There is a global shortage of honey and although Kenya has the potential to at least bridge part of it, little effort has been made in this direction.
The global honey market is currently worth Sh1.2 trillion ($12 billion), with the demand greatly exceeding supply.
Kenya produces approximately 7300 tonnes of honey every year, 700t less than what neighbouring Tanzania cultivates, according to USAID. This is against an estimated potential of 100,000t for each of the two East African countries.
Ethiopia produces approximately 45,300t of honey annually, USAID confirms, making it the region’s powerhouse in the product’s export market.
Most of the honey produced in Africa makes its way to the United Arab Emirates, the world’s richest honey market, where it fetches KSh1500-KSh2000 ($15-$20) per kilogram. The prices could reach KSh5000($50) per kilogram if the honey gets the Fairtrade and organic certifications.
In Kenya, the same kilogram would only fetch between between KSh500-KSh800 ($5-$8).
But even before Kenyan farmers can think of the export market, they have a local demand to meet, which is at the moment sustained by imports.
Data from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database shows that Kenya imports honey worth Sh23m ($228,604) from Tanzania, Egypt and Australia.
Perhaps the shortage stems from the fact that the production of honey is a slow process that is impossible to technologically replicate. Honey-making, around the world, happens in a similar way-with bees converting nectar from flowers into a product that is now more expensive than petrol.
A litre of petrol, at Sh100 ($1), is five times less expensive than a similar amount of honey.
Yet Kenyan farmers who would like to venture into apiculture need not start from a point of uncertainty. This is because Honeycare Africa, a Kenyan social business provides a ready market for honey at impressive prices, after guiding the farmer on the set up process.
The organisation provides a ready market for honey farmers in any part of the country
“We have created a supply chain which links farmers from East Africa with honey buyers from international markets ,” said Madison Ayer, Honey Care Africa’s CEO.
Farmers enter into an agreement with Honeycare for the supply of the product, which the organisation then disburses to both local and international markets.
To start off, a farmer, at a minimum, needs a beehive. A Langstroth hive, which yields an average of 35Kg of honey, at the government-owned National Beekeeping Station costs KSh4000 ($40) while a Kenya Top-bar Hive, which produces about 18kg per harvest costs Sh3000 ($30).
The Langstroth beehive requires just 1m2 of land and four hours of labour per month. With good management, farmers can get a minimum of KSh4500 ($45) per year from each beehive.
On average, harvests happen once a year, but in places with plenty of forage, bee-keepers can draw honey from their hives once every four months. The forage types that African bees prefer include banana, eucalyptus, coffee, orange and acacia.
Langstroth hives take the shape of stacked boxes of various depths with frames inside, where the bees make their combs. They sit on the ground and are ideal for commercial cultivation of honey. The swinging Kenya Top-bar Hive, on the other hand, is shallow, has sloping sides, and comes with removable bars, on which the bees build the combs.
The beauty of bee keeping is that there is no wastage of product. Aside from the honey, which has a number of traditional uses, including as cough medicine, the wax can be shaped into candles or purified to make petroleum jelly.
The drained combs make briquettes, which provide a great fire for cooking.
Farmers looking for starter kits can contact the National Bee Keeping Institute, off Ngong Road, Nairobi.
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Honeycare Africa, ASK Showgrounds, Jamhuri Park, Muringa Avenue, Nairobi.
Telephone: +254 0735 574448