Sweet charity

Martin Zuch’s life is like a novel, but his plans to turn an area of Zambia into Africa’s biggest honey farm are real enough. Rosie McGlade meets an extraordinary entrepreneur whose driving force is to give hope to others 

Having never farmed in his life, Martin Zuch took the astonishing leap from stock markets and what he calls ‘a lunatic party lifestyle’ to setting up a huge acreage of land in Zambia, clearing bush, employing hundreds of local people, and establishing a school.

The price he has paid for turning his back – pre-crash – on finance and fat cheques has been huge. Costly, most definitely, but also in meeting the expectations of hundreds of people in Zambia; expectations he put in place.

Martin will read this and hate to be called an extraordinary man, and for the sake of his modesty, we’ll use the term to mean different from the ordinary. If you were wealthy, would you turn your back on your golden goose? Scary stuff.

His home now is in the Tyne Valley, near his wife’s home village of Corbridge, and the couple are bringing up three young children here. It’s a long way from the City and the party spots of Verbier, Switzerland, where he lived during his life working the share markets between 1987 and 2005. It’s even further from Zambia, where he regularly commutes.

Martin’s Zambian farm, near Ndola, is run around ambitious aims to fund social and community projects in a part of Africa where family income is commonly less than a dollar a day.

There seem two different sides driving Martin. On the one hand, he’s been a committed Christian since the year 2000, a calling that precipitated this great change in life. On the other, no matter how self-deprecating, the man’s clearly some kind of adrenalin junky who thrives on
risky, but hugely interesting and very ambitious initiatives.

His latest venture is honey and, touch wood, it’s starting to look sweet in every sense. BeeSweet he calls it, and the community it’s based around is slowly starting to prosper. The once 60-strong school now caters for 450. Families living in the bush have additional income which means they can provide for their children with optimism.

Now at the end of his second year, he has produced 20 tonnes. That’s a lot of honey. At the moment, it’s sold locally, but within a year Martin hopes he will have enough producers to sustain a continuous supply to UK supermarkets with profits ploughed back into community projects and local schools
in Zambia.

“We don’t produce the honey ourselves, it’s local people living in the bush who do that. We go into the bush and invite families who might be interested, and we train local supervisors to oversee and support them,” Martin says.

Each new family is given five hives. If they manage them well, they get five more, potentially up to a total of 20. Each hive should produce more than 30 kilos of honey a year, which is underestimating things
really as, unlike Europe, you get two harvests in Zambia.

“They’re paid a dollar per kilo, the price they would get on the street, so there’s no advantage in trying to sell it anywhere else. So they can earn between $150-$300 per year,” Martin explains.

“What it provides is an additional income to the 50 to 70 cents a day they were living off before, bearing in mind an average family will have around seven or eight people, which is an extreme poverty scenario. That extra money means they don’t have to struggle to feed their children, and they can send them to school.”

So far, around 1,000 families have been thus empowered through 8,000 hives, but for the project to work and fund itself, a lot more honey is needed. What’s great is that there is no shortage of bees or nectar out there.
So what does BeeSweet honey have that other honeys don’t? Quite a lot, Martin says. First, it’s organic, as the nectar is collected from wild plants, shrubs and trees in the bush, away from farmland pollutants.

It’s also sourced from a myriad of different plants unlike, for example, an early oilseed rape-based harvest that British bees might produce (a crop which is frequently sprayed, to boot). So, it has a unique flavour. Not strong, like heather honey, but very distinct.

It has green credentials, too. Whereas huge areas of bush of many impoverished
sub-Saharan African countries have been plundered for fuel, Zambian forests have not suffered too badly, and a successful honey producer will naturally want to protect the nectar-producing plants that feed their
own livelihood.

African bees have a fearsome reputation. Indeed, they’re known as killers. “I got stung twice, and actually the sting is no different, but they’re much more aggressive,” Martin explains. “In Europe, with the colder climate, bees have no predators. In Africa, there’s the honey badger and ants which go crazy for honey. That’s why our hives are suspended in wires between trees. Then we grease the wires with oil and tobacco, which the ants don’t like. Otherwise they’d go up and try and walk the wire.

“We’re pleased with the way things are going,” Martin adds. “But I have struggled. There have been many ups and downs over the years, but the honey we’re making is good and if we can get the supermarkets interested, it’ll have a massive impact on these local producers and their communities.

“I knew nothing about farming when I started out, so it’s all been a major learning curve all the way. But the honey production is going well, and we are hoping to get some top notch equipment in like a centrifuge machine to eliminate waste during harvest.

“The goal is to have 1,000 tonnes a year overall, and we will be regulars in the supermarkets as a premium honey.”
It couldn’t happen to a sweeter man.



Martin Zuch set up Give Hope International, a sponsor-a-child charity, to ensure the children in communities close to the honey farm could continue to go to school.

“People get connected to a child, a photograph and a report each year, and the child will write to them once or twice a year also,” Martin says. “100 per cent of the child sponsorship goes to the schools, nothing to administration.”

Give Hope’s first project was school for 60 children. Now it caters for more than 550 students in Zambia and Ethiopia and numbers are expected to increase every year.

The dream is for enough BeeSweet honey to be produced in the area to eventually create profits – profits which will help fund more elementary schools and support the children’s dreams to go on to secondary and higher education also.

“There are many families living on less than a dollar a day, and school is something they often can’t afford,” Martin says.

“By sponsoring a child for £20 a month, your money will make all the difference in the world to one of these children’s lives.”

For more information, see www.givehopeinternational.org


Honey Buns
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