Sweet profits from bees made me quit a stable government job
By Nanjinia Wamuswa
| September 22nd 2021
Paul Mutua Kyalo is a trained urban planning specialist who previously worked for the government as a regional urban planning officer. He later quit the job and founded Savanna Honey Company which has contracted thousands of farmers across the country. He shared his story with Enterprise, a business journey that begun in his rural home after a short training in beekeeping.
How is your firm different?
Savanna Honey is a company l started in 2011 and I contract beekeepers in various parts of the country. We train the bee farmers after which we supply them with all modern beekeeping equipment, such as those involved in production, harvesting and processing. In production, we deal with the Langstroth hives which are modern and recommended beehives. When honey is ready, we harvest for some bee farmers, while others harvest themselves since we have trained them to do so. We then buy honey from the farmers, process, package and sell to our clients. Our operations are headquartered at Utawala Nairobi, and also we do have satellite offices across the country.
What inspired you into the honey business?
I was born and raised in the arid areas of Ukambani where some parts have high levels of poverty. Despite the area being dry most of the time, it however provides a favourable beekeeping environment. I grew up seeing people depend on beekeeping. Unfortunately, they were doing it the wrong way owing to a lack of proper information and made little money from their ventures. At some point, l was lucky to benefit from a beekeeping programme and that’s where l realised that farmers were missing the point. I also learned how honey is in high demand across the country. I started investing on my own and also helping empower villagers on the modern ways of beekeeping. During the harvesting of honey, l would buy from them and help in marketing. Soon, they started realising the benefits of beekeeping. Later on, I felt many places across the country have potential in beekeeping. That is how l started approaching other counties to invest in beekeeping, among them Kakamega, Kisumu, Vihiga, Busia, Bungoma and counting. We are now in over 15 counties with over 5,000 farmers.
How do you recruit and work with farmers?
I work with community mobilizers and local administration officials who help in congregating and planning meetings with farmers before we embark on training via public barazas. Through demos, we get people who are interested in beekeeping. For those who do not have capital, we give them beehives on loans in groups. However, for those with capital, we sell to them at discounted prices to encourage them to venture into beekeeping. I also work with several financial institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that sponsor farmers with training and capital for investment.
What is contract farming?
You find people especially in rural areas with idle land. Those are the people we target. In fact, we are running on a mantra that says don’t let your land stay idle. What we do is visit and negotiate how we can work with them even if they are not around. Once we agree, we deliver beehives and manage for them until harvest time. We then sell and share profits. We sign a contract of five years, but keep renewing as long as all of us are willing to continue. We are the only company that offers technical support, free of charge and as a result of that, we have built ourselves as loyal clients.
Apart from honey, what are other products in beekeeping?
In the past, people only knew of honey in beekeeping. But we have several byproducts that equally pay well. Apart from honey which we buy from farmers at Sh500, per kilogramme, there is also propolis that retails at Sh1900 per Kg, bee pollen at Sh6,500 per kg, wax at Sh700 per kg, royal jelly at Sh13,000 per kg and bee venom at Sh4,000 per gram. So, from a small investment, you find beekeeping farmers earn a lot of money, and this encourages them a lot.
How did you source your first capital?
In the beginning, l went for loans from local financial institutions but didn’t succeed. So, l had to rely on money l had saved while working as a government regional urban planner. I started small and with time and kept expanding. Strangely, after seeing the potential in the business financial institutions have been approaching us.
How have you managed to build a brand?
One of the things that have enabled us to build a brand is quality. Our products are unique on the market. For example, all our honey is handled 100 per cent by modern equipment from harvesting, processing and packaging, this translates to very high-quality honey. The high quality has created brand loyalty and the people who started buying from us since we started, still buy from us. They have also referred their colleagues, friends and family members. We have a slogan that says when you start to buy from us, you stick with us.
What have been the challenges?
The country still imports most of the honey that we consume. This means honey is in high demand which has also led to an increase in unscrupulous business people who want quick riches to capitalise through honey adulteration. They end up spoiling the image of genuine people in the business who have invested a lot and built brands. There are times that farmers we have not contracted bringing honey to us, which is of low quality, because of traditional equipment they use in both keeping and harvesting. We are forced to educate them so that next time they supply good quality.
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