Investing in Bees

Published on 30th October 2007

Edward Tamar is a farmer and a business person who lives in Baringo, Western Kenya. He talks to The African Executive about the "mathenge" plant (Prosopis juliflora) which was introduced to Kenya 20 years ago to curb desertification and has been a nightmare to residents in Baringo district.  Despite the challenges that he has faced with the plant, Tamar has not given up; instead he has started selling honey to meet his needs.

Purity: Describe the “mathenge” plant  

Tamar:  It is an evergreen deciduous thorny shrub that matures at a height of 12 meters and grows to a diameter of 1.2 meters

Purity:  What damages has the plant done to you?

Tamar: I have been constructing a semi permanent house every now and then as the plant inhabits the house, and as much as you uproot it, it still grows again. Besides that, it breeds mosquitoes. So the house ends being inhabitable.

Purity: What other damages has the plant brought so far?

Tamar: On animals, once a goat eats its pods, its teeth start rotting and with time they fall off. The thorns of the plant are poisonous too, therefore if an animal is pricked; the solution is to cut off the affected area. If one is cut by the plant while uprooting it, the wound may never heal. Lastly, the plant has blocked river Perkera until it has changed cause and the water has spilled to the community leading to displacement of people.

Purity: How are you dealing with the problem? 

Tamar: So far my cows and goats have not been affected by the plant, but the damages caused by the plant made me think of something else I could do besides keeping animals. Therefore, I started keeping bees. So incase my animals are affected, I have something else that can help me meet my needs.

How much did money did you invest? 

Tamar: Since I practice traditional bee keeping and honey harvesting methods, I had minimal capital of about Ksh. 2,000. I do the work myself and sell a 2kgs bottle at Ksh.200. 

Purity: What challenges do you face?

Tamar: Initially, I had a problem with handling the bees. I would get stung, and collect very little honey from my bee hives. But with time I inquired from my friends who taught me how to handle bees. Today, the major challenge I face is marketing the products. I have not yet established a wide market. All my clients are based around my locality. I also want to start using the modern top bar hive.

Purity: How should you handle them?

Tamar: Since bees sting they should be handled with respect and care. One should avoid using strong smelling soaps or perfumes, use a smoker when handling bees as smoke makes the bees suck honey from the combs and calms them down. When opening hives warn any onlookers and remove any tethered animals from the vicinity. Work gently and quietly and do not knock or bang the hive. If bees get out of control, one should close up the hive and try again later. These are the basic steps one should follow. 

Purity: How do you market your products?

Tamar: It has been mostly through word of mouth. My customers recommend my honey to their friends. In a month, I get at least five new customers. 

Purity: How many customers do you serve in a month?  

Tamar: I have 10 consistent customers who purchase a 1kg bottle of honey every month from within my locality. I am also supplying 8kgs of honey to three supermarkets on monthly basis.  

Purity: What should be done to deal with the “mathenge” menace? 

Tamar: The Ministry of land should demarcate land, and do away with communal land as this will control movement of animals. Secondly, we should invest in uprooting the weed completely. Farmers should be encouraged to till land all the roots are done away with completely although this may take time.

Purity: What should Africans learn from this experience?

Tamar: There is need to scrutinize all products coming in a country, for they may pose a danger to the people. All that glitters is not gold.

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