Kenyan honey producer, Honey Care Africa, has trained thousands of small-scale farmers to practice commercial beekeeping. Dinfin Mulupi reports
Kenya’s potential for apiculture development is estimated at over 100,000 tonnes of honey and 10,000 tonnes of beeswax per annum. At the moment only about one fifth of this potential is being exploited.
Various challenges have made it difficult for farmers to fully harness the opportunities that lie in beekeeping. Among these challenges are the inadequate training in beekeeping technologies for farmers and staff, insufficient research on apiculture, inaccessibility of credit for farmers as well as lack of development of quality standards.
Yet, despite all these hurdles, Honey Care Africa has proved to be an innovative and rapidly expanding Kenyan enterprise established expressly to increase the income of rural farmers. Through its “Money for Honey” programme, which trains farmers in commercial beekeeping and then buys their honey at a guaranteed price, Honey Care Africa has doubled the income of several thousand small-scale farmers.
Honey Care Africa was started in 2000 to promote sustainable community-based beekeeping initiatives in Kenya.
Chief executive officer of the company, Amaan Khalfan, told How we made it in Africa that the success of the firm is driven by the fact that it offers a comprehensive package of services (ranging from training to start-up financing), technologies and market access for small-scale framers.
“We realised that a lot of honey produced in the country was being sold on the roadside of major highways. This meant that the hygiene of the honey was questionable. The farmers selling the honey were also generating very little profits, making beekeeping activities appear to be less lucrative,” says Khalfan.
Honey Care Africa works with 10,000 small-scale framers across the country. It guarantees market access for the honey produced by small-holder farmers, which it collects and pays for on the spot. The company also develops beeswax in a variety of sizes as well as other wax-related products such as candles.
“Beekeeping provides a second and possibly third source of income to small-scale farmers. Another advantage is that the farmers do not need large tracts of land since beekeeping requires minimal land,” says Khalfan.
He explains that processed and packaged honey is sold locally as well as shipped to the US, Japan, and European markets.
According to Khalfan, local demand for honey has failed to pick up. “In 2004 we had only four different brands of honey in the market; currently we have about 29 different brands, yet the demand and market for honey has failed to grow,” he notes.
Khalfan says that previous methods of honey harvesting excluded women from the practice since they could not climb trees to reach the beehives. This led to the introduction of the Langstroth hive.
The advantage of the Langstroth hive over traditional hives, he explains, is that the bees build honeycomb into frames, which can be moved easily because the frames are designed so that the bees do not attach wax honeycomb between the frames or to the walls of the hive. This ability to move the frames allows the beekeeper to manage the bees easily and efficiently.
Khalfan adds that the Langstroth hive is also more efficient; where the traditional beehive can produce 10 kilogrammes of honey in a year, the new hive handles up to 30 kilogrammes in a year.
The firm has, however, faced many hurdles, especially in maintaining the quality of its product. “It has been a challenge to ensure that the honey received has not been adulterated. Some farmers initially used molasses and liquid sugar to try and increase the quantity of their supplies. This is very bad since our products are exported abroad and have to meet international standards,” he says.
The firm has also been facing competition from Tanzania where farmers are paid less, allowing for the honey to be sold at cheaper prices.
He adds that other challenges arise from the logistics of shipping honey to international markets, which are time consuming and costly.