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Machakos farmer embraces beekeeping as climate-resilient farming

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A farmer in the arid Matungulu area of Eastern Kenya is shielding himself from dry spells by embracing climate-resilient farming like beekeeping and has become a model to others as thousands of customers flock to his farm for quality honey. Gabriel Mbatha Nzomo locally known as Alex is a dedicated dry-land farmer. From his five-acre piece of land in Kyakatulu village, the farmer has been able to pay school fees for his children to the university level.

Apart from keeping bees, which is one of his prime ‘farming businesses, the farmer keeps hundreds of indigenous chickens, goats, and whenever it rains, he rows drought-resistant legumes, oranges, and mangoes among other crops.

At ten O’clock in the morning on this particular day, two motorists drive right into the compound in search of honey. “Whenever am not around, my wife is always indoors waiting for clients like the ones who have just arrived. The fastest-moving product is honey. But at times I receive buyers of indigenous chicken,” said the farmer.

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Alex has 22 Langstroth Beehives on his farm, some of them confined in a grass thatched apiary, while others are hanging on trees and shrubs on the farm. Langstroth Beehives are considered to be the most convenient especially if one has to practice beekeeping as a business. They have rectangular frames made of wire mesh. The main advantage is that the bees build honeycombs into the wire-meshed frames, making it easy for the farmer to move the combs without trouble.

“Unlike other beehives, it is easy to pull out one frame after the other from the Langstroth beehive to check whether there is honey without breaking the combs,” said the farmer. This means that the farmer has the opportunity to harvest only the honeycombs that are full of honey.

Following the frame design in a Langstroth beehive, bees do not attach wax honeycomb between the frames or to the walls of the hive. Hence, the farmer does not temper the wax, one of the most essential components needed for bees to make honey.

Under normal circumstances, bees consume seven kilograms of nectar in order to make a kilo of wax. Bees are adapted for feeding on nectar and pollen, the farmer primarily as an energy source and the latter primarily for protein nutrients. Alex harvests between 15 to 18 kilograms of honey from each beehive twice a year.

“I have a special machine for extracting honey without getting impurities into the final product, and without damaging the honeycombs, and this is what customers need pure honey,” he said. Alex began honey farming in the year 2000 with three Top-bar beehives. But three years later, he was linked to a Belgian Non-Governmental Organization, from which he was fully trained on beekeeping as a business, prompting him to buy the Langstroth beehives.

To supplement the beekeeping business, Alex engages in indigenous poultry farming. This is a business that most villagers here have tried but failed due to various reasons. “The biggest impediment has always been diseases, particularly the Newcastle disease,” he said.

“Through a program is known as Kenya Arid and Semi-Arid Land KASAL project, I have been taught how to vaccinate the chicken against the Newcastle disease,” said the farmer.  According to Dr Ann Wachira, a poultry expert at KARI, and a KASAL Principal Investigator for the Indigenous chicken program, the Newcastle disease has no cure. The only way to combat the disease is to stop the chicken from getting it and the best way is through vaccinating the birds, she said.

As a result, the KASAL group trained 64 trainers of trainees in Eastern Kenya who as well act as community-based extension officers to ensure that all chickens are vaccinated at a cost of five shillings per dose administered. Alex is one of the lucky trainers or trainees.

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“It is like another job. I receive orders on a daily basis, but I venture out in the field to vaccinate chickens in villages twice every week”, said the farmer. Now that the biggest problem for poultry farming in his area has been controlled, Alex has been able to improve the stock of birds on his farm. I just sold 120 birds a few days ago. At the moment, am remaining with 197 birds he said.

However, the farmer as well involves himself in crop farming, especially during rainy seasons. “Rains are elusive in this area. As a result, we can only plant whenever it rains sometimes once after three years, he said

Alex has become a role model to many people in his village and beyond, who visit his farm to learn about techniques one can use to remain productive despite the scorching drought.

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