Beekeepers in Kibwezi

Beekeepers in Kibwezi sub county benefit from KALRO’s training on proper honey harvesting and post-harvest handling

Beekeeping has been widely promoted in many countries as a major contributor to rural development. Honey production is of growing socio economic significance in the world.

The story of honey begins with a single honeybee, buzzing around in instinctual search for a sweet, nectar-rich blossoming flower ready for pollination. It ends, most often, with a delicious heap of pure honey, resting on the tip of your spoon or finger, ready to nourish your body.  Honey is a natural food produced by bees from nectar or secretion of flowers. Honey has a content of 80-85 % carbohydrates, 15-17 % water, 0.3 % proteins, 0.2 % ashes, and minor quantities of amino-acids and vitamins as well as other components in low levels of concentration.

The quality of honey is a major factor both for local and international markets to enable attainment of competitive prices and ensure safety of human health. Proper understanding and standardization of honey components and attributes during handling and processing cannot be overemphasised.

 The major constituents of honey are sugars, water, proteins, enzymes, acids and minerals, while  the major causes of honey deterioration includes; heating at high temperatures, high moisture content, adulteration. These quality hazards appear to be common along the pathway from producers, retailers and consumers.

One may ask ‘What is considered as good quality honey? Fake and impure honeys have become commonplace in the market today, despite many people's preference for 100% bee-produced honey. Unfortunately you may not be able to trust "pure honey" labels of honey sold in supermarkets, retail shops and other outlets largely because the quality has been compromised either because of poor post-harvest handlingand inappropriate storageor blended with other substances like molasses, pawpaw etc. All the same according to prescribed standards, a good quality honey should have a water content of 18% or less. Higher levels of water can cause fermentation of honey. Honey that is not adulterated or blended, is considered to be a good quality honey.

Kibwezi beekeepers in Kibwezi sub County of Makueni County for a long time have faced a challenge of producing poor quality honey which has affected their marketing. For this reason Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Kiboko through KenyaAgricultural Productivity and Agribusiness Project (KAPAP) programme supported in training 37 beekeepers. These were representatives of various beekeeping groups in the Sub County. They were trained on hive management, appropriate harvesting, post-harvest handling, processing using improved methods and proper storage/packaging.

                                                     Beekeepers training sessions

A follow up was made after the training to ascertain the improvement of the quality of honey produced by the various beekeepers in Kibwezi Sub County. This entailed collection of 18 honey samples from the trained individuals for analysis. The parameters analyzed were; Water content, pH, acidity (free and lactonic), Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), diastase activity, electrical conductivity, mineral and sugar content.It was quite amazing that most (95%) of the samples met the minimum quality threshold standards set by Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) in compliance with International Regulatory Standards. This was a clear indication that there was a huge improvement in the quality of honey produced by beekeepers. For this enterprise therefore, farmers will have an opportunity of getting better prices for their honey and thus improve their livelihood.

Kibwezi women group refinery;                                                     Group’s packaged honey

 Foreground: The chairlady with a guest

 The improvement in honey quality has boosted the honey sales from the group members. The refinery (Kibwezi refinery) currently buys honey from beekeepers at Ksh 220/kg as compared to earlier price of Ksh 150/kg.  Honey has multiple market opportunities if an export market collapses, beekeepers still have the opportunity to sell or use the product within towns and villages at home, or create secondary products. This is unlike other commodities. Also the startup investment is low with minimal risks compared to other rural income-generating activities like purchasing cows, goats, sheep etc. Besides honey, other products can be derived as well such as beeswax, propolis venom, royal jelly and pollen which can as well be exploited commercially. Beekeeping activity can be undertaken by the young and old, men and women: it is a gender inclusive activity.

Indeed beekeeping activity is an important sustainable and alternative source of income in rural areas, benefiting communities in enhancing their livelihoods.