Beekeeping money sweet as honey
A forest of indigenous trees with Langstroth beehives perched on the sturdy branches welcomes one to Nelson Njeru’s farm in Kamviu village in Embu North Sub-County.
Njeru is among leading bee farmers in the area. Locals have even nicknamed him Njeru wa Uki (Njeru, the honey producer), a tag he welcomes with a smile. He also chairs Mt Kenya Bee Management and Conservation Self-Help group.
He has 70 hives that yield at least 500kgs of honey per harvest. He is gradually working to increase the number of hives to 200 and increasing the yield per hive by adopting better beekeeping strategies.
Njeru is not just into producing honey but has also integrated value addition into his enterprise, thus multiplying his income.
He makes products such as soap, propolis and candles. He sells a kilo of honey at Sh1,000.
His aggressive marketing style in which he displays his products during agricultural exhibitions has expanded his network and opened doors for him as a trainer in beekeeping.
Routinely, university students pursuing agricultural courses visit his farm to learn from him.
He recently hosted two students from Sweden University of Agriculture, Ida Johnson and Sanna Bergquist who were on a field excursion to learn bee keeping in Kenya.
Last year, Njeru taught beekeeping to students pursuing agricultural courses at Meru University of Science and Technology during an exhibition organised by Caritas, the development arm of the Catholic Diocese of Embu.
“Every year since 2012, I receive visitors from Sweden, Switzerland and Canada. I also receive a good number from Kenyan universities,” he says.
Just like many other small scale farmers in Kenya, Njeru admits that his enterprise falls short of high level practices adopted by European bee farmers.
Njeru lacks modern honey extraction machines and resorts to using a knife, which is inconvenient and wasteful.
“When you use knives to extract honey from the frames, it destroys the honeycombs and bees are forced to repair it before making honey for the next season,” he says, adding that he is saving to buy one.
“The government can help by assisting farmers buy some of these machinery that are way too expensive,” he posits.
Njeru’s venture into beekeeping was born from his dalliance with fruit tree farming.
In 1995, he resolved to plant avocado, mango and other trees as advised by agricultural extension officers. When he heeded their advice, they impressed on him the need to start an apiary so that bees would pollinate the flowers in his fruits trees.
He did as instructed and today the fruits of his enterprise are out there for all to see.
Sanna, who is pursuing a course in agriculture at SLU, said she hails from a home where beekeeping is a favourite pastime.
Her parents have 35 beehives mainly for domestic supply of honey. She said they harvest as much as 100kgs from one hive. They keep 80 percent of the honey produced and sell the rest at an average Sh1,000 per kilo.
She notes that African bee is highly aggressive and resistant to intruders of her nests, unlike Sweden bees that are quite docile.
“We have domesticated the bees and they live with us. They do not sting as much as African bees,” she says.
She advised Njeru and other Kenyan farmers to adopt modern methods of honey harvesting using centrifuge methods where bees get back to the colony as soon as possible.
Ida said centrifuge back in their country helps farmers harvest more honey than their equals in Kenya.
“The centrifuge helps us cautiously remove the honey and reuse the frame. We could get the honey every two weeks unlike in Kenya where making more honey could take several months since the bees must first repair the destroyed combs thus wasting time,” she said.
She noted that Kenyan farmers have to improve on hygiene to contain migration of bees to other areas.
“In Sweden we don’t use smokers. Bee hives are usually kept very clean and so bees do not fly away,” she said.
Njeru calls on the government to ensure traders sell genuine and high quality honey to save farmers from underselling due to flooding of the market with fake honey.
Njeru says although some farmers sell a kilo of their honey at Sh1,000 per kilo, many sell the same quantity at below Sh650, a price arguably set by sub-standard honey sellers.
One can easily know whether the honey is pure or substandard as pure honey does not immediately dissolve in water. Good quality honey is slightly acidic to help prevent growth of bacteria.
Honey should be stored safely in sealed containers preferably in glass bottles to remain stable. “Honey is susceptible to physical or chemical changes and its quality can also change due to temperature leading to odour and loss of flavour. The recommended storage temperature is an average 240C,” he said.
Njeru counters underselling his honey by having a faithful clientele who come to purchase it during harvest and wait for him to refine it.
According to Rita Njue, a food scientist, honey facilitates blood sugar level maintenance.