Bear necessities

Mama Buci is probably the best honey you’ve ever tasted, and buying a jar helps families in Africa. It’s also backed by none other than Bear Grylls. Rosie McGlade finds out more

For a man who goes by the name of Bear, it’s fitting that Mr Grylls should like honey. He is also a friend of a friend of Northumberland honey producer Martin Zuch and has lent his name as ambassador to his new Mama Buci brand.

It’s not every jar of honey that would attract such excitement, but Martin’s honey is special. It provides livelihoods for people living in exceptional hardship, without education, healthcare, or knowing where the next meal is coming from. It’s extraordinarily environmentally friendly, helping to preserve vast tranches of bush in Zambia and enabling bee populations to thrive. It is entirely organic – no-one could afford pesticides where it comes from even if they wanted to – and wonderful claims are made, and increasingly proven, for the benefits of good honey on health. Crucially, it is delicious.

No wonder Bear Grylls, with his canny knack for marketing, likes the association. Martin’s current issue is that his honey farm is so successful – next year it will produce 500 tons of honey – and he’s working flat out to get it to market. “I’m not worried though,” he says. “I was persuaded by Vicky Moffitt at Vallum Farm near Corbridge to do their Christmas fair recently. To be honest it was the last thing I felt I had time for with hundreds of thousands of jars needing shifting. But every person who tasted the honey bought a jar, so I know the honey is special and people will pay £5 a jar. It’s a genuine premium product worlds away from the cheap stuff coming in from China.”

Wholesale is a nut he hasn’t yet cracked, however. Supermarkets think purely in terms of margins and have no interest in the Mama Buci story, so he’s thinking of using a specialist distributor to supply smaller outlets around the country, including farm shops like Vallum. You can also buy it online and he’s talking to a big potential customer in Dubai.

I have learnt over the several years I’ve known him not to be fooled by Martin’s quiet and naturally humble demeanor. Beneath lies an adrenalin monster, and while most of us would find setting up a honey business in Africa quite a challenge, Martin’s eyes have darted all the while to other socially entrepreneurial ideas around the world.

“I’ve done oil in Nigeria and gold mining in Sierra Leone – sectors where ordinary people are usually paid next to nothing and assets are just extracted from a country,” he says. “I didn’t know then that the bees were going to take off.”

The aforementioned have not come to anything, but God loves a trier and Martin, a father of three, has profound spiritual beliefs that drive him. And a sense of humour. Talk about being able to brush oneself down. “But I don’t want to come across as a do-good missionary type,” he says. “Making money excites me.”

Years ago he was a stockbroker in London and very wealthy, but he woke up one day and realised it wasn’t enough. So he took all his money and bought two huge farms in Zambia with the aim of helping local people escape poverty through banana plantations. “Unfortunately, the plantations failed because of blight and the bank took the farms away,” Martin says. “We went from 3,800 hectares to 40. The only reason they left those 40 was because we’d set up a school with 160 kids and that still had to be funded.”

The school now has 400 children and the honey business that grew from the ashes of the banana disaster supports 7,000 families with plans for expansion already taking hold.

The idea for the honey farm came from an American friend brought up in DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). John Enright had suffered similar problems with bananas and had been working on bee keeping for a while before coming up with a genius pulley system that enabled farmers to hoist hives high in the trees where the bees would settle naturally. They simply line each new hive (more than 150 a day are currently built on the farm) with beeswax and within a few weeks up to 85% of them are colonised. Farmers simply have to keep an eye on them and harvesting can be done in 10 minutes. “School fees are tiny in Zambia but even so, few can afford them,” Martin says. “This venture means that they can. It means they can have some healthcare. They’re not going to get rich from it, but it makes a
big difference.”
Buy Mama Buci at
and at Vallum, Military Road East Wallhouses, NE18 0LL
tel 01434 672 323 

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