A new documentary, from BBC World Service, follows Earth Jurisprudence Practitioner Simon Mitambo in his efforts to restore bees to Kenya.



Simon is from Tharaka, meaning ‘The Land of the Bees’, and these flighty, winged allies have been central to the cultural, spiritual and ecological fabric of the region for generations. People would look to pollinators to tell them about the weather, particularly when the rain was coming. Honey was used to brew beer for ceremonies at sacred sites – rituals that would connect clans with each other and with place. Honey beer was even offered as thanks, by households who needed help from others, human or more-than-human.

“The bees are everything in Tharakan communities. When I was very young my father would climb the tallest trees with just his hands and feet. I could see his outline against the night sky, and felt scared. He would put his hand in amongst all those bees, without upsetting them. One bad move and he would be showered with stings. But it never went wrong. He would fill a container with some of their honey, leaving plenty for them. The bee hives are still here today, and my uncle still climbs trees, aged 70! But now, when you tell someone that Tharaka means ‘The Land of the Bees’, their next question is ‘where have the bees gone?'”

In this documentary, Simon sets out to find an answer.

His search reveals their worldwide importance, and a worldwide decline – WWF estimates that 1 in 3 mouthfuls of our food rely on pollinators like bees, with the UN finding that bee extinction is happening 1000% times faster because of humans. Why? A type of insecticide created in the 1980s and currently used in 120 countries, called neonicotinoids. Cheap and toxic, it impairs a bee’s central nervous system to such an extent that they cannot even fly home.

Every single African country is using neonicotinoids, and back in Kenya Simon discovers that industrial farms are spraying it on a vast scale. Despite scientific evidence of its impact, companies from the global north are still supplying the global south in huge quantities, where restrictions are weak and allow for the devastation of biodiversity hotspots, like Tharaka.

Simon is now a member of the African Earth Jurisprudence Collective, having become an Earth Jurisprudence Practitioner through The Gaia Foundation’s three-year training programme. Supported by peers across the continent who are reviving Indigenous lifeways, Simon is supporting the Tharakan people to turn the tide on a history of cultural and ecological loss in their ancestral lands.

“Our work started slowly by creating ‘community dialogue’ spaces for interested people, especially Elders, to come together and discuss Tharakan culture: what things were like and how things were done in the past, compared to how they are now. Slowly the number of people coming to these meetings grew. Since then we have been able to revive many aspects of our culture in a very practical way.”

This includes farming agroecologically – using Indigenous seed, harvesting rainwater and eliminating chemicals like neonicotinoids. Tharakans are also replanting and protecting the trees where bees nest, reviving their bee-keeping traditions and brewing honey beer again. This is bringing people and place together once more, through ecological governance of their territory and ceremonies that celebrate it.

“We are encouraging everyone to abandon pesticides and use organic farming methods. The rituals honey is used in are coming back, bringing us into a more caring relationship with all the beings in our territory. Perhaps most importantly, our young people are now being trained in the old ways.”

This transformation has created a network of clans who once again care for the wider community of life. Simon may have started out as a man without bees, but today he is accompanying the landscape-level restoration of biocultural diversity in Tharaka.

You can find out more about his story below:

LAND OF BEES – Tharaka, Kenya from The Gaia Foundation on Vimeo.