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The new-look beekeepers as demand for honey increases.

figure By PIUS MAUNDU Some years ago, bees were kept mainly by villagers, especially in the arid and semi-arid regions, with the farmers harvesting the produce and selling it raw for a song.This trend is, however, changing as professionals with other careers take up the trade, especially in Ukambani, where bees have been kept for ages.

Robert Mutuku, 36, is a Kenya Air Force engineer by day and a beekeeper by night in his Ngitini village, Makueni County.He started beekeeping three years ago after visiting a colleague who rears the insects in Machakos in search of advice on a meaningful agribusiness to keep him busy over the weekends and holidays.

"My friend advised me to take up beekeeping because I was not going to be a full-time farmer," he tells Seeds of Gold. The electrical engineer, thereafter, bought five Langstroth beehives at Sh5,500 each from his friend and started the enterprise on a forested part of his acre.

The plot hosts eucalyptus trees and in the vicinity are mango and orange trees and different species of acacia, guaranteeing the bees plenty of nectar.The apiary is further 200 metres away from River Tawa that cuts across the village, ensuring the bees get plenty of water.

"These beehives are easy to maintain and they yield cleaner honey compared to others because of their design, which ensures honey does not mix with the larvae," offers Mutuku.He has since increased the beehives to 60, and harvests honey for eight consecutive months in a year as it matures at different times.

From each hive he harvests four times a year."On average, I harvest from 40 hives at one time and get some 600 kilos of honey.

Each hive offers me 15kg and I sell a kilo at Sh800 mainly through Facebook to customers in Makueni, Machakos and Nairobi," he offers.Since he spends most of his time flying in and outside the country, he relies on his father to manage the apiary, with the old man enlisting workers to attend to the insects and harvest the produce.

COEXIST WITH THE BEESDemand for the produce has been on the rise, inspired by changing lifestyles and happenings like the recent misgivings on the quality of sugar sold in the market."My plan is to increase the number of beehives to 200 so that I can harvest more," he says, revealing that he has acquired three acres on the rolling slopes of Mbooni Hills and has already planted trees as required for the project.

University of Nairobi don Gideon Nyamasyo, who been studying beekeeping trends in the country, says the trade is changing steadily, as professionals like him venture into it, embrace modern beehives and commercialise their enterprises.University of Nairobi don, Gideon Nyamasyo, in his farm in Makueni where he also keeps bees.

According to him, an apiary should be sited at least 400 metres from the homestead and public amenities to avoid attacks. PHOTO | PIUS MAUNDU | NMGHe got interested in beekeeping after a rough experience in his childhood in which he lost a sister to the insects.

He decided to study the insects in his adulthood to understand how humans should coexist with them. "Bees are harmless unless they are provoked," he tells Seeds of Gold.

The zoology professor has 25 beehives, a mixture of modern and traditional ones.According to him, an apiary should be sited at least 400 metres from the homestead and public amenities to avoid attacks.

"Apiaries should also be close to a water source because bees require water for making their food and cooling the hives."Where water is not naturally available, farmers should provide it in containers near the hives.

And the insects should readily access pollen and nectar."Bees are hardy insects, the reason why they are able to survive in most parts of the country," says Prof Nyamasyo, who runs a thriving beekeeping enterprise at Tuvilani village in Makueni County.

He sells his honey to traders who visit his farm and buy the produce.He recommends that one should draw an elaborate business plan before venturing into the beekeeping for sustainability purposes.

While he lauds the move to adopt modern hives, Prof Nyamasyo discourages complete phasing out of traditional beehives noting they encourage the breeding of bees.SUPPORT HORTICULTURE VALUE CHAIN"Traditional beehives should be installed on trees, and if possible propolis smeared inside, to trap bees and build colonies and therefore keeping the modern beehives occupied.

"John Muma, a physiotherapist based in Nairobi, also keeps bees in his rural home in Mbotela village, Makueni.Muma owns 200 modern beehives, which he has installed in his father's expansive landHe harvests the honey and sells in his clinic in Karen, Nairobi, at Sh1,000 a kilo.

"We recommend honey to our patients because it has anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties, which help in digestion and fight diseases."The country had some two million beehives, most of them found in the eastern and Rift Valley regions, according to the 2009 census.

Currently, about 27,000 tonnes of honey are produced annually, most of it is consumed locally, according to Grace Asiko, the director of the National Beekeeping Institute, a government agency charged with promoting beekeeping through training of interested groups. The commodity comes mainly from Baringo, Kitui, Tharaka Nithi, West Pokot and Taita Taveta counties.

The small quantities of honey, which most farmers produce, do not place the commodity among significant income streams as compared to other agribusiness ventures. However, there is concurrence that bees play a very significant role in the country's economy in that the insects indirectly support the horticulture value chain.

Mutuku in his Makueni farm inspecting his hives. Several processors have come up in the county in a bid to boost beekeeping by buying farmers' produce.

PHOTO | PIUS MAUNDU | NMGDr Asiko, whose doctorate research focused on the role of bees in food production at the University of Nairobi, says she found out that cucumbers, coffee and strawberries that are pollinated by bees produce many high quality fruits and berries compared to those that are not pollinated by bees. "Crops which are pollinated by both honey bees and the stingless variety produce many high quality yields that fetch premium prices in the market," she tells Seeds of Gold.

VALUE ADDITION AND MARKETING OF HONEY"There are untapped opportunities, for instance, in delivering bees to coffee, fruit and vegetable farmers for pollination through catcher boxes. This is something that can only be done by professionals.

"To promote beekeeping, the scholar suggests that the government and other development agencies should put more emphasis on the trade "the way they do for other value chains such as dairy" and that beekeeping should be introduced in schools to eliminate the phobia for the insects. Several processors have come up in Makueni in bid to boost beekeeping by buying farmers' produce.

One of them is Kibwezi Honey Marketers Cooperative Society situated in Kibwezi Town. The sacco buys honey from local farmers at Sh200 a kilo, processes, packages and sells it at Sh 600 a kiloMakueni County Assembly recently passed a motion urging the county government to create a policy on bee keeping to promote, value addition and marketing of honey.

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 spread on bread.So critical is honey in addressing food insecurity that the government placed beekeeping at the centre of the Freedom from Hunger Walk, a programme to promote food sufficiency that was started immediately after independence.

The industry suffered after the program was abandoned. Honey is still used as a source of food as well as medicine and the propolis is used to make candles and cosmetics.

Dr Asiko notes that the future of the industry is bright, the reason professional are taking up the trade, but notes there need to be proper policies, proper technologies, and enterprising farmers.Siting an apiary for best resultsAn apiary should not be close to public amenities such as schools and homes to avoid attacksIt is recommended that beehives should be installed at least 400 metres from these facilities.

Worker bees die after they attack and this significantly depletes the colony. An apiary should be fenced off and labelled to minimise instances of attacks and accidents that result from intrusionWhereas bees are hardy insects that can thrive in various environments, the apiary should not be in a marshy zone.

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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Oct 19, 2018
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