Bee keeping is an important economic activity in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) in Kenya. ASALs contribute 80% of honey production. Non-ASAL areas also practice bee keeping.
There is a greater potential to produce honey and other hive products in the ASALs which make up about 80% of Kenya’s land area.
ASALs have plentiful flora that is important for bee feeding. Only about 20% of annual honey production potential (25,000 metric tons) is achieved in Kenya, leaving the full potential of 100,000 metric tons unrealized. Kenya is the third important producer of honey in Africa after Ethiopia and Tanzania. The apiculture policy has broadly promoted a modern bee keeping industry to provide additional income for rural households. Modern bee keeping is an important enterprise in the livestock sub-sector. The traditional log hives contribute 80% of the honey produced while modern hives such as the Kenya Top Bar (KTB), Langstroth hives and mixed modern-traditional hives produce the rest.
About 91,000 persons are directly employed in beekeeping. This translates to a total number of about 547,440 people supported directly by the sub-sector. These are mainly older, mainly men, since youth see bee keeping as an occupation for the old. With capacity building for players, youth are more likely to benefit from the industry at value chain stages involving honey processing, packaging, transportation, stocking, marketing and providing other services such as hive crafting.
Bee keeping or honey production has many benefits. It is a source of income from many products (bees wax, propolis, pollen, bee colonies, royal jelly, pollen, bee venom, bee brood and package bees, etc). It plays a big role in biodiversity and crop yield improvement from pollination of plants, trees, fruits and crops, not competing for land and other resources including labour, encouraging environmental conservation thus positively impacting climate change, and requiring relatively low capital investment. By enhancing beekeeping, household incomes and surplus money for buying food from the market are increased. The income can be used to close the gap in household food demand and variety. Food security can thus be improved. Secondly, bees help in crop yields from pollination of crops. With improved pollination of plants, diverse pollens are utilized in crop breeding. Genetic diversity leading to biodiversity, crop resistance to diseases, crop vigour and adaptation to climate change can then be achieved. Productivity is then enhanced.
Despite the potential of honey production and benefits of apicultural activity, very little income accrues from the activity. Most of the income is based on domestic sales with only 2% of the production exported overseas. Problems in beekeeping relate to: low volume of honey production which is insufficient for niche markets; poorly developed domestic and international marketing system due to problems of quality production and inadequate marketing organizations; low colonies and bee occupation of colonies due to environmental/climate change; inadequate training of extension staff and farmers and thus lack of farmers’ skills in managing bees and hive products; lack of appropriate research on bee keeping technologies, equipment, honey bee and product utilization; lack of pesticide residue monitoring and management in honey; and lack of access to and/or adoption of appropriate bee equipment.
In addition to the above problems, at least one of the major bee production regions contributing 7.5% of honey production nationally at Marimanti in Tharaka Nithi County is known to have declined bee colony populations. This is because the area was sprayed with pesticide by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2009 due to a massive caterpillar invasion. The bee colonies were destroyed, crops failed, and honey production has not returned to its previous level. The same problem exists in other bee keeping areas at least to an extent since the European Union detected pesticides in Kenyan honey exports and banned exports from 2007 and only lifted the ban in 2015. Declining honey bee population is a global phenomenon commonly referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This has occurred disproportionately in the USA and Europe. The clear signs of this situation in Kenya inferred above and a reduction in bee colony numbers established by the Department of Livestock Production means that strong bee conservation measures must be taken to prevent colony losses experienced in the developed world.
Addressing apiculture problems to achieve honey production potential and the production of other hive products would require the following interventions: multiplication and genetic resource conservation of the honey bees, organizing enhanced community marketing associations, enhancing honey and other hive product sustainability, conducting awareness campaigns among stakeholders by the National and County Governments regarding bee keeping opportunities, and making bee keeping an important part of curriculum in primary and secondary education.
Although the Livestock State Department has embarked on a programme for increasing bee colony populations in regional bee colony multiplication centers around the country such as Kimose Sheep and Goat Station in Baringo County, Marimanti Sheep and Goat Station in Tharaka Nithi County, Matuga Sheep and Goat Station in Kwale, Macalder Sheep and Goat Station in Migori and at the National Bee Bulking site in Naivasha, more colony multiplication centers should be established at county levels where bee keeping has potential and especially in the ASAL counties which have high and medium potential in bee keeping. This action should bring services closer to farmers and reduce production costs. The centers should collect many wild bee colonies from diverse family lines, stock, and multiply them. The multiplied colonies should then be made available for sale to beekeeping farmers. Hive stocking should also be resolved through bee colony availability to farmers.
