Ghana’s Beekeepers: Bill Bell and Joe Allen

Bill Bell, like Duncan Carmichael and Bill Evans, was located in Accra when he attended the First National Workshop on Beekeeping in Kumasi in January 1981 organised by the Technology Consultancy Centre (TCC) of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). It was soon afterwards, however, that he joined his Ghanaian friend, Joe Allen, on adjacent farms at Mankessim in the Central Region, not far from the old colonial capital, Cape Coast. Here they had all the space they needed to introduce new agricultural activities including the establishment of commercial apiaries.

Bill Bell was an Englishman who had made his home in Ghana. When he first came into contact with the TCC he was living on the outskirts of Accra at Achimota, near the campus of the University of Ghana, Legon. Although he had a relatively large plot of land on which he had constructed a pond and started fish farming, Bill was looking for a much larger space on which to establish an integrated multi-function farm. Joe Allen had similar ambitions, and being a native of the Central Region he had acquired a large farm at Mankessim. No doubt he helped his friend obtain the land he also needed and the two farmers settled down to pioneer some agricultural innovations with shared knowledge and ideas.

The TCC had already become involved in fish farming and was establishing a pilot project in Lake Bosomtwe, Ashanti’s sacred lake, the site at which the great fetish priest, Komfo Anokye, is said to have drawn the golden stool down from heaven. The Centre was happy to draw upon Bill Bell’s experience with his project at Achimota and to keep in touch on fish farming as well as on beekeeping. It soon became apparent that successful commercial farming with the local tilapia fish required an inexpensive feed produced from locally available raw materials, and soon the research effort at KNUST turned to address this problem.

Both Bill Bell and Joe Allen established commercial apiaries which like James Moxon’s Akuapem apiary introduced good quality locally-produced bottled honey to their local market. Bill Bell was one of the first commercial honey producers to announce that he had broken-even on his investment and he expressed his amusement when this was reported in the TCC’s Bee News publication under the heading ‘Bill Bell in the Black!’

A problem faced by both beekeepers and fish farmers was the theft of their product by unauthorised clandestine harvesters. In the case of robbing beehives, this amounted to traditional honey hunting using fire to drive away the bees and usually resulted in the destruction of hives as well as the bee colonies. There were even some instances of extensive and destructive fires resulting from this activity. Bill Bell once reported that he used to sit on his veranda overlooking his fish ponds and apiary in the valley before him, with a loaded rifle across his knees. His stated aim was to shoot any crocodile that left the river and threatened to invade his fish ponds. The word would soon have got around and it may be surmised that hive and pond robbers were deterrent by this stance.

The Central Region, although situated on the south coast between Accra and the port of Takoradi, is one of the least developed regions of Ghana. In the early 1980s it was in urgent need of commercial projects to provide employment and economic activity. In establishing their farms and apiaries at Mankessim, Bill Bell and Joe Allen made a valiant attempt to address the needs of this impoverished community, and provided an inspiring example of how beekeeping could bring benefits to needy communities in all parts of Ghana.