FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Food Hero Agnan “Busy” St Louis Beekeeper in Dominica

Agnan “Busy” St. Louis starts his mornings before sunrise. With a fresh cup of coffee in hand, sweetened with honey from his farm, he sits on his patio at 5:30am to gather his thoughts and say his daily prayers. No day can start without this routine.

Photo: ©FAO/Michael Lees

Before Busy, which he prefers to be called, heads down to ¼ acre bee farm in the quiet village of Colihaut in the parish of St. Peter, the once construction worker turn bee keeper admits that he has now found his passion in his career and loves what he does.

But life was not always sweet for Busy. He grew up without a father figure and his mother worked doubly hard to ensure that he along with his three brothers and one sister had a comfortable life. “Those were tough days. But thankfully they are behind me and I’m just pushing forward”.

Busy’s first experience with bees was as a young 14-year-old boy still in school. Even at that young age, he was involved in agriculture carrying and delivering bananas to neighbouring villages.  He recalls watching bees fly around wild vines and trees collecting nectar and was amazed. It was then that his interest in honey making sparked, but of out necessity he pursued a career in construction. However, after bad experiences, he decided to quit and take a leap of faith to pursue bee keeping full-time.

After receiving his first bee keeping training from a beekeeper in a nearby village, Busy started to carve out and grow his own family business, “Busy’s Pure Honey”. His only employees then and now are his wife of 17 years, his nephew who is the accountant, and his 34-year-old son who has been groomed to take over the business one day.

In 2013, Busy found out about FAO’s bee keeping course through the media and decided to register to gain more practical knowledge, skills and to take his business to the next level.  The three weeks course armed him with critical information on the practical aspect of bee keeping, including work in the field, building bee hive boxes and mounting frames.  He also joined the Bee Keeping Cooperative in 2019 which FAO supports through education, training and the provision of training material. “That training was invaluable and I learnt so much”.

With a strong determination, passion and “the know-how”, Busy worked diligently and hard in every aspect of the bee-keeping trade, including building the boxes for the bee hives, planting trees and even encouraging his neighbours to grow trees so the bees could pollinate and collect nectar.  The fact that his bee farm is not fenced in nor secured does not bother him as over the years he has established excellent relationships with his neighbours and nearby communities who are often gifted with free bottles of honey.

Within 12 years, Busy’s hard work has paid off.  He now has 13 different areas in Dominica where his hives are located, 275 hives with about 50,000 bees in each hive and over 30 customers including the lion share of 99% of local pharmacies. “Most of my honey and by-products are consumed locally, like beeswax, bee pollen and propolis. In fact, in 2020 the demand was so high that I was under some pressure in terms of supply. Right now the only country I export honey to is St. Thomas, but the COVID pandemic hampered that in a bad way”.

When hurricane Maria devastated Dominica in 2017, all of Busy’s beehives were destroyed, but he has since rebuilt them all. He cautions that climate change and natural disasters damages trees and forests making it difficult for bees to pollinate and find nectar. He warns that due care must be taken to protect the environment which is the main reason he only offers his honey in 750ml, 275ml and 150ml in glass bottles and not plastic bottles.

As the major player in the market, Busy is conscious of his responsibility to give back to the community which supported his growth and business. Through a partnership with the Ministry of Gender Affairs, he provides free bottles of honey every year which are included in the gift baskets presented to centenarians by the government. On weekends he can be found helping the less fortunate in a range of activities including donating free honey to them and other vulnerable groups.

Busy’s bee farm is also used to demonstrate best practices in Dominica and to train young persons and other interested persons in honey production and he is always willing and eager to share his knowledge and experiences with others.

But even the busiest of persons deserves a break and some rest. So on Sundays you can find Busy at home in front of his television unwinding and relaxing with a day full of sports matches and games.

When asked about his biggest regret in life, he pauses and reflects. “I wish my Mum was still alive to see the success of my business. I wanted to make her proud and for her to know that I’m doing well and life is sweet”.