Kenyan beekeeping farmers in Nakuru sold 448,854 kilos of honey and 15,000 kilos of honey wax last year, earning Sh155 million which is about US $1.5 million.

At a recent Nakuru County Apiculture stakeholders’ workshop, Principal Secretary Kimtai stated that if the apiarists knew how to extract bee venom and propolis their earnings would have been higher because these items are in high demand.

He described propolis as a resin-like material used by bees to build and repair their hives and said it has been used by humans to heal wounds and fight infections for thousands of years, whereas bee venom is a colorless liquid excreted by bees through stings that has shown itself to have antibacterial, antiviral and anticancer effects in some studies.

This 5:42-minute video gives some extra insights into beekeeping in Kenya:

Deforestation, drought and poor farming practices in Kenya, as well as other problems like pests, disease and indiscriminate use of pesticides, have caused bee populations to decline, so honey production has fallen off. Beekeeping is a ‘less sweet venture’ for farmers than it used to be, and bee colonies have been hard hit to survive, much less thrive.

Mr. Kimtai announced that the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Project (NARIGP) has teamed up with 200 beekeepers in Nakuru County and new initiatives are being set to reverse the trend of bee colony decline. They will observe the flow of operations, working with ‘devolved units’ and aiming for bee colony multiplication, the provision of beekeeping equipment and bee bulking.

This multi-stakeholder platform will ensure a uniform honey sector even if and when agriculture devolves, according to Dr. Immaculate Maina. It will boost the quality and quantity of honey and related products in Kenya. As stakeholders working jointly to ensure quality production, they can enjoy an expansion of both local and international markets.

The stakeholders raised issues affecting their livelihood such as a lack of standardized pricing, bee diseases, competition from neighboring countries, and other concerns. They also acknowledge that growing demand for honey exists and that there is a need to boost honey production.

The National Government supports forums that promote beekeeping as a way to make money as climate changes cause weather to become harsher. It donated 40 hives (20 Kenya top bar hives and 20 Langstroth hives), 2 honey extractors and 10 harvesting gear to beekeeping groups in Njoro and Naivasha Sub counties. Beekeeping is a viable way for all stakeholders to boost food security and enhance economic empowerment, especially in rural areas.

Kiptarus points out the need to plant diverse plants and indigenous trees in the beekeeping areas, preventing deforestation and avoiding the use of pesticides during flowering seasons.

NARIGP was designed to unite national selected county governments and the World Bank to find ways to empower small-holder farmers economically for social inclusion. The project was implemented in five sub-counties (Kuresoi-North, Molo, Naivasha, Njoro and Bahati) and Dr. Maina assures farmers it will transform beekeeping into a profitable venture.

The program enhances a scrutinized, smooth flow of operations by various stakeholders across the Kenyan beekeeping world and includes scientists, beekeepers, processors, marketers and others, to boost the quality and quantity of honey.

Professor Rhoda Jerop Birech is an expert in Sustainable Agriculture at Egerton University and on the board of Organic Consumers Alliance (OCA). She noted that the world’s population is expanding daily but the bee population is declining, and warned that not enough is being done to protect bees, and that their importance to humanity is underestimated.

One of the biggest threats to bees is exposure to toxic chemicals through insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and other synthetic toxins, and all are used in industrial agriculture. Some pesticides weaken the bee’s immune system, leaving them defenseless against viruses.

She advised that organic farming is the easiest way to conserve bees. Synthetic pesticides are largely prohibited and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques are promoted.

A healthy beekeeping infrastructure is significant for crop pollination. Without bees, many fruits and vegetables wouldn’t be available, since 75% of all food crops rely on pollinators, mainly honeybees, for a successful harvest. Fruits like pawpaws, watermelons and oranges are pollinated by bees and grow well in arid areas, which can increase food security in Kenya.

A study done by Benedict Wambua, a researcher at South Eastern Kenya University’s School of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences, establishes that recurrent droughts are a factor limiting the use of beekeeping as a climate coping strategy, since honey production drops off during droughts. Extreme climatic conditions postpone and lower plant flowering times, which reduces pollen and nectar availability, increases water stress, and inhibits bee movements and communications. A prolonged dry spell can cause honeybees to migrate elsewhere and leave their hives empty.

Kenya is to be commended for the foresight and care they are investing into finding sustainable ways to transition their human and honeybee populations through changing climatic and farming trends. By meeting the expanding global demands for honey and other bee products, Kenya will usher in new prosperity and secure their future food security.