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Farmer finds the sweet spot in beekeeping

By Joseph Muchiri | January 7th 2014
Danson Kithinji at his workshop in Kavutiri Shopping Centre, Embu. [Photo: Joseph Muchiri/Standard]

By Joseph Muchiri

Embu, Kenya: There is a Swahili proverb that loosely translated says, “follow the bee to eat honey”. Danson Kithinji, 32, has taken it literally, and is the better for it.

Mr Kithinji, who is a trained mechanical engineer, has 40 beehives across Embu County.

His business, Nyukiz Care Services, has done so well that aside from selling honey, he has ventured into making beehives and supplying honey harvesting suits.

Kithinji feels beekeeping remains an untapped economic activity in the country, even though it provides a hustle-free way to generate income from a small piece of land.

The potential

For instance, he says, a piece of land measuring 10 square metres can hold 20 beehives, which can be harvested in six months.

“One beehive can produce about 14 kilos of honey twice a year. With a kilo of quality honey fetching between Sh500 and Sh1,000, one can make between Sh14,000 and Sh28,000 from one beehive a year,” he says.

Kithinji’s apiary of 40 beehives has become a passive source of income as he uses most of his time training other bee farmers.

He also constructs beehives for clients from across the country at his workshop in Kavutiri Shopping Centre in Embu.

He advises keeping Langstroth hives over Kenya Top hives as the former have standard measurements that allow a centrifugal machine to easily fit in and extract honey.

Kithinji explains that with a Langstroth hive, a farmer is able to harvest honey without breaking honey combs, which allows bees to get back to making honey immediately, so it is more profitable.

The honey collected this way, he adds, is also more refined as it is not mixed with honey combs.

Beehives need to be constructed with seasoned timber to prevent pest infestations.

“When I get orders and have the required materials, I can make up to 10 beehives a day. Sometimes I get up to 100 orders in a month and engage about 10 carpenters to make the hives,” Kithinji says.

He sells a Langstroth hive at Sh4,500 and a Kenya Top hive at Sh4,000.

Kithinji also engages tailors to make bee suits for harvesting honey, which he sells at Sh4,500 per piece.

He also manages apiaries by checking farmers’ hives for honey and harvesting it at a fee.

His charges depend on the distance, and he sometimes travels to Coast, Nyanza and Western to harvest honey for large-scale farmers.

Unwanted bees

He also specialises in removing bees when they swarm in unwanted places.

Kithinji describes it as a delicate process that must be done during the day to prevent infuriating the bees and making them sting, while at the same time ensuring the insects are not harmed.

He charges at least Sh10,000 for this.

Kithinji considers bees his friends, even though they have stung him innumerable times in the last 10 years of their relationship.

“My interest in bees started by accident. I run into a college mate who was making a lot of money from part-time construction of beehives,” he says.

“My friend claimed he was doing it as a hobby, but I could see he was minting good money. I learnt the skill from him and my interest in beekeeping grew, so I started reading journals and manuals to understand them better.”

Soon, his friend’s customers started ordering beehives and other accessories from him, so he decided to start his own business and opened a small workshop in Riruta.

His biggest clients came from Western and Nyanza, where beekeeping was popular.

“One of my clients was an NGO in Kisumu that asked for a beehive for one week every month,” Kithinji says.

But the 2008 post-election violence cut him off from his major clients, so he shifted base to Embu County. Business was slow for about three years, but then beekeeping began to gain traction in the region and orders picked up once more.

“With a beehive retailing at Sh4,500, one can recoup the investment within six months, with little or no other costs. With 40 hives, you can expect to make at least Sh100,000 a year,” Kithinji says.

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