The County Government of Nakuru is promoting adoption of modern honey production methods and value addition in the subsector by the Ogiek community.
Beekeeping which has been traditionally a vital part of the economy, culture, and identity of about 35,000 members of the Ogiek community is largely carried out in log hives in Mau and Mariashoni Forests.
The County administration through funding from National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP) has introduced to Mariashoni Community Development Society (Macodev), which brings together 460 bee keepers, to 100 Kenyan Top Bar and the Langstroth beehives, which can produce 20 to 30 kilogrammes of honey per hive.
The Mariashoni Community Development Society Chairman, Martin Lele said under the NARIGP project, his organization had also benefited from modern equipment including plastic and stainless steel honey extractors, wax press, wax embossing machines, bee suits, hive tools, decapping knives, forks and distilling tanks.
According to Lele, the traditional beekeeping methods could not improve the locals’ economic standards as they did not incorporate the value addition component. The worst part was that the villagers used to sell raw honey cheaply.
“For many years Ogieks produced honey primarily for household consumption and exchange with neighbours, with only a small quantity sold. The traditional log hive yields an average of 5 kilos of honey. Following interventions by NARIGP, the quality and quantity of honey produced has improved.
“We are also packaging honey, honey wax and jellies after receiving certification from Kenya Bureau of Standards. Our branded honey products are currently sold in shops and supermarkets in nearby towns of Elburgon, Molo, and Nakuru. In addition, the programme has led to increased participation of women and youth in the beekeeping activities,” explained Mr Lele.
He said the quantity of honey produced by Mariashoni Development Society has increased from 1.8 tons during the 2017/2018 year to 2.5 tons in the 2018/2019 year. Due to improved quality, he said, the prices of the honey rose from Sh100 to Sh179 per kilogramme over the same period.
The initiative is also supporting the formation of cooperative societies and provision of training to 5,450 bee keepers within the devolved unit on marketing, contract management and negotiation skills.
All the 506 members of Hifadhi Farmers’ Cooperative Society have been facilitated by NARIGP to acquire modern beehives.
The Chairman to the Cooperative Society, Francis Njogu said use of modern Langstroth hives was gaining currency among bee keepers as they were easier to maintain and yield cleaner honey compared to others because of their design, which ensures honey does not mix with the larvae.
He expressed concern that increased use of harmful pesticides and herbicides and destruction of indigenous plant materials that the insects rely on to make honey was threatening bee populations.
“The NARIGP has incorporated a component of public awareness education towards protecting bee colonies and sustainable agricultural practices that will protect this important sub sector. Our members have planted over 25,000 seedlings of indigenous trees that are vital for honey production in their various farms” said Njogu.
The County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture, Dr. Immaculate Maina said her department had finalized plans to set up a honey refinery at Mariashoni through collaboration with NARIGP, adding that bee keepers should take advantage of the growing beauty, candle and other industries whose raw material is wax, and venture into apiculture.
The CEC said the County administration was partnering with Egerton University and Baraka Agricultural College in Molo in developing programmes aimed at transforming bee keeping among small holder farmers into a commercially viable venture.
She stated that the initiative which has brought on board women aged between 25 and 70 years also aimed at breaking barriers and setting the trend by demystifying the myth that beekeeping is a man’s role.
“Participation of women, adding value to produce, awareness and information on markets, and linkages with the private sector are all factors with potential to sustain growth of the value chain in the bee farming sub sector,” Dr. Maina.
“We now have women who are so seriously into the business that they have formed groups and bought all the honey harvesting equipment such as the centrifuge machine for extracting honey, a bee suit, honey strainers, the uncapping forks and tanks and the bottling buckets,” explained the Agriculture CEC.
The collaboration is also promoting adoption of scientifically designed hives and commercial honey processing equipment.
“The partnership is aimed at enhancing a smooth, scrutinized flow of operations by various stakeholders across the beekeeping value chain and involves various players including beekeepers, scientists, processors and marketers among others. This will boost quality and quantity of honey and its products in the country,” said the Agriculture CEC.
To maintain high standards of hygiene, the programme is promoting the use of extractors while sieving the natural honey product from the combs.
“Training on honey handling and value addition is of paramount importance. Most farmers in the country produce substandard honey that does not meet international standards a factor that affects market and prices,” said the CEC.
“Our sights are set on better international markets by ensuring production of high quality honey, that meets quality parameters such as the right sugar content and acidity among others,” she said.
Through the initiative, bee farmers are being offered technical support and periodic monitoring of quality standards and production.
“Smallholder farmers have focused on the production and marketing of honey and beeswax. Other bee products for which there is high potential market demand – such as propolis and venom – are not currently being considered due to lack of technology and skills.
The project has undertaken market assessments and feasibility studies on bee products, developed new market strategies to promote the producers’ own brand and facilitated market opportunities for bee products,” said Dr. Maina.
Encouraged by nutritionists who hail honey as a super food, most Kenyans take honey directly, use it in beverages as a source of sugar, and as a bread spread.
Honey is also a key ingredient in pharmaceutical industry and the propolis is used to make candles and cosmetics.
Dr. Maina observed that there were untapped opportunities, for instance, in delivering bees to coffee, fruit and vegetable farmers for pollination through catcher boxes. This is something she says could only be done by professionals.
According to Kenya National Farmers Information Service, about 80 per cent of Kenya’s honey comes from arid and semi-arid lands.
The survey says 80 per cent of this honey comes from log hives, which yield far too little to boost incomes.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the country produces around 4,000 metric tonnes of honey every year.
By Anne Mwale/Dennis Rasto