In 1997, Mr. Tunde Fabunmi abandoned journalism for bee farming. His reason: Journalism was no longer challenging enough for him. He has since been growing the bee farming business under the name, Bee Conservation Project.
Today, he has moved notches higher than just harvesting honey and selling. He has gone into apitherapy, which borders on using honey to cure diseases. He has also gone into using food generally for the same purpose.
In this interview with SAKIBU OLOKOJOBI, Fabunmi, who has travelled far and wide over his honey business opens up on how diabetes, stroke and other diseases are cured with food. He also speaks on bee farming project, how it can be set up and how anyone can make a living out of it. He speaks on other relevant issues including eating to live and the lifestyles that can make anyone live healthily. Excerpts:
Can you give an insight into your operation at Bee Conservation Project. Specifically, what do you do?
The things we do basically revolve around bee. The name of the organisation is Bee Conservation Services. We train people on how to set up bee farms, carry out honey production and marketing. Those are the pillars of the business. Then, the products we get from bee, particularly honey, we use to create a lot of food medicines for disease prevention and healing. So, basically, we do bee keeping as a form of agric business and honey production as a form of agric business. Then, we do processing and packaging. We also use it for health, because health is wealth. We have products created from honey and other foods around us.
For how long have you been in this business?
I left Concord (newspaper) in 1997 and since then, I have been involved in the honey business. Then, I started at the foundational level. But the business and experience have been growing. I would say I have spent 21 years doing this business.
I know you read Mass Communication and you practised as a journalist. Is there any correlation between journalism and this business of bee farming and honey production and other things you do here?
There is no correlation, but I would say that we can bring journalism to bear on any human endeavour. In journalism, you educate, entertain and inform people. What we do here that relates to journalism is that we educate a lot of people on how they can prevent diseases using food and adopting a healthy lifestyle. And we use different platforms like churches, mosques, schools, community development associations and others. We educate people to ensure prevention of diseases. We believe that prevention is better than healing. So, we let people know what lifestyle is not good, what foods are not good, what eating styles are good and the ones that are bad. These are the types of information we give and that is the similarity I would say exists between journalism and what we are doing here.
What made you to leave journalism for this job?
I left because I wanted a bigger challenge…
Meaning that journalism was not challenging enough for you?
Yes, that is my position. At the time I left, I looked at journalism and Nigeria and discovered that what the media was discussing and campaigning for before I was born remained major issues. It is not for the failure of the media though, but the failure of the society. Our society does not allow the media to be the real agent of change that it is supposed to be. I didn’t want to belong to a profession where, you could get money and all the influence, and you cannot beat your chest that I have contributed to the development of our society. Afterall, we say we should leave our society better than the way we met it. I therefore left as a result of the need for a bigger challenge, and what I am doing now has provided the challenge that I need.
Let me give you an example. About ten years ago, I wrote a book on foods that cure diabetes. After I finished writing the book, I sat down and thought: How would Nigerians take this. Diabetes that medical doctors have said is incurable. But something within told me to go ahead and get to the public. I did. Pleasantly, I would say that that was my point of breakthrough in what I do. A lot of people bought that book and some of them came here and said, “thank God, your book saved my life.” So, if I did not have enough courage to push the book to the society despite the position of doctors… That is the kind of challenge I am talking about. I did another book on diabetes; two years ago, I did another one which is even bigger. It is on how to beat Glaucoma with nutrition. This book is also on sale and people have bought it in Nigeria, England and America. When you go to hospitals, doctors will tell you that Glaucoma is incurable but as far as I am concerned, that is a fallacy.
You said that journalism has not been able to achieve its objective as an agent of change. But many have said they wondered what the world would have been without journalists or journalism. How would you react to this against the backdrop of what you said?
Don’t get me wrong. Let us zero media role to the situation in Nigeria. Of course I would be stupid to say that the media globally has not achieved. Pre-independence, in Nigeria, yes, the media played active roles. But post independence, the media… Don’t forget that I said that the problem has nothing to do with the media but the society. Our society does not want a change. Of course, you can take a horse to the river, but you can’t force it to drink. So, media anywhere is good, is indispensable. Let me give you an example. Today, we are still talking about lack of water, which is a basic thing in Nigeria. Those problems in the past are still there. So, if you still see radio, television or newspapers doing stories on lack of water, you wonder what is happening. Even as at today, we are still talking about how many houses have toilets, even in Lagos. Those are basic things of life that the media has reported, discussed their importance to health and good living. But today, those issues remain unaddressed. That is the way I see it.
You started this business with bee farming. What exactly is the business like generally?
