Deep inside Makutano Forest in Kipkelion East constituency, bees buzz in and out of the 1,000 beehives belonging to the Ogiek community.
Besides conserving the forest from loggers who have destroyed neighbouring Soget forest, the bee keeping venture has for 10 years become a reliable source of income.
Ogiek Community Forest Association chairman Francis Maritim says each of the 1,000 beehives provides at least 54kgs of honey. A kilo of honey fetches Sh350.
“Whenever we harvest the honey, we get at least Sh18 million,” says Maritim.
He says they sell the honey to a honey processing company in Thika.
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Most honey in the country is known to be alduterated but honey from Ogiek has a reputation of being pure and clean.
“The honey from the Ogiek is on high demand because it is clean and pure. We do not add sugar or other sweet additives that compromse on quality,” he says.
Maritim says they harvest honey thrice a year.
So how do they manage to harvest good quality honey year in year out?
It starts from the foundation, he says. Maritim says a good beehive should be kept dry and warm.
“Traditionally, the Ogieks use barks of trees to keep the hives warm. We now wrap carton boxes around the hives then a polythene sheet before covering the top with iron sheet to keep the hive dry and durable,” he says.
The innovative beehives have small hinged doors for ease access to honey during harvesting.
To cut cost of constructing the beehives, Maritim constructs them himself to factor in all key modifications critical for maximum honey production.
“I bought the initial five beehives and after studying how they were constructed, I learnt how to construct them myself. I also teach locals these skills,” he says.
For maximum honey production, minimal disturbance of bees is also fundamental.
“The doors make it possible for honey harvesters to simply pick the honey combs without disturbing the bees, which hate distractions. Actually it is what makes them sting and migrate to calmer locations,” says Maritim.
In a strategic move, the Ogiek are also impacting this knowledge to the next generation of farmers. Even children own beehives here.
One of such child is Felix Kiptoo, who has 10 beehives.
“I recently made Sh5,000 from the sale of honey from one of the biggest beehive. I used the money to pay my school fees,” says the Standard Six pupil at Joyland Academy in Makutano trading centre. In addition, the farmers have landed a sweeter deal following a door that has opened to export the honey to Germany.
Maritim, says the the project began after they convinced World Wide Fund for Nature to buy for them 700,000 flower blooming eucalyptus trees seedlings which they planted.
“We planted the trees for the sole aim of getting nectar from the pollen which the bees use to make honey,” he explains.
Going forward, Maritim, appeals to the government to provide the community with more modern beehives.
Meanwhile, the community is ready to assist the government to conserve Makutano forest.