Over the years, beekeeping has been a traditional practice in several parts of Kenya with honey being harvested from log-type hives.
However, of late there has been an increase in modern beekeeping, especially in Arid and Semi-arid Lands (ASALs), after the national government’s strategy for development of apiculture and emerging livestock, identified honey production as an income-generating activity for people living in ASAL areas.
About 89 per cent of the country consists of ASALs which have a high potential for the production of honey and where apicultural activity is a major occupation, due to plenty of bee flora in these areas.
According to a report by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the country produces about 11,000 metric tonnes of honey and one to three tonnes of beeswax annually, translating to 20 per cent of its potential.
Though not an ASAL county, some farmers in Kisii have adopted beekeeping as a source of livelihood by using Kenya Top Bar Hive (KTBH) and Langstroth hives to upscale the supply of honey whose demand has risen due to its medicinal value, and food-wholesomeness.
Walter Ongubo, a beekeeper in Nyatieko ward, Kitutu Central Sub County, says he developed a passion for honeybees at a young age as his father was a beekeeper.
The 32-year-old farmer says that he constructed his first beehives using timber in the year 2000 with the help of a local expert and his father.
“I started with ten beehives. Bees settled in and I could watch with pleasure how they entered and came out of the beehives. After four months, I managed to harvest 7 kilograms of honey from a single beehive,” reveals Ongubo.
He adds that his parents encouraged him to construct more beehives after he harvested 48 kilograms of honey for the first time and sold them to his neighbours at Sh.150 per 250ml.
Ongubo notes that he used the money from his first sale of honey to purchase timber and construct more beehives in a bid to expand his beekeeping business and boost his income.
As a result, he managed to harvest 100 kilograms of honey from his twenty beehives which he sold and bought a cow as well as adding fifteen more beehives.
“I received calls from customers who asked for honey. I then delivered to their doorsteps. Eventually, the demand skyrocketed to the level that my supply was not enough and as the law of demand and supply dictates, I increased the cost of a 250ml bottle of honey to Sh. 250,” he says.
In 2016, Ongubo notes that he secured a three-month contract from Kisii County Government to make 130 beehives at Nyosia in Kisii Central Sub County, where he was paid Sh30, 000 per month and used this income to buy materials for the construction of an apiary.
At the moment, the beekeeper has 100 beehives in three apiaries at different farms where he harvests up to 400 kilograms of honey per harvest depending on how many are ready for harvest.
From the income, Ongubo says he has managed to buy three parcels of land, pay school fees and even enroll his wife in a driving course at a college in Kisii town.
“I bought the first piece of land for Sh. 990,000. The second one at Sh. 350,000 and the last piece at Sh. 290,000 of which I have a balance of Sh. 50,000 and I will clear soon,” he adds.
The beekeeper notes that birds who feed on bees are his greatest challenge, saying they reduce the number of honeybees in colonies leading to reduced yields.
Alex Makori, another beekeeper from the same locality, states that he started beekeeping in 2005 after completing his secondary education and was inspired by a local farmer who had beehives at his farm.
“I observed how he constructed his beehives and bought two of them. Afterwards, I decided to buy timber and using the two I bought as an example, I constructed eight beehives which I put on our farm. After six months, I started harvesting honey,” says Makori.
In 2010, Makori notes that he attended a training at the Kisii Agricultural Training Centre (ATC) where he met other beekeepers from neighboring counties and gained more skills that he implemented at his apiary leading to increased production of honey.
He says that he bought a Langstroth beehive from the experts at the training and constructed fifteen of them saying that a beekeeper can harvest up to 13 kilograms of honey from one beehive.
Currently, Makori has 43 beehives and 35 of them have bee colonies that produce at least 160 kilograms of honey every three months. He sells his produce to local customers.
“I send some of the honey to a fellow beekeeper in Mombasa and generate at least Sh. 100,000. The income I get from the sale of honey enables me to educate my children, sort out house expenses and venture into other farming activities such as banana and mushroom growing,” adds the beekeeper.
Makori states that he has inspired other local farmers to start beekeeping and assists them with the installation of beehives and training on the best practices to ensure quality honey production which supplements their income.
One of the main challenges that the beekeeper faces is limited space to install more beehives, adding that bees can be harmful to farmers neighboring the apiary.
Despite the county being a non-ASAL region, statistics from the Department of Livestock Production in Kisii County show that a total of 100,850 kg of honey and 40,000 kg of beeswax are produced annually.
Isaac Okemwa who hails from Kemera location in Manga Sub-county, Nyamira County, says his friend motivated him to start beekeeping and took him to his apiary where he learned the benefits of beekeeping.
“He is the one who recommended a carpenter to help me construct six beehives and currently, two of them have bee colonies. One matured and he assisted me to harvest 7 kilograms of honey for home consumption,” reveals Okemwa.
Okemwa notes that he intends to expand his beekeeping by increasing beehives at his farm to boost the production of honey and venture into a commercial business once all the beehives start producing honey.
“I believe that very soon, I will be a good beekeeper in this locality. I have extra knowledge and skills that I gained some time back from a workshop by the Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) in Kisii town. I am the first person to start beekeeping in this locality,” he states.
By Augustine Mosioma and Mercy Osongo