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Farmers in Mount Elgon reaping sweet returns from beekeeping

By Harold Odhiambo

Christopher Nyongesa inspects an empty beehive in Mount Elgon Forest. He is among the several farmers that are now adopting agricultural practices aimed at protecting the environment. [Photo:Harold Odhiambo]

More farmers in Mount Elgon are ditching maize farming for bee keeping. Given that the area is sometimes dogged with violence and farmers have to run to safety leaving their maize farms, bee keeping offers a stable option given the harsh realities they face. Maize has also been fetching low maize prices.

Christopher Nyongesa is among farmers testing other waters. When Smart Harvest paid him a visit in his farm, Nyongesa was busy inspecting a new beehive.

According to Nyongesa, bee keeping is a simple and more reliable way to earn a decent living and it also helps conserve the forest.

“Maize farming has been very frustrating. It is dogged with controversy, the returns are low and unpredictable,” he says.

In an effort to change their fortunes, they have teamed up with fellow farmers and set up 250 beehives along the slopes of the mountain.

Each beehive is projected to produce about 15 litres of honey which means that in a single harvest, the group harvests about 3,750 litres of honey. This translates to about Sh562, 500 per harvest.

For years, the community relied on maize production for their survival and large swathes of lands were cleared to create room for this venture. But now things are changing. Bee keeping is now a preferred option, because it is less labour intensive and returns are almost guaranteed.

With only pieces of firewood, dung, soil and sticks as the raw material for building a beehive, Nyogesa and his group are planning to increase the number of beehives to 500 by April next year.

Challenging as it may be, they try to stick to best practice. Although it is advisable to use durable hives like Langstroth and the Kenya Top Bar Hive Nyongesa and his team use a traditional hive.

“We do not have enough money to buy modern beehives and that is why we are using local skills to construct our own beehives,” he says.

Protus Ndiema, another bee farmer, also working closely with Nyongesa, says to help improve bee keeping in the region, the community has embarked on an intensive tree planting exercise. So far 250, 000 tree seedlings are in their nursery.

Dr Doreen Othero, the regional coordinator for Population, Health and Environment Programs for Lake Victoria Basin Commission says beekeeping is one of the best ways the community can use to improve their livelihoods and conserve the forest.

Owing to illegal forest invasions and overpopulation, Mount Kenya forest has been facing degradation and deforestation. But bee keeping is intended to change the narrative.

Population, Health and Environment program being run by the East Africa Community’s Lake Victoria Basin Commission is behind the conservation project in Mount Elgon.

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