Botswana: Talking business with founder of beekeeping and honey production company

Kago Monggae

Kago’s Bees is a beekeeping and honey production company located in Ramotswa, a town 36km south of Botswana’s capital Gaborone. Founder Kago Monggae (29) answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

Kago’s Bees offers bee removals and relocation as well as honey sales and distribution from our own managed beehives. This year, we included beekeeping consultation and management support to help hobbyists and aspiring start-ups. In an effort to develop our product offering, we are exploring the manufacturing of cosmetics using beeswax, honey and other organic ingredients.

2. Where do you sell your honey?

Our largest sales channel is to individual clients. We do business with curio shops and novelty stores focusing on confectionery and speciality food items. In season, our clients place orders with us and we schedule weekly deliveries to fulfil orders.

3. How did you finance your start-up?

The business was self-funded. I began in 2012 while at university and intended to try beekeeping as a hobby. I acquired some bees after purchasing the first box and earned a small income while I developed my knowledge and understanding of beekeeping. Following several short courses in South Africa, I formally developed a business model in 2018. I injected some of my savings as initial capital to fund business operations and procure more beehives and additional tools and equipment.

4. If you were given $1 million to invest in your company now, where would it go?

With our current expansion challenges, I would acquire adequate land in a suitable area. It would provide the business with sufficient natural resources to populate an exponential number of beehives to increase annual honey production. I would also invest in equipment: beehive boxes, safety gear, and operational and processing tools. This will facilitate more honey and beeswax production.

Finally, I would use a portion of the funds for activities that empower the local community to farm and produce honey. In this way, I can expand my production capabilities and enable individuals to earn an income through supplier agreements with us. By doing this, I will realise my vision of Kago’s Bees as a honey aggregator; a business that pools honey from smaller producers that can be sold commercially.

A routine inspection of a beehive.

5. What risks does your business face?

One of the top risks is legal risk in terms of human-wildlife conflict. African honey bees are far more aggressive than other species across the world. Our risk is people claiming against the business for being stung or inconvenienced by the movement of bees.

We also struggle with theft and vandalism of the hives. We place our bees in isolated areas in rural or peri-urban settings as we want to minimise our bees’ encounters with processed sugars, pesticides and poisons that are prevalent in urban environments.

Environmental risks include frequent droughts which have an adverse effect on the flowering of many plant species. It limits the availability of bee forage (flowers the bees feed on to make honey) and reduces their honey production.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

My most exciting moment was when I heard I had been selected for the 2019 Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme. It came at a time when I was actively looking at ways to grow my business through additional capital.

I came across the application process on social media and gave it a shot. I was successful and continue to leverage off the learnings of the programme. The successful completion of the programme gave our business access to a seed capital grant that was used for extra equipment and tools.

7. Tell us about your biggest mistake.

Bees are highly defensive creatures and can become aggressive. Food resources were limited at the start of this season and the bees became highly defensive towards any potential threat.

I have bred dogs for several years and recently had an incident where some of my puppies agitated a few colonies. Puppies chew everything and discovered a hive. They began biting and swatting the bees which caused a stinging frenzy. One of my dogs and four puppies were stung to death.

My mistake was not restricting their interaction. There is no way of controlling bees once they are at this level of agitation and they die once they have stung. It drastically reduced my bee populations in those boxes.

I learnt to manage my system better. What happened to my dogs could have very easily been somebody’s child or a passer-by, therefore it is imperative that I continue to keep safety and security at the pinnacle of my business practices.

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