Greenhouse farmers in the country are set to triple yields and earn from honey with the introduction of bio bees expected to foster natural pollination process as opposed to the current manual vibration process.
The initiative which is an innovation of a two farmers Ng’etich Taita, Bryan Bett and Professor Maurice Vincent Omollo a scientist from Masinde Muliro comes at a time when many greenhouse farmers are grappling with emerging challenges in their new found form of smart farming. According to Ng’etich who has been farming for the last 10 years, there are always hiccups in any form of farming whether traditional or new age farming but the key lies with the level of innovativeness of the farmer.
The passionate farmer faced huge challenges while doing open field tomato farming in Oloitoktok. “Outdoor farming exposed my investments to dangers that were beyond my control like flooding, extreme drought among others. These sometimes resulted in enormous losses and motivated my venture into greenhouse farming which I hoped to find solace in,” noted Ng’etich. However, after a year in the new technology, he came face to face with new form of setbacks which impacted negatively on his ultimate output.
One of the main setbacks of greenhouse farming that curtailed Ng’etich’s success was the absence of pollinating agents in the structures which resulted in poor quality fruits and low fruiting capacity. This phenomenon is what pushed Ng’etich to seek a formidable solution hence the birth of ‘Bio Bees’ initiative. “I believe that when one is determined to make it big in agribusiness, he/she will always find a solution for every hurdle that springs in their quest for success.”
The bio bee project relies on worker bees to conduct pollination in the greenhouse. The stingless worker bees are currently being nurtured and raised by the project lead scientist Professor Omollo. “We are currently conducting colony multiplication a process that takes a while. The first colonies were captured from Kakamega forest and from them; we are nurturing the stingless bees and multiplying their colonies in order to have several colonies from which we shall introduce into the greenhouses. Depending on the strength of the colony and nurturing process, one colony can be multiplied into two or even three,” explained Professor omollo.
The bio bees are introduced into the greenhouse when the crops are about to start flowering preferably after two months of planting. The bees are housed in a smaller bee hives in the greenhouse consisting of about 2000 stingless worker bees. From the onset of crop flowering, the bees automatically will help in the natural pollination process while going about their normal life. Although the bee hive is located inside the greenhouse, the bees not only forage on the flowering crops in the structure but naturally forage also on other plants around the area where the greenhouse is located in order to form their high quality honey because honey is formed from a combination of plants.
Naturally pollinated crops in the greenhouse have high yields and also result in high quality fruits that are bigger in size. “We already conducted an experiment with green pepper and the result was huge fruits with tripled yields as compared to the greenhouse without the bio bees,” noted Prof. Omollo.
According to him, when plants start flowering, pollen from the anthers of a flower are transferred to the stigma of the same flower or of another flower in order for pollination to take place. “What the bees do is that when they rest from flower to another in search of nectar and pollen, they transfer pollen to the exact female organ of the plant (stigma) ensuring perfect pollination. In the absence of the bees, the plants are left on their and whether a farmer conducts the vibration process (shaking) the pollination process cannot be precise hence the poor fruiting and low yields.”
Crops that are insect pollinated according to Prof. Omollo, produce more seeds that also have high germination rate hence the need for introduction of the bio bees to greenhouse farmers.
The new discovery from the trio is deemed to change the fortunes of greenhouse farmers many of whom have yet to realize the hyped fortunes that are associated with these new age farming. Taita noted that after having seen their successful trials with green pepper, they are set to commercialize the project in three months time and depending on the size of the colony a farmer needs, the price may vary with the least being around Sh2000 for a colony with about one thousand bees.
The project is also expected to open up new opportunities to greenhouse farmers with some revenues expected from the honey harvesting. “Our solution to offer better pollination rate in the greenhouse has given rise to another avenue for revenue generation for the farmers. The good yield from the crops in the greenhouse is not the only benefit to a farmer because there will be honey to reap from too,” explained Taita.
However, the honey rip off will depend on a farmer’s hive and initial colony size. Another source of cash to the farmer in this model is also venturing into colony multiplication. “Farmers that are trained well on bee keeping will reap big from the project because stingless bee colony multiplication is also another viable revenue generation model with the glaring demand for the stingless bee colonies from other farmers because of their human friendly character,” explained Taita.