A group of herders in Narok County have ditched pastoralism for honey production and the result is a sweet story of a venture that is increasingly turning into a goldmine.
The enterprise, which is the brainchild of Benjamin Lemoi, brings together the group of cattle keepers under the Maasai Beekeepers Initiative.
The project, launched in 2015, began with only nine members in a bid to “test the waters”. Three years down the line the group has grown tremendously and now has 284 beekeepers, out of whom 61 are women.
And the sweeter news is that the venture is now fetching a cool Sh9 million from sale of honey and its by-products annually.
Mr Lemoi, a resident of Loita, in Narok South Sub-county, says he has for the last three years been recruiting and training the farmers for the commercial venture after completing his university studies in 2015.
He teaches new members on the mechanics of beekeeping and once they are part of the project, he keeps mentoring them to ensure that they realise their full potential.
The group has set up 832 beehives in Loita forest, Esupetai, Maji Moto, Nyakweri and parts of Mau forest.
“On average, we harvest at the same time and get about 200 to 300 tonnes of honey. Each bee hive offers 15kg and we buy at Sh400 from members and sell a kilo at Sh800 mainly through Facebook to customers in Makueni, Machakos, Mombasa and Nairobi,” he says.
The Environmental Biology graduate, notes that they started by buying 10 Langstroth beehives at Sh15,000 each.
Before starting the business, he visited beekeepers in Baringo and Makueni in search of best practices about the venture.
The beauty of the venture, he says, is that it can be done alongside other agricultural activities as it doesn’t need a lot of work.
“It is also an eco-friendly way of running a business. To reap the fruits of this venture, people have to conserve the environment,” he says.
Most of the women members of the group are widows.
“The women came together for purposes of increasing their household income through sale of honey and other bee products, in collaboration with the Maasai Beekeeping Initiative,” says Mr Lemoi, who sees his business as part of the efforts to transform the livelihoods of the Maasai community popularly known for cattle keeping.
The initiative has been gradually expanding across Narok County, with apiaries being set up in Naimina Enkiyio community forest in Loita division where there are 500 hives, 50 at Esupetai, and 60 each at Naroosura and Majimoto.
Daniel Kiwape from Lemek Maasai Mara says he has built a modern house after selling honey to the Maasai Beekeeping Initiative
Another farmer from the area, Simon Moijoi says he has been able to educate his brother in high school and her sister Timanoi Moijoi who is in ateachers’ college thanks to Mr Lemoi’s enterprise.
“I had to sell three cows to increase the number of my beehives from 10 to 30, and I want to maximise the benefits. Eventually, I will do away with cows just to deal with honey production,” says Mr Moijoi.
Mr Lemoi says the honey is harvested for eight consecutive months in a year.
The bulk of the honey is bought by a Mombasa-based company, Splendid Green which exports to Saudi Arabia.
“The company buys it from us and exports it to Saudi Arabia,” says Mr Lemoi.
He adds that the demand for the produce has been on the rise, inspired by changing lifestyles with more people demanding healthier food.
More people now are shifting to using honey instead of sugar, that is blamed for an assortment of diseases.
Mr Lemoi sees huge untapped opportunities in beekeeping. One area that’s yet to be explored is in trapping and delivering bees to farmers, he reveals, adding that a colony of bees numbering 40,000 is sold at Sh3,000.
For improved production, the firm is applying a smart technology in harvesting the honey.
“We are able to save close to 30 per cent of honey lost through traditional methods of honey extraction using a quick manual centrifugal machine, which extracts honey in a clean and targeted way,” he says.
Apart from honey, bees also generate other products such as wax, propolis and royal jelly.
Mr Lemoi is encouraging more farmers to join the project, saying the venture is not difficult to establish, yet it is “a simple and reliable way to earn a decent living,” while helping to conserve the forest.
“It requires less inputs in terms of land, capital and Labour,” he says.