ILO supporting apiculture farmers in Kenya to find opportunity in crisis

Apiculture has been an alternative farm-related activity in Garissa County for many years, but the production of honey was mainly limited to local consumption and only surplus was offered in the market for sale.

During COVID-19, the demand for honey spiked as it was used as a major ingredient in dawa, a hot drink consisting of honey, ginger and lemon, popularly consumed to mitigate the symptoms like cold and cough. The increased demand led to increase prices and this led to a realization among local farmers about the value honey could add to their income.

“The county has huge untapped potential of expanding beekeeping and honey production. Although production is still at a small scale, it was noticed that a significant number of pastoralists are embracing apiculture,” explains Lilyanne Velo, National Programme Coordinator for Enterprise Development, ILO PROSPECTS Kenya.

Garissa County, which is a mostly arid and semi-arid area (ASAL), has suffered from increased desertification and depletion of rangelands due to adverse weather conditions and overgrazing. This has affected pastoralist communities mainly dependent on income from livestock. “The apiculture value chain has potential to generate alternatives to cover some of these losses. It can create livelihoods for vulnerable groups of women and youth unable to step into nomadic pastoralism,” adds Lilyanne.

In December 2021, ILO PROSPECTS Kenya with its implementing partner the Somali Lifeline Organization (SOLO) organized a one-week training of trainers (ToT) for four beekeepers from Garissa Township, Fafi and Dadaab Sub-counties, in partnership with World Food Programme and Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA).The training was designed to upskill leaders from the farmers’ groups who could then provide technical support to their peers. It also aimed to formalize a county beekeepers’ association to support the voice of the value chain actors.

“In the past, honey has been produced traditionally and marketed for health imperatives. To realistically empower beekeepers, current production methods needed to be fused with modern farming and production skills providing more value to farmers. Thus, we included management of the apiary, honey harvesting, packaging and marketing in the training,” says Joel Asiago, Program Advisor, SOLO.

Strengthening existing groups

The ToT targeted leaders of existing groups, especially women. Ms Rukia Mohammed Afey, leader of Ikip Farm, a women’s group formed in 1999 for divorced and single mothers in Garissa Township, was one of the trainees. The group had bought a 15-acre farm to grow vegetables and started beekeeping in 2000 to increase their income.

Rukia explains: “We are about 15 women and the farms go through good times and bad. We needed additional income to support our children’s education and were looking for ideas. We started beekeeping, but there was a lot we did not know about it. However, after the training we were very happy as this helped us to increase our honey production by almost 20 litres. The training also helped us commercially as we sold the honey for 700 Kenyan Shillings [around US $7] a litre. With increased production we could have better income for the farm and the vulnerable members of our group could have more honey for their use.

“Mr Ahmed Salat, another training participant and member of Rahma Group Farm which produces vegetables, rears livestock and grows fodder, says: “The group formed in 2007, started beekeeping in 2018 and currently has three apiaries. With training now I can encourage my farm members to develop more of them. We are witnessing improvement in our honey collection. In January, we collected about 50 kilos, and as February comes to an end, we are expecting another good harvest,” says Ahmed.

Mitigating challenges through capacity building

A market assessment carried out by SOLO between October and November 2021, identified lack of knowledge of the beekeeping process, lack of equipment, migration of bees due to the increased use of pesticides and theft as some of the major challenges faced by the beekeepers in the region.

Rukia says: “That training addressed the exact challenges we face. Now we have the correct hives. It has three layers, one where the queen sits, another where you get the honey and one where the workers sit. We had no clue about the hierarchy! We just used to see everything getting mixed and then used to cut and remove everything from the hive, killing our bees.”

Rukia and her team managed to correct their mistakes in the next harvest yielding better results. The comprehensive skills training provided participants with a better understanding on managing their apiaries and they even received right equipment, such as protective clothing to ensure safety.

“The training was an eye-opener. We were not aware of the harvest cycle. By destroying honeycombs, we were delaying the process. The techniques of maintaining the comb has fast-tracked the harvesting cycle. After the training, I bought a centrifuge to process my honey and now it takes just two to three months to harvest, unlike before when it was taking about six months. So, I expect my harvest now will be every three months,” says Ahmed

The Bustan Self-Help Group, chaired by Mr Omar Salim Mohammed, started beekeeping in 2013 on their 300-acre farm in Dadaab sub-county. Having participated in the beekeeping training, Omar further trained his group on apiary management, apiary setting and extraction and inspection, and these have already been put into practice.

Omar shares: “Beekeeping is much easier than crop production and has less input. The honey has a longer shelf-life and fetches a good income. When we went for the training, we assumed we knew a lot about beekeeping and bee farming, but we soon realised that this was not the case. We missed details and lacked expertise and now we operate according to what we have learnt. After the training, we even began to plant flowers around the apiary so that the bees do not go to far off crops.”

With the training provided, the participants foresee a great future production of honey in Garissa. The County Government estimates that, if fully exploited, the beekeeping industry can generate revenues upwards of KSH30 million (approximately USD260,000) annually.

Ahmed is confident the apiary can be expanded and improved and that they can produce better quality products than the other counties. “Our people are yet to realize the opportunity which is there. It is my responsibility to set an example for others, train others,” he says.

In its recommendations, the ILO market assessment points out that providing existing groups with new and innovative production and marketing methods, providing technical advice on market linkages and strengthening linkages between the producers and consumers will strengthen the apiculture value chain in the county.

ILO PROSPECTS is now planning to work with the Garissa County Government, implementing partners and other stakeholders to provide dedicated support in market systems development. In the long-term, it is expected that this small livelihoods idea could become a significant economic and business opportunity across the county.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Labour Organisation (ILO).

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