Killer Bees or the Sweet Life: How Fair Trade Is Paving the Way Out of Poverty in Uganda

As I run towards a nearby river, followed by no fewer than 100,000 pissed off honey bees, my sister's words echo in the back of my mind -- "The bugs are going to crawl up your pee pee and give you those crazy infections." Who, you may ask, is to blame for this unprovoked bee attack? Fair trade. Well, okay, that is a bit of a stretch, but it is the reason that I'm in Uganda in the first place.

The man who got me into this mess is Kibwana Paulo, a 76 year old vanilla farmer who lives at the foot of the Ruwenzori Mountains in Southwest Uganda. He harvests vanilla and sells it in the fair trade market, ultimately to Ben & Jerry's, to create the scrumptious pints of deliciousness that we covet. Through fair trade he has saved enough money to invest in a bee apiary. His honey business has made him the go-to honey guy in town, providing him with enough earnings to put his children in the best schools, build a brick house for his family, and comfortably provide for his loved ones.

The fair trade certification system ensures that entrepreneurs in developing countries are paid a 'fair' price for their products. This increases their overall revenue, protects farmers in bad harvests, and rewards growers who use sustainable and/or organic cultivation practices. With these additional funds many farmers have developed into entrepreneurs, starting small businesses in addition to their regular work. Purchasing fair trade products has a direct and tangible benefit for producers, such as Kibwana, in developing countries.

It is a beautiful sunny day in the Pearl of Africa and I'm helping Kibwana with the weekly task of opening his 22 hives to extract honey for sale in the market. My biggest fears include sharks, heights, and girls. Today I will have to conquer by far my greatest fear of all -- insects. Yes, I am an Eagle Scout but do not let that fool you. In Boy Scout camp I'd cover myself in layers of bug repellent and hide inside a sleeping bag in fear of spiders. My producer tells me it's time to man-up. I'm in Uganda to film an episode of Bridge the Gap, a TV show where I travel to developing regions worldwide, and evidently torture myself, all in the name of cultural exchange.

Inside the apiary, with our faces six inches from the bee hives, Kibwana opens the abyss of doom and the honey hits the fan. Out pours one hundred thousand bees attacking us from every angle. A bee attaches itself to my producer's nose. My cameraman drops his three thousand dollar lens. I sprint from the apiary, and screams of twelve your old girls who just spotted Justin Bieber fill the air.

Skip to my salvation. I'm standing on the other side of the river with Kibwana having escaped without a scratch. Unfortunately, my cameraman was not as lucky. Standing in the middle of the river he curses the day he met me as he swats dozens of angry bees from his now bloody ankles. It turns out that even though we tried our best, here we are still just a group of crazy Mzungu's (white people) trying to fit in.

With the insanity behind us and my cohorts finally free of the bees, Kibwana invites us for a well-earned meal of the sweetest honey I have ever tasted. I thank him for his time and ask for some parting advice, "What is the secret to happiness and health?"

He answers, "The key to life is to keep working everyday. If you do that, you will stay young."

If not for fair trade, entrepreneurs like Kibwana would have trouble taking the first leap into business. In a region where poverty and malnutrition paint the landscape, fair trade has changed the game.

Fair trade items can be purchase online or in your local stores. Remember to look for the seal of certification verifying that the product adheres to the standards set by certifiers. Check out Ten Thousand Villages or World of Good to buy fair trade today.

For a video of Chris' adventure in Uganda go here!