Kitui County government has upscaled Queen Bee rearing to curb its extinction and boost honey production that is on the decline due to depressed rain patterns occasioned by climate change.
Speaking in Kitui on Wednesday ahead of May 20 UN World Bee Day celebrations, County Value Addition specialist Dr Temi Mutia said that bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities.
“We all depend on pollinators and it is, therefore, crucial to monitor their decline and halt the loss of biodiversity and for the survival of our ecosystems,” said Dr Mutia.
In a bid to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, the UN designated May 20as World Bee Day.
The goal is to strengthen measures aimed at protecting bees and other pollinators, which would significantly contribute to solving problems related to the global food supply and eliminate hunger in developing countries.
“Bees are under threat. Present species extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal due to human impacts,” reads part of UN Bee report.
The report notes that close to 35 percent of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, and about 17 percent of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats, face extinction globally.
“If this trend continues, nutritious crops, such as fruits, nuts and many vegetable crops will be substituted increasingly by staple crops like rice, corn and potatoes, eventually resulting in an imbalanced diet,” said Dr Mutia.
He noted that intensive farming practices, land-use change, mono-cropping, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change all pose problems for bee populations and, by extension, the quality of food grown.
Dr Mutia said that honey production is on the decline adding that the county has scaled up efforts to stem the tide in the coming years through the Queen Bee rearing project.
“We are targeting at least 260,000 households in the county, the project estimates that in three years’ time, 30 per cent of these households would have 10 beehives each,” said Dr Temi.
Kitui County has five bee farmers’ cooperatives with over 10,000 members and more than 100,000 beehives, 70 of which are colonized by Queen Bees.
“The county’s ambitious programme is to increase the colonized beehives from the current number of 70 to 1, 600 in three years’ time. This will tremendously boost honey production from this region,” noted Dr Mutia.
The Value chain specialist noted that the success of the project will empower the youth, create job opportunities and fight biting poverty and provide job opportunities.
He also added that they have joined with cooperatives such Kamaki, Manziku, Mukali, Kalanga and Endau to rear queen bees.
On the same score, he lamented that honey prices have gone up this year due to the biting drought that has hit the region.
The dry spell forced bees to migrate to wet areas away from Kitui in search of water and flowers for their nectar supplies.
Despite the dwindling honey production fortunes, Dr Mutia disclosed that the County is constructing honey refineries in Ikutha, Mutomo, Nguni and Mui among other areas to help farmers process, package and sell their produce at competitive market prices.
“Bee farmers will no longer be exploited by middlemen and other unscrupulous traders to sell their produce at throw-away prices. The refineries will help them control their sales based on the demand and supply of honey,” said Dr Mutia.
He challenged bee farmers to form market clusters to sell their honey jointly rather than selling at individual outlets for better price bargains.
The Value chain specialist said that the county government has deployed extension officers to offer practical guidance to farmers on how best to keep bees coupled with other modern bee keeping methods.
“Bee keeping through honey production is a major income source which supports many livelihoods in Kitui. Honey is medicinal since it has properties which treat chest pains and wax from bees is essential in the manufacture of candles for lighting,” he noted.
Simon Kimelia, Mwingi Beekeepers and Food Crops Cooperative Society Manager decried the cost of transportation to the market saying the venture is no longer productive adding that the marginal returns are not promising.
Kimelia added that seasonal challenges add a toll on the quality of honey produced and ready for the market.
“Honey production is dependent on the season. During the dry and hot season, bees migrate to cool and wet environments away from our bee hives. This leaves the farmer without honey for the season,” said the Manager.
By Yobesh Onwong’a