Apiculture, a sub sector of the agricultural sector, is the maintenance and breeding of bees for their honey. It is commonly known as beekeeping. Some beekeepers, also known as apiarists, take part in beekeeping so that they can produce bees for sale to other beekeepers, while others do it to collect honey or beeswax on a large scale and sell it to others. In beekeeping, the bees that are kept are honeybees from the genus Apis, hence the name apiculture.
In Kenya, modern apiculture began in the late 1960s and has been developing rapidly ever since. According to Fortune of Africa, Kenya’s potential of apiculture development is estimated at over 100,000 tonnes of honey and 10,000 tonnes of beeswax per annum. 80% of land in Kenya is arid and semi-arid, and this provides a very good climate for apicultural activity due to the abundance of bee flora. Kenya’s demand for pure natural honey is on the rise, hence, making apiculture a very good investment opportunity. To help develop the Kenyan beekeeping industry, a group of stakeholders came together in 2003 to form the Kenya Honey Council, a private non-profit intermediary organization. The Kenya Honey Council’s main objective is to promote and facilitate growth and expansion of the Kenyan bee sector to promote economic growth and poverty reduction. It also promotes awareness and education in beekeeping and beekeeping products.
Beekeeping is done in various parts of the country especially in areas where agricultural cropping is nearly impossible. The most common species of bees that is reared in Kenya is the Apis Mellifera species. The Apis Mellifera species has different races that survive in various climatic conditions. For instance, in the dry northern parts of Kenya, Apis Mellifera Yementica, a race of the Apis Mellifera species, is reared because it can withstand and survive drought conditions. In the lowlands of the Kenyan coast, Apis Mellifera littorea is reared because it has the capacity to rear brood(younger bees) throughout the year because forage is available along the coast. The Apis Mellifera Monticola race, also known as the mountain bee, is reared in the highlands of Kenya, such as areas near Mt. Elgon and Mt. Meru. These areas are more exposed to mists, cloudy weather and less sunshine. The mountain bee is usually less productive and may reduce brood rearing when forage declines.
According to National Farmers Information Service, bees take care of themselves and beekeeping is a very rewarding source of income for a farmer. It requires very little land, which does not have to be fertile for beekeeping to thrive. Furthermore, honey has a very long shelf-life, low labour is required for beekeeping, and many products can be derived from beekeeping such as honey, beeswax, propolis, bee venom, royal jelly, bee colonies, bee brood, queen bees , package bees and the bees also help farmers by pollinating plants and crops, thus increasing yield. Since there are a variety of products derived from beekeeping that can be sold in local and international markets, most farmers in arid and semi-arid areas practice beekeeping because of the many opportunities it can offer. Beekeeping is a low-cost venture that has the potential to improve the livelihoods of people. For example, in beekeeping, all the equipment used is made and repaired locally and this contributes to the livelihoods of other local people apart from the beekeepers themselves(Ndegwa Atieno Gloria, 2014) (erepository.uonbi.ac.ke).
The good thing about apiculture is that it can be integrated into small farms in the rural areas to increase income and enhance livelihoods (Bradbear, 2009). In Kenya, apiculture is mostly carried out in rural areas, where the supply of employment opportunities is much lower than the demand for employment (IFAD). Kenya is one of the countries that is hardest hit by unemployment. Apiculture has helped to create employment in the country and help build sustainable livelihoods. In Migori County (a county in the western part of Kenya), the county government sourced for donors such as Care Kenya and World Vision, to help in carrying out various beekeeping activities in the county. The donors would help in giving the beehives to the unemployed people in Migori County and provide quality training for the people to be self-employed and earn a living from beekeeping. This was done with the objective of addressing the issue of unemployment, which is being experienced by a large number of young people in Migori County. This is according to a Migori County Development Plan report
Despite apiculture being a promising sub-sector in Kenya, it still faces some challenges. Most beekeepers fetch very low prices in the market because they sell raw honey, which in turn has a negative effect on their livelihoods. This restricts the beekeepers to small scale production since they lack necessary capital to expand their enterprises (Risper M. Berem, 2015(https://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=AwrJ7JT6rnZgRmQAtV1XNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzQEdnRpZANDMTYyMl8xBHNlYwNzcg–/RV=2/RE=1618419578/RO=10/RU=https%3a%2f%2fiiste.org%2fJournals%2findex.php%2fJNSR%2farticle%2fdownload%2f22591%2f23209/RK=2/RS=P5QmlO.mor3YmRmWNn4ZLNFhTe0-). Furthermore, lack of information on suitable internal and external markets and relevant processing technology for product diversification, lack of adequate research and intensive research on the existing bee keeping technologies, proper equipment, and product utilization, poor infrastructure, low production, inadequate personnel, poor training, and poor-quality products are also reasons as to why the beekeeping sector is still lagging behind (Richard,2015).
According to Zakenya, there is low prioritization of beekeeping in relation to other enterprises in the wider agricultural sector. The beekeeping sector receives less funds from the government and this leads to slow growth due lack of adequate funds. Some farmers also lack capital to buy beehives and these financial constraints prevent more farmers from practicing apiculture. Studies by Gebreyohanness (2010) state that financial assets that significantly influence the adoption of beekeeping are farmers’ income, savings and access to credit which eases the production and marketing processes by facilitating the purchase of tools, equipment, packaging materials and transport to the market. Lack of start-up capital is therefore a very big challenge for prospective beekeepers.
Despite the challenges faced by beekeepers, The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, in Kenya, has helped to enhance food security and boost the economic status of bee farmers in Kenya by working on the Bee Industry regulations. In 2016, the ministry’s representative, David Palla stated that the regulations would control the cross-border trade of honey and protect bees against sanitary hazards. He also added on to say that the regulations would help in providing funds which will help in the research on bee production, so as to improve on the quality of honey produced and meet the international standards of quality honey. According to The Standard Media, the beekeeping industry has been improving since the regulations were revised and Kenya is currently on a strategy to secure more market for honey products, especially those that are exported to the United Kingdom.
Melyn Atieno. Strathmore University of Mathematical Sciences Writer at Cue Africa Email: firstname.lastname@example.org LinkedIn: Melyn Were