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Home / Smart Harvest

Honey machine ups the game for women group

Naipandi Kanai, the head of a beekeeping women’s group in Kimana, Oloitoktok, pulls down a hoisting rope to hang a bee hive. INSET: A woman wearing a honey harvesting suit. [Gardy Chacha, Standard]

The Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem has a primeval aura to it. Amboseli and Tsavo national parks straddle the Emali-Oloitoktok highway to the right and to the left respectively. The surrounding villages are inhabited by the Maasai. 

“We look after cattle, goats and sheep,” says Joyce Toporet, a resident of Elerai village, Kimana, Oloitoktok. “We are pastoralists.”

It was therefore interesting to meet Maasais earning a living from beekeeping.

On the day The Smart Harvest and Technology team arrives, the women decked out in tribal regalia are all smiles. Why? “They now understand the commercial potential of honey,” says James Njuguna – a 27-year-old to whom the women owe their venture.

Njuguna is the founder of Happy Community: a community-based organisation whose objective is environmental conservation. 

Pitched idea

“So, we approached locals and pitched to them our idea. We give them free hives. Then train them on beekeeping and handling. Their work then becomes to seed, hoist and manage the hives all over the landscape; covering thousands of acres,” Njuguna says.

At harvesting, Happy Community officers and the locals participate. The harvested honey is sold at Sh1,000 per kilogramme. Their efforts were bolstered last year when the CBO received honey harvesting equipment from Safaricom Foundation.

“We received full harvesting suits, bee brushes, and most importantly, the honey extractor whose market price is Sh30,000,” Njuguna says.

For the women group, the extractor has proven quite the game changer in their profits.

Previously, the women extracted honey from combs using basic tools available at their disposal.

“We improvised an extractor that extracted honey overnight,” Njuguna says. “The challenge is that it was very poor at extracting the honey: the combs retained at least 20 per cent of the honey.”

And even after the extraction, the honey would still require sieving – which further meant that some honey would be lost in the process.

When mature, a hive measuring 15 by 17 by 22 inches can produce at least 10kg of honey. A well-colonised and matured hive, Njuguna says, can produce as much as 20kg of honey.

But this is with the new machine – which is operated manually as Elerai is far off the electricity grid.

Improved efficiency

Before, the group would harvest six to eight kilogrammes of honey from one hive.

“This new machine has greatly improved our efficiency as the honey is extracted quickly and in real time. The honey has little debris hence does not need further sieving.

“More importantly, we extract more honey from the combs now. More honey means more revenue for us,” said Naipandi Kanai, the head of the women’s group.

Joyce Toporet, a member of the group, adds that the honey-harvesting suit and gear have made the process less arduous, more environmentally friendly, and possible during the day.

She says: “Initially, we could only harvest at night because the bees are ‘blind’ and stingless. Now we have a protective suit that can be used anytime.

“We also used a lot of firewood to create smoke when harvesting. Now we use the smoker – which uses little material to create required smoke.”

In the Maasai community, honey is traditionally used as medicine “to cleanse the stomach,” says Tinoi Otukusoi, an old man in the village.

Now, the women of Elerai have found commercial value for their honey beyond indigenous usage.

The women’s group is made up of several families (around 25) who share profits equally.

While they have gone professional, it is worth noting that the revenues they make from honey is almost at no cost.

“After putting up the hive there is nothing much we do afterward. We just wait until it’s ready for harvesting,” one woman pointed out.

The group now has about 100 hives and expects to keep scaling up to thousands of hives in the coming years.

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