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As busy as bees

Merit award — Energy efficiency and carbon management: Makana Meadery

Makana Meadery in Grahamstown combines local knowledge and scientific know-how to save energy and reduce its carbon footprint.

Mead is an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey and water. Makana uses the mead-making process as a showcase of how carbon production can be counterbalanced by creative conservation measures.

The meadery started out seven years ago as a research project in the department of biotechnology at Rhodes University, and has grown into an award-winning business. Its primary objective was to place a honey-based beverage, iqhilika, on the world’s shelves.

“We want to show others how to cover up their ecological footprints,” says MD Garth Cambray. “Our biggest challenge is getting our message out to other people.”

The process starts with people from very poor rural areas being trained to keep bees in forest conservation and revegetation areas. The bees pollinate oil seed crops, grown to produce cooking oil, and fodder crops that feed ostrich flocks.

Used oil and waste ostrich fat from local butcheries are used to make biodiesel for Makana’s vehicles. “In other words, we pollinate our own fuel indirectly by training beekeepers to keep bees which pollinate the crops,” says Cambray.

He also sells the biofuel to local private game lodges that take tourists out to view game in pristine areas, helping to reduce their consumption of diesel and their effect on the environment.

“If you think about it, 10 drops of diesel leaking from an exhaust adds up rapidly and seriously impacts on the environment,” says Cambray. “We encourage the lodges to use our biodegradable biodiesel because these drops are broken down in the environment.”

Other creative moves that cut down on energy consumption included bringing in horses to keep the lawns short, instead of using lawnmowers.

The beekeepers are encouraged to keep their bees close to their huts and near their fields. “Bees can spray up to 45kg of nitrogen-rich dung around their hives every year. This increases the effectiveness of rural agriculture and decreases dependence on artificial fertilisers,” Cambray explains.

He estimates the meadery has removed more than 700 tons of carbon from the atmosphere in the past year. While he acknowledges that Makana still produces carbon, through the use of electricity, bottles, labels, corks and transport other than its own, this is being offset.

“Our biofuel production, beehive placement and environmental beneficiation through beekeeping all remove carbon from the atmosphere, or reduce the amount released. We try to balance the two,” Cambray adds.

The mead is marketed in four flavours and is sold locally and exported to the United States. Cambray, a biotechnologist, recently won The Herald newspaper’s Citizen of the Year award in the business category and his meads won awards at the International Meads Festival in Colorado in 2006 and 2007.

The Greening the Future judges praised this small business for its innovation and systems thinking. They said it provided a good example to other SMMEs of how to approach any business with energy-saving initiatives at all levels.

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