Two university students have come up with an app dubbed Ibees that helps farmers detect problems within the hives in real-time.
Jackline Tum and Clinton Odour who are Electrical and Electronic Engineering students at Dedan Kimathi Univesity of Technology came up with the innovation in February 2021. They say they were driven by the need to take care of bees given their importance in food production.
“Every third bite of food we take depends on bees’ pollination, yet we lose an unprecedented 30percent of our bee colonies every year. In countries across Africa, honey bees could help protect wildlife, grow food crops, and earn a living,” says Ms Tum.
“However, sustaining apiaries based on traditional work practices in the face of parasite infection, rodent invasion, and hive heists has become a hindrance to apiary profitability.”
With the advances made in technology, she says, it is now possible for farmers to monitor beehives real-time at the palm of their hands.
“This way, the farmers will have the chance to act before it is too late,” Tum explains.
So how does their device work?
The device is placed inside the beehive for both the Kenya Top Bar hive and Langstroth.
“Once fitted in a beehive, the device automatically monitors the internal conditions of the hive such as temperature and humidity, knocks to detect intrusion and even the weight of the beehive to enable the beekeeper to know when honey is ready for harvesting,” says Ms Tum.
“Once an anomaly is detected, the farmer receives a text SMS in real-time regardless of the type of phone being used.”
The duo say they are working on a feature that will enable farmers to receive alerts via push notifications.
The device, which costs Sh1,999 per unit, is suitable for both domestic and commercial farmers.
The techies spent Sh200,000 to develop the app, the cash they had won in the Producers Direct, youth na Agribiz competition that they used to kick start the business.
Currently, the platform which has a team of three engineers is targeting the over 90,000 domestic and commercial beekeepers who own over 2 million beehives in the country.
“We also target beekeepers outside the country,” Mr Odour says.
The platform seeks to do a major rollout in March this year.
Though the techies see a bright future for their innovation, the platform hasn’t been spared some major challenges. For instance, the global chip shortage has led to skyrocketing prices in some of the components they rely on.
Covid-19 also had a negative effect on their startups as they experienced huge delays associated with the complex global supply chains and importation of some of the components they use in the devices.
“At Ibees we aim at empowering farmers not only in Kenya but globally to maximise their apiary profits while protecting our tiny heroes who are on the verge of extinction. The massive amounts of data collected from the network of the connected intelligent beehives could also be used by researchers, conservationists, and governments for analytics to find insights on the viable solutions to the rapid bee colony decline."
The importance of bees in the continent cannot be underrated as the venture is a major economic activity and a key source of livelihood. For every bite of food we take, experts say, bees are the responsible pollinators.
According to USAID, Kenya produces 7,300 tonnes of honey that amounts to Sh3.6 billion annually.
This only accounts for 20percent of Kenya’s honey production that has been tapped from a potential of 30,000 tonnes. This means that the country loses an estimated Sh19.3 billion annually from untapped beekeeping.
In an effort to augment beekeeping, the government recently allowed citizens to practice beekeeping on public land, such as forests to increase their livelihood.
But challenges such as having thieves who harvest the honey at night and attacks from rodents and honey badger still persist, bringing hindrances on apiary growth.
This prompts regular hive inspection which is labour intensive and dangerous to women. The regular inspection further disturbs the bees, a factor that at times forces them to abandon the hives.