Business In A Beehive Bringing Extra Income To African Farmers
Farouk Jiwa, a Canadian, and a team of agricultural investors arrived in Nairobi, Kenya in 2001 with a mission: to start a direct buying program for locally produced honey.
Anticipating some demand for their services, they sent one large truck to collect honey from their distributor in the north and return to base in a day’s time.
Then word started to spread among local farmers.
One-by-one or in small families, beekeepers started arriving carrying tins of honey to sell. The Honey Care Africa team – primarily led by Jiwa – decided to stay for an extra day.
“That turned into three days as people kept coming with their honey,” said Alexei Bezborodov, the head of strategy and product development for Honey Care Africa based in Nairobi. “One man said he had walked for more than six miles carrying a bag of four-liter tins of honey just so he could sell them.
Thousands of producers struggle to sell their honey every year, Bezborodov said.
Honey Care Africa has an ambitious mission: From the hive to the home, farmer to consumer, the company says it can help transform lives of thousands of men, women and children across East Africa helping them become beneficiaries of wealth, health and environmental stewardship.
The company says its success relies on treating farmers and consumers as equal partners in a co-created value chain, which increases the income of farming families, provides additional pollination for staple crops, sustains environmental balance and brings new sources of nutrition to urban and rural low-income communities.
The company has two main programs. Its Direct Buying Program works with more established beekeepers and assists them by accessing collection centers and buying agents. Its Business in a Beehive Program selects farmers in rural communities based on their access to appropriate forage lands, water and security, then provides them with high-quality Langstroth beehives and monitoring through the company’s SWARM field teams, a squadron that focuses on professional beekeeping management.
“Beekeeping provides a meaningful additional income stream to smallholder farmers without any opportunity cost and very little required investment,” Bezborodov said in an email interview with AFKInsider. “Beekeeping also improves crop pollination, thereby actually increasing yields for many common crops.
“The honey value chain does not require complex supporting infrastructure and can be managed even in the most remote regions due to the non-perishable nature of honey.”
Honey Care embraced the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, and occasionally partners with U.N. agencies on specific beekeeping interventions using its own funding. Under the Millennium Development Goal mandates, Honey Care supports eradication of extreme poverty by the creation of new income streams and helps connect farmers to markets; it promotes gender equality by the active pursuit of at least an equal distribution of female and male producers; and it develops global partnerships through the procurement of honey for export, the company says.
Private investors and funding sources for Honey Care include Grameen Foundation, Lundin Foundation, Root Capital and Alpha Mundi. The African Enterprise Challenge Fund, a foundation run by a consortium of bilateral development agencies, and Kiva Microfunds help the organization extend low-cost beehive loans to farmers, according to the financial team.
Honey Care is currently looking to raise additional debt and equity financing to continue its growth. This year, it plans to upgrade its processing, packaging and storage facilities in
Nairobi and Juba. It also has a blueprint to launch several new products, including premium-packaged honey for export to the Middle East, and will continue to expand its supply chain with more Honey Care operations in Kenya and South Sudan, as well as
the possibility of entering Tanzania.
“In these regions especially, people realize that the value of communal land is higher if their livestock and bees have something to forage on. In South Sudan, beekeeping provides one of the few stable income-earning opportunities to the local population,” Bezborodov said.
Honey Care, with grant money from USAID and the World Bank, has reached 15,000 farmers who earn an additional $250 per year of annual income, or 21,700 Kenyan Shillings –the cost of school fees, improved housing and a few leisure activities.
However, beehives from Honey Care and the subsequent pollination increase the yield of other crops by 15 to 30 percent, the company said.
“We are always working on developing new product offerings,” Bezborodov said. “Our goal is to become a company focused on health and nutrition with honey at the center of it.”
Honey Care Africa is a for-profit, social enterprise. Honey Care products are available only in Kenya and parts of East Africa.
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