For seasoned apiarists, the difference between tantalising honey and bland honey is determined by several factors. Top on the list is the tree the nectar came from.
That why a group of bee keepers from Kilifi and Kwale counties are collecting honey made from bees that get nectar from mangrove trees.
“Honey made from mangrove trees is smooth and treats several diseases,” says James Thoya, coordinator of Kwetu Centre that is an umbrella body of several self help groups that comprise several bee keepers.
Kwetu Centre, other than bringing bee keepers together, it trains beginners on how to start the project.
The centre prides itself in promoting beekeeping as an alternative livelihood and as a way to conserve the environment.
So why mangrove honey?
“Organic honey has a lot of sugar compared to the mangrove one which is a bit bitter and salty because of its link to the seas,” Mr Thoya says.
He adds: “People prefer mangrove honey because of its medicinal value. Mangrove trees absorb a lot of nutrients from the sea and these are transferred to the nectar giving it the medicinal properties.”
He says some of the diseases that can be treated using the mangrove honey are smallpox, constipation, kidney stones, ulcers, toothaches, diarrhoea, sore throat and hepatitis.
Another aspect that makes mangrove honey superior is because the mangroves grow between the sea and land and are resistant to salinity and flooding hence can withstand aridity better than territorial trees.
Thoya, who has been a bee keeper for years, explains that mangroves are unique because they thrive in areas where water is poor in oxygen content, in salt water, in fresh water and in brackish water.
These unique properties, it is said, is what makes the honey made from these trees particularly sweet and with added medicinal value.
To tap into the benefits that come with value addition, Thoya says the centre has invested in machinery for processing quality honey.
“Our honey is now certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs). We have finalised our honey processing unit to ensure everything is processed in the highest standards,” he explains.
Thoya says they sell the mangrove honey to major clients in Mombasa, Nairobi and supermarkets in Mtwapa.
“We package it in 500ml jars and each costs Sh500,” says Thoya.
Apart from the honey, they also make candles, soap bees wax gel from the bee wax.
But how does the group work?
He says that under the Kwetu Centre which is like the umbrella body, there are more than 12 self-help groups each comprising 100 members spread from Kilifi and Kwale counties.
The farmers have set up their own hives near mangrove trees.
Thoya explains that each farmer separately harvests the honey and sells it to the centre which then processes and sells it.
To get maximum benefits from the bee keeping venture, members in each self help group also jointly manage the hives at the centre.
He says other than using the mangroves from the Indian Ocean, the group also has a small ‘mangrove forest’ inside the centre near a water mass.
The bee hives are placed next to the small forest in the centre to aid bees in the honey making process.
Each of the team members has a responsibility.
“Each of us is expected to place beehives next to the mangrove forests to attract the bees. When the honey is ready, members collect it ready for processing and packaging,” explains the team leader.
Everyday, the members ensure the bees are let out of the hives so that they can collect nectar from the mangrove trees.
How do they share the profits?
“We share the profits based on certain percentages,” explains Thoya.
He says other than creating a source of livelihood for the members, the centre also gives back to the community.
“We conduct a range of community capacity building activities like training young farmers on beekeeping technologies, field site training, monitoring, inspection, harvesting, mentoring, quality control, marketing and record keeping. We want to recruit more young people to embrace bee keeping as an economic activity,” Thoya explains.
The centre trains the members for free and also buys them the bee hives.
“We also do mentorship and follow ups to ensure that they were following all the procedures of bee farming,” he explains.
The aim of the bee keeping initiative is to reduce the poverty levels in the region by empowering young people.
According to county statistics a significant number of young people engage in illegal drugs and criminal activities because of idleness and lack of jobs.
“But with initiatives like this, we are able to engage our young people in positive economic activities and ensure they participate in nation building. The aim of this project is to engage as many young people as possible,” Thoya concludes.