• Kenya produces about 100,000 metric tons of honey annually according Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO).
• Bee keeping faces market challenges as other agricultural commodities where farm gate pricing is highly determined by brokers.
Beekeeping is one of the key activities in areas that have been ravaged by drought, which has gotten worse in recent years due to climate change.
Currently, 23 counties in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) in Kenya are facing devastating drought.
Beekeeping has been practised in Kenya since the 1960s and it was mainly dominated by men.
The hives were kept high in the trees and one was required to climb up in order to retrieve honey, perhaps this could explain why women kept away from beekeeping.
But, the tides have turned with modern technologies and women have now taken over beekeeping.
A group of women in the pastoralist area of Kajiado county have been thriving in beekeeping.
The beekeepers have received support from World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya (WWF) and also from the Ministry of Environment through training and provision of bee hives.
However, attacks from wild animals and the severe drought have adversely affected the venture in Merueshi area of Kajiado East subcounty in Kajiado county, near the Amboseli National Park.
Jane Musoni, a member of Nalope Women's Group in Merueshi town along Emali-Loitokitok in Amboseli, Kajiado county, said they started beekeeping with only five beehives with support from WWF.
She said as a pastoralist, beekeeping was new to her and many other women in the Maasai community.
Musoni said they have now embraced it as an alternative source of livelihood after they were trained on beekeeping and husbandry.
“We did not know anything about beekeeping. We also got to learn the benefits of bees, especially the medicinal benefits,” she said, adding that they also got trained on how to process honey.
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With the knowledge gained, the ‘bee queens’ hit the ground and immediately got into the business of beekeeping.
“We harvested some honey from the five bee hives and sold it to the locals though at a low price. We did not make much because it was our first time getting into such a business,” she said.
They were targeting to sell the product to Nairobi and neighbouring towns but things did not go as planned.
The harvest was poor and the price being offered in the local market was low. A kilo of honey was selling at Sh200.
Leah David, treasurer of the group, said they have been facing numerous challenges and this is posing a threat to their beekeeping venture.
She said the honey badger has been invading the bee hives and feeding on the honey. Currently, they are not able to produce anything.
The women urged the government under the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to help them control the wild animal from destroying the bee hives so that they can continue with their business venture.
Data from KWS shows that the ongoing drought situation in the country has resulted in the dispersal of wildlife from their traditional habitats in search of pasture and water.
This has increased the risk factor of conflict as the wildlife comes into contact with the public and human activities resulting to an increase in human-wildlife conflicts.
“We used to use water mixed with some sugar to attract the bees, but then the wild animal would invade the hives and cause damage,” Leah said.
“The animal feeds on the honey and the bees disappear because they have no food. By now we would be harvesting honey but these challenges have demotivated us and that is why currently we do have active bee hives.”
Another challenge is the devastating drought being experienced in 23 arid and semi-arid counties across the country.
The beekeeper said the area has not received any rains since September 2021 so the trees have dried.
“The bees fed on the flowers and leaves of the trees so with no food, the bees have moved to other places,” she added.
Musoni said besides being an alternative source of income, the bees also keep wild animals like elephants off their homesteads.
“I realised when I put hives in part of my farm, elephants stopped coming near my homestead,” she said.
The bees do not have flowers or leaves to feed on due to drought. It would be good if the beekeepers would get a solution to this because the hives have been empty for a whileJane Musoni
“Two weeks ago, a herd of elephants came near my homestead because I do not have any active hives. We managed to chase it away by shouting, but this is scary with children going to school or even for anyone going to the shopping centre,” Musoni said.
“Once an elephant senses or sees bees, they run away and cannot come near the homestead. Due to drought, the elephants are now coming to our homestead probably in search of water and pasture.”
Daniel Kasikua, a community elder said beekeeping is being carried out by women and the youth but drought is now posing a threat to the venture.
“The bees do not have flowers or leaves to feed on due to drought. It would be good if the beekeepers would get a solution to this because the hives have been empty for a while,” he said.
“The bees have moved to tomato farms where chemicals have been used to spray the crops and this is affecting the bees. The honey badger is also destroying the hives and this is cost and time ineffective,” he said.
He noted that at a time like this last year, the women had harvested a lot of honey but this year, they have nothing due to drought and the effect of the wild animal on the hives.
He said demand for honey among the locals is high but the women are not able to produce it.
According to data from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) Kenya produces about 100,000 metric tons of honey annually.
GOOD FOR ASAL
Eliud Kireger, Kalro director general said apiculture can be practised in 80 per cent of the country, especially in the arid and semi-arid areas.
He explained that in these areas, rain-fed agriculture is not feasible but there is rich biodiversity making it favourable for the production of honey, beeswax and other bee products.
He added that as part of the response to the policy direction, the government established under Kalro an Apiculture Research Institute with the mandate to develop a national research system.
The Apiculture Research Institute was created under the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Act No. 17 of 2013.
The move was aimed at providing operational autonomy to support the apiculture sub-sector through focused and efficient research.
This is in addition to the provision of technological and innovative solutions across the apiculture value chain.
Kireger said this is expected to enhance the modernisation of apiculture in Kenya and improve productivity.
“There are several challenges associated with the sub-sector which range from technological, financial, and extension services. Honey production is still very much traditional with beekeepers extremely dependent on the use of low productive traditional hives which results in poor quality honey,” he said.
The DG noted that beekeepers in Kenya face similar market challenges as other agricultural commodities where farm gate pricing is highly determined by brokers.
“One way of improving the gains at farm level is to link beekeepers directly with processors and, or market outlets. This is made easier through the formation of beekeeping marketing groups that can create an effective commodity marketplace and can guarantee quality and traceability of their produce,” he said.
“Beekeepers often sell their honey through an exploitive chain of brokers leading to low farm-gate prices while consumer prices are higher. Management of bee hives is often poor as training for beekeepers is limited,” Kireger said.
This story was produced by the Star Publications in partnership with WAN-IFRA Women in News Social Impact Reporting Initiative