The Beekeepers of Kajo Keji

We are thrilled to introduce Javier Fernandez, a Students of the World Community Member and talented filmmaker. Javier has been traveling through South Sudan helping promote agriculture and bee-keeping cooperatives and documenting his experiences through short films and photography. Read his impactful story below.  

Landscape of Kajo Keji County in South Sudan.

Landscape of Kajo Keji County in South Sudan.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to travel to South Sudan to document the efforts of local agricultural cooperatives looking to make the country’s first export to the US. I was contacted by Chris Douglas who runs Africa Lonestar, a 501© 3 that promotes community based projects in Africa.  Their mission is to assist local entrepreneurs with access to markets, investment, and tools. After years of hard work, Chris and his partners at the River Nile International Cooperative had arranged for a large shipment of honey and shea to be exported and sold in US markets. The honey was purchased by AHBPA from Austin, TX. Walter, who runs AHBPA, contacted me about this project back in October. After a few meetings, some assurances, and the necessary vaccinations, I was on a flight from Barcelona to Juba via Istanbul-Nairobi. Thirty six hours later I was in the chaotic and tiny airport in Juba. After literally muscling our way through customs, we loaded the gear onto a Land Cruiser and headed to the hotel in Juba. After a few days of introductions, meetings, and some extra bureaucratic maneuvering, we left for Kajo Keji.

Chris has been working in South Sudan for the past few years, primarily in the Kajo Keji region. Located in the Equatorial Greenbelt, the region is perfect for agriculture. Kajo Keji is home to the Kuku people, who live in pastoral communities surrounding the main town of Wudu. The Kuku people have harvested honey for centuries using a traditional log hive method. With the help of Africa-Lonestar, the River Nile International Cooperative secured investment to purchase new equipment to process honey, allowing them to produce a higher quality product.

From Wudu we drove out to meet Ezekiel, a personable and highly eloquent farmer who is part of the River Nile Co-op. A former teacher, he is now a farmer, carpenter, beekeeper and un-ordained minister working to improve his community and provide for his family. The man has vision and a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe. He has achieved so much in very little time given the lack of support available in South Sudan. I was able to sit down with him and interview him about the export, the Co-Op, and the work being done by Africa Lonestar.

Ezekiel and one of his sons stand in front of an addition to their house.

Ezekiel and one of his sons stand in front of an addition to their house.

After visiting Ezekiel’s farm, we headed to Kala. In Kala I was able to feel more relaxed and comfortable. I got to shoot way more images and film. I even found some amazing granite boulders. The first night I was able to film some guys from town harvesting honey from a traditional log hive. Next morning I got out to shoot some time lapses and B-roll.

Tukul (dwelling) near Kala, Kajo Keji.

Tukul (dwelling) near Kala, Kajo Keji.

Our last stop was Lulu Works. In addition to honey, Walter also purchased some shea oil from a local women's group that makes beauty products from shea. This was the most fun part to shoot and film. I had a blast laughing, smashing “lulu” nuts and dancing with these women. Spearheading Lulu Work’s efforts is Alice, an enterprising and intelligent woman. I spoke to her about the past, present and future of Lulu Works.

It was a very grueling project to say the least, but it was also rewarding to see this type of community-based project gain momentum. Hopefully, projects like the River Nile Co-op can inspire others in the region to embrace bee-keeping as a form of generating revenue.

Tuning the local instruments before mass at church in Kala.

Tuning the local instruments before mass at church in Kala.

About Javier Fernandez:

I'm a Texas-based filmmaker and photographer. I'm grateful for the opportunities to experience genuine, and inspiring stories. I have a degree in Forest Ecology. I love rock climbing, Mexico, and fish tacos.

That's me smashing lulu nuts in Kaju Keji.

That's me smashing lulu nuts in Kaju Keji.

Watch Javier's inspirational short film about the River Nile Agricultural Cooperative and Ezekiel's remarkable story below.

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