A young farmer in Eldoret inherited a hive of stingless bees from his grandfather, who kept them as a hobby, and is using them to create a new interest in their expensive honey.
Keith Wichenje, a Moi University graduate with a degree in Business Management, had his first encounter with bees when his grandfather gave him hives that contained the bees.
The bees, which don't sting and are relatively shorter than the honeybee and are known for their economical as well as medicinal value.
With Kenya having 18 species of stingless bees, Wichenje keeps five which have given him larger profit margins compared with honey bees with a litre of the stingless bees' honey going for Sh1,000 compared to that of honey bees which costs Sh600.
Wichenje also gets a lot of requests from greenhouse farmers who borrow the hives to pollinate their crops. The bees are particularly good in pollinating strawberries, tomatoes and watermelons. They also have a superior trait in disease control and adapt to various climatic conditions easily.
“The stingless bees are particularly a favourite among the greenhouse farmers because they are small, at two to eight millimeters, which means they are able to penetrate nectar even on small plants which the honey bees cannot. Nectar from these herbs and plants is known to be the best in honey production,” said Wichenje.
From the wooden beehives that he inherited from his grandfather he has upgraded to the more modern Langstroth beehives,which accommodate more bees.
When he wants to harvest the honey, he relocates the hives from the trees where they are usually hanged and places them in a dark room to keep off flies that might target the honey pot. He then uses a big syringe to press the honey pots and draw the honey. The honey has a tangy taste when compared to that made by traditional honey bees, which makes it the preferred for medicinal use.
“But even with all these amazing traits, the stingless bees are very sensitive to pollution and chemicals and that is where the greenhouse farmers have been getting it wrong. Some who insist on spraying their greenhouses have gone ahead to kill the bees or have seen them fly away from the farms, for good,” he added.
Out of the more than 600 species of stingless bees found globally, 22 species are found in Africa with their favourite habitations being tropical and sub tropical areas, which makes Kenya an ideal home for them according to the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).
The institution further says that fruits pollinated by the stingless bees give rise to high yielding fruits compared to those pollinated by other bee varieties or self pollinated, fetching high market prices.