A retired juakali artisan from the arid area of Kambiti, Murang’a County, has ventured into the lucrative, but less well-known business of apiculture (bee farming) and he is now reaping huge rewards in the liquid gold called honey.
For those reading this blog post from around the world who are unfamiliar with the term juakali artisan, a Kenyan friend explained that juakali means ‘hot sun’ in Swahili, so along with the word artisan, it is an informal term for a self-employed individual earning a living by doing metal work in the hot sun without having an actual shop.
At age 76, Samuel Kimani set up his apiary 12 years ago after he retired from his work years in Nairobi and relocated to his native land in Kambiti. He bought 10 beehives and stocked them with bees, setting up his apiary about 30 meters from his home in his four-acre piece of land.
This unrelated 2:23-minute video by NVision Kenya shares information about the modern apiary for beekeeping:
Kimani's late father was a beekeeper, although he collected the honey to make his traditional liquor. This provided the inspiration and motivation for him to venture into commercial beekeeping. His startup cost to get the business up and running was an estimated Sh. 100,000.
Kimani decided to buy 10 Kenya Top Bar Hives (KTBH) at Sh. 3500 each because they come with a brood box and a honey super, whereas traditional beehives do not hold or yield much honey. He spent an additional Sh. 65000 to buy benches and set up his apiary.
Twelve years have passed, and Kimani’s apiary can be found beneath the restful succulent mango trees. His farm has thrived, and the initial 10 beehives have multiplied and are now 50 beehives, of which 45 are occupied.
The beehives are built from cypress and pine timber, which makes for fine permanent homes for bees, and there is no scent that would repel brood from living inside them. Kimani harvests 10 to 12 kgs of honey in a season, and to get the best profits, the honey is harvested annually. Bees spend around six months of the year making super, the other six months they are primarily focused on feeding brood.
This father of six hopes to harvest up to 100 kg of honey next year. His most recent harvest in October yielded 70 kgs which he filtered and was able to sell at Sh. 900 per kg. He packs the honey in containers and sells his honey in 250 gm units for Sh. 250, 500 gm units for Sh. 400, and 1 kg units for Sh. 900, noting that there is a gap in the local market that he has not managed to exploit. He contracts with a professional honey harvester to extract the honey at Sh. 2,000 and then he filters it using a strainer.
Kimani discourages beekeepers from using traditional methods of harvesting. He notes that using traditional methods, combs and broods are cut off during harvesting, and that destroys a generation of bees within a hive. This causes the colonies to spend most of their time and energy rebuilding combs and replacing broods. This keeps them at a redevelopment phase at the expense of honey production.
The proceeds Kimani earns from his beekeeping business sustain his family. Now he is in the process of building rental houses on his farm. He notes that a beekeeping business is easy to manage, requires little labor, and anyone with some land and capital can venture into it easily. He advises to make water available for the bees and watch out for invasive ants and other pests that force bees to vacate a hive.
Kimani is big on enhancing the environment through pollination. His farm is rich with vegetation and trees. He plans to expand his apiary to accommodate tree-hanging hives on his farm.
Raw honey harvested straight from a beehive provides a wide range of health benefits as it contains such healthful naturally occurring ingredients as bee pollen, bee propolis, and many antioxidants.
To see photos of some of Kimani's hives, click here.