates, there are no farms with toxic pesticides for miles. The World Bank released a really nice documentary in support of COMACO and the work they are doing in land conservation to bring awareness to these noble efforts.
Most of the honey produced by these farmers is sold under the brand It's Wild in the local grocers in Zambia, but some of it is making a splash in England. Under the brand name MamaBuci, this amber honey won the UK Great Taste Gold Award in 2014.
It's just a matter of time before some smart shop in the U.S. scoops up this quality product for retail. Honey consumption in the U.S. has been estimated as high as 400 million pounds and U.S. honey producers put out only about 144 million pounds. We are importing a lot of honey which made me stop and ask Thomas about the carbon footprint.
Well, I can assure you this company has thought of everything. COMACO operates ‘net positive’; even the World Bank started selling carbon certificates for all of the work COMACO is doing in that part of the world.
Then we thought, what if a new protein bar company could come up with a healthy bar for a change? Protein bars are full of cheap protein substitutes, sugar, junk and rarely contain any digestible proteins at all. With organic peanuts, raw honey, and ground nuts, how cool would it be to make an organic, real food, protein bar... I see an amazing product in our future.
If you know a market that would be interested in the It's Wild products, please let us know in the comments below. As I met with Thomas to find out all I could about the COMACO program, he brought up an important point about sustainability. Now that the farmers have reformed their lives, followed the organic methods, and produced these beautiful products, they need to be able to sell them.
Finally, there is a way to support this very cool process of making the world a better place to live in even if you don't have a market or a protein bar business plan. COMACO is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt donation in the U.S., so you can help a company that is lifting farmers out of poverty, saving elephants, and mitigating climate change in one operational model. I hope the COMACO efforts can become a template for other parts of the world.