Stanley Imbusi’s grandfather Lumbasio was a traditional medicine man whose trick for curing varied ailments was centred on honey from stingless bees found in Kakamega tropical rain forest.
Often, the grandfather would tag him along to comb the forest for the rare medicinal honey. Today, Imbusi is a renowned stingless bee farmer in Kakamega.
Imbusi recalls how they dug the ground and peeled tree backs to extract the honey with tested ability to cure many diseases.
In 1994, as a hobby of trapping the bees and keeping them at home, he made his first catcher-box that he set in the forest and carried the trapped stingless bee home.
That is how he started his meliponiculture venture.
“Increasing population around the forest affected the vegetation cover and distribution of the stingless bees, which is disappearing deeper into the forest. That is why I resolved to keeping them in my home where I planted flowers for their nectar,” says Imbusi.
He adds that after giving them nectar, the bees “pay back” by aiding pollination of macadamia trees in his compound.
Imbusi has over 60 hives with different breeds of the meliponines, ranging from Meliponula, Bocandei, Ferruginia to Hyporiconna, which he traps from Kakamega Forest and rears at home.
He made smaller hives compared to those the common honey bees inhabit, measuring 24 by 10 by 10 inches and 18 by 6 by 6 inches.
“You have to be careful to use dry timber lest the hives warp under severe weather conditions and attract predators like ants and flies, which feast on the bees or honey,” says Imbusi.
He gets an average three kilogrammes of honey from each hive for three months and sells it at Sh1,200 per kilo. He uses some at home, saying it provides steady supply of calories to the body.
“Unlike the honey bees, the stingless kind only bite using their mouth without releasing venom. You can visit the hive without protection and get the honey,” he says.
Imbusi has won several awards from various agencies such as the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) for his exemplary works.
KFS Kakamega branch encourages bee keeping by allowing farmers to trap bees from the forest so as to recover native bee populations and restore biodiversity.
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“Many people are unaware that meliponiculture is one of the untapped ventures in Kenya and there is demand for the honey believed to have medicinal value. We call on partners to help us build capacity of the population that lives along the forest,” says George Ayimo, a Kakamega forester.
He says the meliponines are of indigenous descent and super pollinators of fruit species like mangoes, watermelon, macadamia nuts and egg plants.
The pollination ability enhances the levels of food security, according to Ayimo who observed that “Few bees mean few pollinators, less crops and more poverty”.
Ayimo advised that the meliponines can only survive in tropical areas like the Kakamega Forest and potential farmers living around the forest can be allowed to trap them for domestication.
He fears that domesticating the stingless bees is so tasking that it is scaring off potential farmers.
Imbusi believes that with adequate sensitisation and training, the venture can be done in large scale.
“I have gone round the country to places like Makueni, West Pokot and Kitui to teach new farmers. You realise that there is little material to rely on apart from the hands-on experience we acquired when practising the trade,” says the farmer who sells his product to the local market.