Smallholder farmers benefit from improved system of beekeeping technology

Cornela Orwa, in charge of bee keeping in Kitui and CEFA employee
explains how the bee hives and managed.Picture:Fred Deya
Cornela Orwa, in charge of bee keeping in Kitui and CEFA employee explains how the bee hives and managed.Picture:Fred Deya

4“Just like other young men from a humble background, I am destined to live above the poverty line,” says Peter Mutua, a resident of Itiko Village, Mutitu Location, Kitui County.

He has resorted to improve his livelihood by keeping bees for commercial purposes, a business that is lucrative in the semi-arid region.

Mutua has been a beekeeper since 2012. After completing high school education, he could only practice traditional methods of beekeeping until he was introduced to modern methods by a team of experts from CEFA, a Kenyan-based Italian non-governmental organisation specialising in integrated rural development and urban poverty alleviation in November last year.

“I was born in this dry area and found my parents keeping bees traditionally as they practiced small scale farming,” explains Mutua. He notes: “Since the area experiences perennial drought with poor rainfall patterns, my parents resorted to supplement beekeeping with farming.”

Mutua has been treading the path of poverty since childhood but managed through hard work to achieve little that sustains his life and that of his mother and siblings.

After completing high school in 2012, Mutua started small scale farming since he could not further his studies due to lack of school fees. Since then he has been growing green grams, maize and beans. He expects to harvest 30 kilograms of green grams from his half acre farm. He says due to the prolonged drought, the yield from the farm could be much less.

Currently 25-year-old Mutua owns two modern bee-hives, one with an active colony and the other one is yet to be occupied by the bees.

Mutua joined Itiko Beekeepers Self-Help Group where he acquired the hives before starting the business.

Itiko Beekeepers Self-Help Group consists of local smallholder farmers with a common agenda if improving their farming methods from traditional to modern approaches that could increase their produce.

Mutua is the assistant secretary in the 48-member group. “My joining the group has had a great impact on my beekeeping business because I am expecting to harvest a higher quantity and better quality of honey now than ever before,” he says. “Through this group I’m also optimistic of scaling greater heights in terms of beekeeping.”

Before joining the group, Mutua he had to meet certain criteria. He had to formally register to become a member after paying a non-refundable registration fee of KSh200.

The 48 active members conduct different activities within the group including table banking and merry-go-round. These activities help group members to stabilize individual farming efforts.

Itiko Beekeepers’ Self-Help Group was formed in 2016 in the wake of CEFA initiating projects in Kitui County. The non-governmental organisation has got a range of projects in Kitui County majorly targeting marginalized communities and seriously drought hit areas.

Retono Wangei, another farmer keeping bees in Kasungu Village, Kitui County says she started after being introduced by a team of beekeeping experts from CEFA.

A trained primary school teacher, Wangei resorted to join one of the area’s beekeeping groups — Kasungu Beekeepers — with the aim of supplementing her income.

“When I was approached, it did not take me long to respond in joining the group having been lured by the modern beekeeping techniques,” says Wangei, a teacher at Kazunguni Primary School.

Wangei started beekeeping in 2016 after undergoing a series of trainings on beekeeping and management. It was only after the training that members of the group were given bee hives.

The mother of four owns five active bee hives with colony. When asked how she balances beekeeping and her teaching profession, Wangei says beekeeping is less involving because it does not take a lot of time in management.

Wangei is planning to harvest about 10 kilograms of honey from each hive compared to the five kilogrammes she used to harvest from traditional hives. She sells the honey within the local market and also takes some to Nairobi, adding that the direct market is recommendable.

While examining the hierarchy of beekeeping in Kitui County, Cornela Orwa who is working with CEFA and is in-charge of beekeeping in Kitui County, says there are high chances of beekeeping being diverted for commercial purposes if the newly introduced method is well adapted.

“There is a lot of money in Kitui County if modern   beekeeping technology can be fully adapted by the farmers,” says Orwa. She notes: “Most farmers are still going the traditional way which earns them less income.”

CEFA has been at the forefront of holding sensitisation meetings on beekeeping to different farmers who are asked to form groups, before they can get assistance.

Since April 2016, over 70 farmers have been reached with majority adapting the new method of beekeeping, owning Lungs Troth Bee Hives.

Orwa says they target to reach 200 farmers by December 2017 when the CEFA projects in the region will be phasing off.

In an initiative that involves cost sharing, each farmer is expected to pay part of the bee hive cost before being given two hives by CEFA, then undergo all managerial trainings.

The Lungs Troth Hives were recommended for quantity and quality honey because of their hygienic conditions and easy honey processing. This is different from the destructive method of combing.

Bee hive management

For fast colony and good returns, bee hives are strategically hanged under a shade far from homestead with water containers nearby to prevent the bees wandering off in search of water.

The hives should be located where there are a lot of flowing trees with nectars. This also prevents them from going far in search of nectars.

CEFA gives farmers keeping bees sunflower seedlings to plant near the hives and give the bees easy access to flowers.

Most of beekeepers from the region have for a long time lacked proper honey processing method, normally going for the traditional style which leads to production of low quality honey.

A honey processing plant was recently installed in Zombe Township through support from CEFA.

The organization has promised to introduce honey processing facilities around Kitui County if bee keeping  is to be advanced.

CEFA is a not for profit Italian organization based in Kenya, whose mandate is to improve the livelihood of marginalized communities in Kenya and beyond. Their projects include building of sand dams, introducing new methods of farming and improved crop seeds that are disease resilient and drought tolerant. They also conduct training on modern farming systems through trained local employees.

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