It is just like any other business even though it has its special attributes. Few people are just coming into it now and that is part of what is wrong with our society. Bee farming requires limited land, does not require your 24 hours attention. In fact, bee keeping is a free lunch. Just get the kits, the hives into a suitable location and install it. Once a bee comes in, money starts rolling in. A fish farmer will not have that kind of experience; a poultry farmer will not have that kind of experience. And if you manage your apiary (bee farm) well, it is good business. You can do it at any age. A 90-year old man or woman can do it as long as he can walk. As long as you can walk, and you have your sight, you can do bee keeping.
How much does it cost to set up one?
There is no fixed answer to that. If you want to do bee keeping as a hobby, you can have one or two hives. A complete hive costs N25,000. If you want to have two, that will cost N50,000. Then you get a bee suit and a smoker. At the end of the day you may spend N60,000 or N70,000. That is for hobby. You are not expecting any return other than for the love of seeing the bee and getting the little honey they produce for you and your family’s consumption.
But if you want to do it for commercial purpose, N200,000 or N250,000 may start something. The one we just developed for someone in Osun State costs about N1 million or a little more. That is for commercial purpose -25 hives in an ideal location. And if all the hives are colonized, meaning bee family settling in each of them, between two to three harvests, he would have recovered his investment.
How long would it take to start harvesting?
When you start, and your hives are colonized, from that point, because it is a new family, every six months, you can harvest. But for the second year, if it is a good area, rich area in terms of vegetation, flowery crops, the harvesting can be every three month. And you have a lot of honey.
Everywhere one goes, those selling honey claim that their products are pure. They claim to be selling “Pure Honey,” but beyond their claim, it is difficult for the buyer to know the true pure honey. As an expert in that area, how can one identify pure honey?
It is a difficult question you have asked and there is hardly any interview I grant that this issue does not come up. But, let me say it this way. The only thing fixed about honey is the name –Honey. Every other thing about honey varies. The colour of honey varies; honey has limitless number of colours; thickness of honey varies; taste of honey varies; medicinal power of honey varies. So, given that varying attributes of honey, it is difficult to say this is honey, this is not honey. But I still tell people that if you suspect the authenticity of it, there are basic tests you can carry out.
Take out of that honey, some quantity, may be 100ml, put it in a plastic, cover it and put it in a freezer. If it is bee honey, it will be thicker than what it was before you put it, but it will never congeal like water becoming ice block. If it does not congeal or turn into ice block, then, it is honey. There is nothing that can defy the power of freezer – pepper, meat, water, they turn to ice block. But honey, no freeze can make honey turn block. But it will be thicker. It may be very slow in coming out of the container, but it will never congeal. The only way it can congeal is, may be you leave it there for like six months or thereabout. A good freezer, you put water in it and in two hours, it has become ice block. That won’t happen to honey.
Another basic test, is to put a match stick in honey. Remove it and strike it. If it is honey, the stick will produce fire.
Another test is, fill a cup with water and put some quantity of honey. The honey will go down and settle at the bottom of the cup if it is the real one. It will never mix with the water even till the next day if it is not stirred. These are the basic tests. You can’t by merely looking at it say this is honey or this is not honey. You have to carry out the test.
How really medicinal is honey?
The first modern medical doctor, Hyppocrates, said we should let food be our drug and our drug should be our food. Honey represents the peak of nutrition; for me, I think it is richer than any food created by God. Everything the human body needs is in honey. If you get good honey and you use it rightly, rightly underlined, there is virtually no health challenge that you cannot overcome. That is if you know how to use it, you get the good one and you use it rightly.
How do we use honey rightly?
It depends on what you want to use it for. For example, a lot of people put honey in their tea; that is what most people use honey for. But if you put honey in your tea when the tea is hot, you have killed the honey; you won’t get any nutritional value, only that your tea will be sweet. You would have killed the medicinal value of honey. What makes honey so potent medicinally is the enzyme; an enzyme does not like heat. If you put heat where the enzyme is, the enzyme is destroyed and the healing power of honey is destroyed. Putting honey in very hot tea is not the right way to use honey.
There are circumstances requiring taking the honey directly; there are circumstances requiring taking honey in certain medium like water or fruit juice. It depends on what you are looking at. For a woman in labour, honey is so powerful that if the labour is becoming protracted such that the doctor may want to suggest Caesarian Section, take about four spoons of honey directly. In five minutes time, the baby will come out. If your blood is low that you take blood transfusion every now and then – blood transfusion has never stopped the problem of anaemia. Some doctors will tell you that it is not the best, but then, they have to do their job. Honey and orange can solve the problem.
How do you do that?
You just put honey in raw orange juice. Put the orange juice in a glass and add a spoon of honey. The mechanism of how it works can be explained scientifically.
The body uses iron to make blood and honey is very rich in iron; Vitamin C promotes absorption of iron four folds and orange is rich in Vitamin C. The vitamin C in orange will make your body absorb the iron four folds than the usual. And, before you know it the anaemia is gone.
For how long would such a person take it?
