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How honey is making life sweet for Pokot widows and single mothers

RIFT VALLEY
By Fred Kibor | August 13th 2021
Achawa women group members extract honey at Kodich village in West Pokot County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

At the crack of dawn, Lucy Lodungu joins some women in one of the homes in Kodich village, West Pokot County, to extract honey.  

The previous night, the women had hired a group of men to harvest honey from their over 100 top-bar beehives.

To ease their work, they have invested in a honey extractor - a device that uses centrifugal force in squeezing honey out of the comb.

The women work in turns, spinning a spindle as thick honey is collected beneath the cylindrical machine via a tap.

Lodungu, a mother of seven and a widow, is among the founding members of Achawa Women Self-help Group that is engaged in beekeeping.

The group has embraced beekeeping as a source of income away from traditional cattle keeping.

The venture has emancipated many women in rural areas.

“With the honey, which we harvest every three months, we have been able to provide food for our families, educate our children and even build better homes. Life is comfortable now,” says Lodungu.

She notes that even when her husband was still alive, she practised beekeeping as a source of income for her family.

“Culturally, it’s a taboo for a woman to own animals, let alone sell, without the approval of their husbands. This region, being an arid zone, favours little crop farming and putting food on the table, which is entirely a woman’s affair, was an arduous task but when we discovered beekeeping as an alternative, we were relieved,” she narrates.

Just like her peers, she can now comfortably send her children to school, some are in private schools.

Achawa women group filling semi-processed honey into containers ready for market at Kodich village in West Pokot County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

“Last week, I paid fees for my daughter for the entire year in a national school. While growing up we never went to school because we were married off young and no one valued girls’ education, but we have resolved to ensure our children male and female get an education,” she explains.

Margaret Kapajikwa, a mother of eight, rues the wasted years they have been suffering in a culturally stereotyped society.

“As women, we are not entitled to own livestock which is the chief economic mainstay here, and unfortunately we are supposed to be breadwinners for our family however large they are. But we have honey, which is now our solace and hope for a brighter future,” she notes.

She says livestock is purely a man’s affair, and that even though beekeeping is lucrative venture, none of the menfolk ask for even a coin from it.

Rita Kamosong, a single mother of six, states that beekeeping has gained prominence in the region, owing to a readily available market and minimal investment to start it up.

“Honey from this region is famed, and we always get buyers from as far as Mombasa and Nairobi coming here for the Acacia tree honey. They however offered us very little money. They purchased the product at less than Sh100 per kilogramme and at times took months to pay us,” she recalls.

When The Standard visited the region last week, there were over seven women self-help groups, bringing together more than 100 women together, involved in beekeeping.

Every year the groups deliver more than 50 tonnes of semi-processed honey, raking in over Sh35 million that is shared among them.

Feeling the pain of poor marketing, the groups entered into an agreement with Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) where they now sell their honey at competitive prices.

“KVDA buys our honey at Sh400 per kilo compared to brokers who buy at below Sh100. KVDA have also modernised our beehives away from the traditional log hives. We now use the Kenya top-bar hives which are easier to harvest honey from. They also offer extension services and field days,” says Amos Owen, Kodich Farmers’ Cooperative Society secretary.

John Lotip, the area village elder, said through beekeeping women are now the breadwinners.

“The socio-economic status of many has tremendously improved thanks to beekeeping. Cattle is purely for prestige and honour to men. Beekeeping has ensured children are in school, helped parents put food on the table and bills are promptly paid,” says Lotio. [Fred Kibor]

He however regrets that drought, charcoal burning and flooding were impeding beekeeping.

KVDA Managing Director Sammy Naporos says the institution is the largest purchaser of semi-processed honey from the region.

“In the current financial year, they plan to process over 100,000 tonnes of honey an equivalent of Sh50 million. Last year, they used over Sh45 million to pay bee farmers who are mainly women and youth groups,” says the MD.

He says they have helped in stabilising prices and ended exploitation by middlemen.

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