The regional and county bee colony multiplication and bulking sites established would have several farmer group apiary sites for demonstrating beeping, apiary skills and technologies. A reasonable number of hives such as 20 hives should be issued to each local group at these centers. At county centers where colony multiplication should be initiated, intensive training on bee keeping should be conducted for a number of days for each farmers’ group during the programme. The training should be practical and theoretical, covering some of the following topics: economics of bee keeping, hive inspection, honey bee castes, bee keeping equipment, establishment and management, apiary siting, bee plants, honey bee behavior, colony management, honey harvesting, hive products processing, products marketing, product utilization, apitherapy, pollination by bees, bee health, effect of pesticides and other human activities on bees, and record keeping. Each apiary group comprising of adults, youth and women should be issued with 20 hives, 2 pairs of protective clothing for honey harvesting, 2 smokers, 2 bee brush and 2 hive tools. The equipment should be sourced from established manufacturers to ensure quality and safety during their use. Training of local artisans in the production of improved hive equipment should be initiated to enable them supply future apiary technologies to new groups. The regional and county colony multiplication centers should develop into regional and county centers for apicultural skills, technology innovation, technology packaging and dissemination. The centers can also serve as decentralized units for the National Beekeeping Institute to train farmers and technical officers in bee keeping skills and technologies. The centers should also supply bee plant seedlings to beekeepers and support advocacy for afforestation.
For enhanced bee keeping to take root, an intensive farmer sensitization and membership recruitment drive should be undertaken for grassroot beekeepers’ marketing groups. This should be conducted by the National and County Governments. The recruitment drive should target between 200 and 600 farmers from each of the regional colony multiplication and bee bulking centers including the new centers at counties where beekeeping is important. The key messages to be given to farmers attending these sensitization meetings should emphasize; “strength in collectivity, bee keeping as an income generating enterprise, bee keeping as an enterprise that can reduce food insecurity from household income generated from beekeeping, beekeeping as a scalable enterprise suitable for all gender and age groups, beekeeping as a business that can provide employment to the youth, and beekeeping as a climate smart agricultural intervention strategy among other local relevant messages. During these sensitization sessions, exhibitions and field days demonstrating beekeeping technologies, innovation and products could be held to create awareness about beekeeping and encourage more adoption of apiculture. The youth in the groups should be reminded of their contribution to beekeeping and roles they can play in environmental conservation.
To contribute to a sustainable honey production enterprise, both horizontal and vertical linkages with all stakeholders in the apiculture industry should be initiated. This will guarantee availability of important services such as supply of equipment, inputs, and financial and market information, research, extension and training, among other services. Cooperation with international market hubs for honey and hive products such as the European Union in establishing honey quality standards and traceability should ensure that beekeepers are knowledgeable and skilled in producing and value-adding quality and hygienic honey and hive products. The market for beeswax and other products could be enhanced and farmer incomes boosted. Sustainability will also be increased from establishment of monitoring and evaluation for the bee colony multiplication and bulking programme. The lessons and experiences learned from implementation of this programme can be documented and made as inputs for overall programme improvement. Monthly and quarterly reports could be helpful in steering the programme to its maturity. Apiculture Policy should be reviewed during implementation of the programme to ensure the policy, institutional framework and regulations are compatible, the mandates are clear, collaboration is enhanced, and no competition exists among institutions in the sub-sector. Primary and secondary school curricula emphasizing beekeeping should be reviewed to reflect the knowledge and skills needed for beekeeping.
A national campaign for sensitizing farmers and other stakeholders on invigorating the beekeeping sub-sector and honey production should be initiated and intensified especially in ASAL areas were honey production potential is high. Clear messages about the benefits of practicing beekeeping especially in ASALs such as better livelihoods, role of beekeeping in mitigating climate and environmental change and increased opportunities for youth employment through value addition, among other benefits, should be disseminated. The National and County Governments should also clearly identify the interventions for implementation to invigorate the sub-sector through colony multiplication and bee bulking, community-based training and other interventions on better marketing, and making apiary innovations accessible to beekeepers. What is expected of the different stakeholders, where to access training, equipment and markets among other services should be made known to farmers and stakeholders during the sensitizations.
The teaching of beekeeping can enhance interests and motivation of students to learn in agriculture, science and in beekeeping. The curricula should enable students at primary and secondary schools to learn about the principles of beekeeping, the importance of beekeeping to households, and the opportunities for earning a living from the enterprise. Additionally, the curricula should ensure that the learning is undertaken practically so that the knowledge and skills acquired can be applied in real life situations. Further, beekeeping being a science, consists of scientific principles which can enhance student learning in science and agriculture in general. Including beekeeping in education curriculum up to secondary school level can therefore stimulate the principles of science, such as cause-effect relationships, genes and heridity and science learning in general.
Implementation of the proposed programme for increasing the potential and productivity of the beekeeping sub-sector could result in increased bee colony populations, increased production of honey and other economically beneficial hive products, strong grassroot beekeepers and marketing associations that can empower the umbrella organization – Kenya Beekeepers Association, well-organized bee product markets, increased crop production due to enhanced pollination, and healthy bee colonies because of farmer practices in environmental conservation. These outcomes are besides many more benefits such as access to niche markets for organic honey due to increased production volume, increased food security due to increased income earnings by bee farmers, health benefits from consuming hive products especially propolis, value addition and biodiversity, among others.
Author: Dr Mathew Muma, Productive Sector Department
Photo: Kenya Broadcasting Corporation