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How Artisanal Honey Harvesting in Dongou is Threatening the Environment

"When we find a beehive, if the tree is difficult to climb, we cut it down, to get rid of the bees, we set it on fire," says Gaby, a native honey harvester in Izato. "Thousands of bees perish in the embers," adds Saddam, his Bantu neighbor, with whom he shares a liter of corn-based alcohol called "Lotoko" in the local language.

In the shade of an avocado tree, the two men complain about the less fertile season. Gaby confides that usually when the season is good, he extracts 350 kg of honey per month, which is then sold to buyers who come from cities in Congo and even Cameroon, but this time he didn't even harvest half of it. Yet he refuses to believe that this decline is the result of their bad practices and thinks hard as iron that the bees cannot disappear. "When you cut down a tree like that one over there, the bees migrate elsewhere but they can't disappear," Gaby said.

Louis Ndzéka has just come from Dongou with two indigenous harvesters, Ebéba and Ndzéndo. The day before, he spotted three beehives from which he will extract the honey this afternoon. Before he does so, he has to water the foot of a large tree with a liter of "Lotoko" alcohol. This ritual cost the reporting team 25,000 FCFA. "Before entering the forest, I implore the clemency of my ancestors so that they open the way for us, it is our custom, otherwise we can get lost or come out empty-handed," he says, lost in his beliefs.

Tree trunks block the way along the path. "These are the ones cut down during the past harvest," explains Louis Ndzéka, who, after two hours of walking, arrives with his team at the tree that seems to shelter the honey, and recognizes that it (the honey) is becoming difficult to find. "Before we used to harvest it behind our huts, the colonies have moved away because of the harvesters cutting down the trees," he complains.