It depends on the situation. If you have anaemia you can use it, if you don’t have anaemia, you can also use. That is the beauty of honey. It is not something you use only when you are sick. You can use it for promoting your health or solve a particular challenge. There is no overdose of it. If you have access to orange and honey, you can take it every day.
Some complain of having low sugar level. Can honey be used too and how?
That’s a complication common with diabetes. When the sugar level is below normal it is dangerous than having high blood sugar. Honey is also good for it. You see people carrying soft drinks all about. That is not right. Honey will do that naturally. Put honey in water and drink it. It will avail your body, sugar. Natural sugar. Not chemical sugar in all these soft drinks. I see a lot of people say, oh, my doctor said I should take it (soft drinks) because I have low sugar level. It is like postponing the evil day. The problem will not be solved that way. Honey can even cure what led to that. What led to that is the absence of glycogen. Glycogen is the sugar reserve that your body needs when you don’t have access to food or when you are sleeping. You know that we don’t eat when we sleep, but the body needs sugar to power the brain, the heart and other things. So, it is the glycogen that powers body organs when we sleep or when we are fasting. If you don’t have glycogen, you can’t fast. That person can die. Those who have low level of sugar don’t have glycogen and they cannot produce it, but honey can correct that anomaly. There is a way to use honey to correct the anomaly.
You started as a bee farmer and you have grown to curing with food. At what point did you move that step further?
The two started together. May be, initially, I was known more as a bee farmer, but I was doing the other part too. That other aspect was also developing. If you see my publications in The Punch newspaper in the past, most of my adverts are based on healing with honey, bee and foods. The two started together, but what people now know me for is the healing than the bee farming.
What brought about that?
I would say because society is dynamic and the economy is also dynamic. Healing will sustain this business more than bee farming and I give more attention to it. That is why the emphasis has lately been on the healing aspect of the business. Be farming is an agric business and I have to wait until my honey is ready for harvest. But today, I can be lucky and have a client walk in here for diabetes treatment; I charge between N100 and N150,000 for diabetes. I may have two, I may have one. I can sell products. I have honey eye drops that I sell round Nigeria. It is for prevention and healing. Even if one doesn’t have any problem one can use it because as we age, our organs too age. So, we need to nourish our eyes and prevent it from infections. This is unlike synthetic eyedrops for Cataract or Glaucoma which you cannot use except you have those challenges. Anybody can use it. So, somebody can call for ten eye drops. That is N20,000. Bee farming will not give me that today in terms of immediacy. But of course, bee farming provides the resources to make the products for healing. The two are linked. You cannot divorce one from the other.
Looking at the things you do at different times, how would you describe yourself?
If I have to write my curriculum vitae now, journalism will still reflect; then, of course I will describe myself as a bee farmer, honey expert and certified food therapist, well versed in the use of food to promote health and healing.
Your practice has to do with health. How do you come into it despite your journalism background afterall journalism doesn’t teach this?
For me, with journalism, one can veer into any part and fit in and shine. That is if you are a trained journalist. I remember in my days of reporting, when I was covering the Ministry of Works, going on inspections and all that. Engineers asked if I was an engineer. I was covering the ministry then when Kotangora was the minister under the government of Ibrahim Babangida. That was my beat and I learnt the nuances of that beat to the extent that there was nothing technical I did not understand. When I asked questions, the engineers in the ministry could not say that I was not an engineer. It was not peculiar to me. It was so with other trained journalists, event till date.
Today, all my clients refer to me as a doctor; I had presented papers abroad and when they refer to me, they call me doctor.
Did you get any formal training for what you do?
I trained in Germany and I did a bit of it in Brazil. In Germany, it was with German Apitherapy Society. It is a society of bee keepers; those who use honey to heal. Yearly, they organise training for those who want to practice apitherapy. Apitherapy is the use of bee and honey for healing. I took part in the course. It is just a week. Like I tell people, journalism of four years training, Medicine of seven year training is to prepare you to start. That is not the real training. The real training begins when you step out; when you start practising. But I must say self development has helped me a lot.
Can you tell us about the Brazil part of the training?
I attended an international conference in Brazil and after the conference, I took time out to see a renowned bee-keeper in Brazil who deals in apitherapy. I can’t remember his name now. I had training with him. Bee keeping in Brazil is so developed and apitherapy is well developed. I don’t know what is wrong with Nigeria. Do you know that the bee they used to develop bee keeping in Brazil and other place were taken from Africa in 1956. They believe that our climate are similar. South Americans came to Africa to take honey bees to develop their bee keeping. Today, they are all super bee keeping nations, particularly Brazil. I would say Nigeria is still lagging behind; I would say there is no bee keeping in Nigeria. If you develop bee keeping as an industry, it will be bigger than the petroleum industry. I think the problem is that an average Nigerian does not have patience for long term investments.
*Part II (concluding part) of the interview to be published on Wednesday.