Ever seen a place where the refrain 'less than 1 USD per day' has numbed the nerves and made residents to believe that they are poor, and that unless someone bails them out of their predicament, their lot in life will never change? Then visit Mwingi District of Kenya's Eastern Province.The mentality has warped local residents' creative energies as shrewd business people make use of their local resources.Mohammud Mohammed, District Officer 1 in Mwingi is not amused with this.
People in Mwingi District are literally sitting on a goldmine, yet they are poor, he laments, referring to the unexploited commercial bee-keeping potential.
With temperatures ranging from a minimum of 14-22° centigrade to a maximum of 26-34° centigrade, the area is hot and dry most of the year. It has long rains between March and May, and short rains between October and December. The short rains are more reliable than the long, so that's when farmers get their main food.
In spite of the unreliable rainfall, the residents, who are mainly subsistence farmers, continue to value the growing of cereals such as maize, beans and pigeon peas and keep cattle and goats. Occasional droughts have made the region to be a heavy recipient of relief food from numerous NGOs and the government, further deepening dependency and shunning of exploiting the bee resource.
The D.O 1s message is a serious challenge to educators, university students as well as agricultural officers in the region. There is no need for residents to suffer from perennial food shortages while a resource that can make them food sufficient is untapped. Mwingi residents should be educated on commercial farming techniques that put in mind diversification, profit and loss.
Most university students hailing from the region, some with degrees in Agriculture, migrate to Nairobi city to look for jobs while a resource that can generate huge monetary returns lies unexploited.
Meanwhile, their relatives have not been aggressive enough to produce enough high quality honey for both local and international markets as a result of lingering on traditional bee- keeping and honey harvesting methods. At the same time, they dont produce the honey in huge quantities. Out to garner more money, some of them adulterate the honey by blending it with sugar and molasses oblivious of the fact that they watering down its quality and may run out of business.
All these problems are opportunities for entrepreneurs and business people to concoct solutions. Exerted efforts are required to alter this straight jacket thinking. Instead of downloading tonnes of relief food to these people, investors should be given tax holidays to enable them set up honey processing factories within the region. It should not be forgotten that in the neighbouring Kitui District, a lot of mangoes go to waste as a result of lack of facilities to add value to them.
'Jobless' university graduates should seize the opportunity to teach residents on business etiquette, stewardship, long term strategies and maximising on the comparative advantage.
Micro finance institutions should accord farmers loans at affordable repayment rates to purchase bee-keeping gear as well as tools to add value to their honey. A beehive costs Ksh. 4500.
Honey Care, an NGO working within the region has stepped in to fill the void. Honey Care guarantees to purchase every kilogram of honey a beekeeper can produce at a fair and fixed price, and pays in cash on the day of collection.
Ironically, even with the ready market, honey production is still low. Kabati Low Resource Farmers' Network, a group in the neighbouring Kitui District has decided to seize the opportunity and sensitize residents on the importance of adopting commercial farming methods that include bee keeping.
"We have realized that our destiny lies in our hands," says Kamau Nyoike, the group's organising Secretary, "as a result, we organise regular farmers' field days to demonstrate commercial farming methods and how to combat problems that face us such as lack of agricultural inputs, attack of crops by pests, lack of capital and water scarcity."
Fred Mutunga, a member of the group says that Honey Care buys their honey at Ksh.120 per Kilogram while the price at the local Kabati market is Ksh.80. Most people thus prefer to sell their honey to Honey Care.
Whereas crop farming should not be neglected, farmers need not put all their eggs in one basket. Rural farmers require necessary and requisite training. Extension support for the farmers as well as alternative structures and models should be developed and established to ensure that farmers have the required technical advisory support that they need to maximize their potential. It is high time that farmers were taught to fish, instead of being given fish.
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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