It is possible to join the millionaire club through beekeeping in Kenya. This is due to the growing demand for bee products such as honey in the country.
With the advance in economic fortunes, most people are looking to natural and organic sweeteners such as honey as alternatives to processed sugars.
In Africa, the top honey-producing country is Ethiopia, which produces 45,000 to 50,000 tonnes of honey annually. Kenya is the 3rd largest honey-producing country with Tanzania joining the list in the second place.
Although Kenya ranks 3rd in the continent, only 20% of the bee producing potential has been tapped, according to the National Farmers Information. This is an indicator there are still opportunities for beekeeping and bee products in the country.
With an estimation of 100,000 tonnes production potential, there is room for investors in this area who want the millionaire opportunity in apiculture.
Benefits of Beekeeping
Low startup capital
Unlike other farming activities that require a huge capital investment, you can venture into beekeeping with as little as 10,000 shillings. This makes it possible for almost every Kenyan to venture into the industry.
Doesn’t require a huge piece of land to operate.
Naturally, agriculture is dependent on land. In most cases the more the land the better. However, this is different from beekeeping and they stay in hives that can be hung from a tree or a bush.
This minimizes the need for a big piece of land, especially for a starter. Within a small piece of land, you can strategically space out the beehives and make some profits from it.
Beekeeping does well even in arid areas.
With about 80% of Kenya consisting of semi-arid areas, there is a limitation in crop farming, especially in the dry regions. However, there are no limitations for beekeeping as they can live comfortably in these areas.
This provides the communities living in these areas with a chance to increase their income through beekeeping. As an example, Kitui and Baringo counties are among the top honey-producing counties in Kenya, despite the hot and dry climate in these areas.
Variety of products
What most people do not know is that bees produce more than just honey. There are a variety of end products such as bee venom, beeswax, and propolis that you can get from beekeeping. You can take them to the market as well translating to extra profit from your beekeeping business.
Bees are also key in the pollination process helping complement other crop farming activities. They are pollinating agents since they transfer pollen from one crop to another as they look for nectar.
Bees travel within a 3 km radius in search of nectar before returning to the hive. During the nectar search process, you will reap the benefits of increased yields due to the additional pollination from the bees.
Challenges of Beekeeping
Absconding of the hives
Occasionally, bees could leave their lives without a return. This is one of the biggest challenges facing bee farmers. When bees decide to abscond their hive, it can be due to different causes such as invasion by parasites or lack of food.
To prevent bees from absconding from the hive, keep checking the beehive regularly for any parasites. Feed the bees during the dry season to prevent them from going to look for greener pastures.
What causes the absconding of hives by bees?
The major causes of absconding include:
- Lack of food and water
- Attack by pests
- Reckless handling of the hive by the farmer
- Extreme weather conditions e.g. too much heat, cold, or dampness.
Types of bees found in a beehive
There is only one queen bee in a hive at any given time. Her work is to lay all eggs to ensure the continuity of the bee colony. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day.
Worker bees make up the majority of the bees in a hive. They usually have a sting. As their name suggests, they do all the work in the beehive.
There can be as many as 60,000 worker bees depending on the size of the hive.
They are large and make buzzing sounds when they fly by. Their work is to mate with the queen bee.
Drone bees usually have no sting and there can be several hundreds of them in the hive depending on the season of the year.
There are several end products that you can get through beekeeping as below;
It is the most common bee product in the market. It is a sweet brown substance that is used as a natural sweetener and preservative.
Bees make honey from nectar. Honey is also the most marketable of all the bee products.
It is the substance used by bees to make their honeycombs. It is secreted by the worker bees from their abdomen.
Beeswax has a variety of uses such as the making of soap, candles, shoe polish, and cosmetics. It is also a requirement in the foundation of the base for Langstroth hives.
It is a sticky substance used by bees to create their hives. Bees collect this sticky greenish-brown substance from plants.
Propolis is believed to have medicinal value. However, the composition of propolis varies according to the location of the bees and the nectar and vegetation available to the bees.
Propolis is effective for oral sores and hygiene, diabetes, and cold sores. A point to note is that prolonged exposure to propolis causes allergic effects. It is especially the case for many bee farmers.
It is the clear liquid that bees inject to their target via their stinger. It is the one responsible for the pain that one feels when stung by a bee.
Some substances in bee venom have medicinal properties and have been used as a natural treatment for various conditions e.g. rheumatism.
Royal jelly/ bee’s milk
It is a milky substance that the worker bees feed the queen bee. It also has medicinal properties.
China consumes more than 75 tonnes of royal jelly annually. They use it to make candy, wines, and lotions.
How to Start Beekeeping in Kenya
· Research on beekeeping
Market research is always the first step before you engage in a business undertaking.
You need to get knowledge on various elements in beekeeping such as the right setup, capital requirements, markets, and other aspects such as weather and season.
Some of the ways to get this information are by consulting with seasoned bee farmers in your area. You can also read the available materials such as books and online materials. Finally, there is also the option to engage a professional in this area.
· Identify an ideal location for setting up a beehive.
A beehive needs a strategic position to set up. This is key to giving the bees optimum productivity conditions and also for the safety of both people and animals.
Other factors to consider include both the temperature and humidity conditions.
If you live in a warm area, consider setting up your beehive in a shaded area. However, if you live in a cold and wet area, like the highlands, you only need to provide minimal shade; otherwise, the beehives will be cold and damp.
Some of the best places for setting up a beehive include:
- Near a good nectar source e.g. near flowers, trees, and forests
- Places offering minimal human and livestock interference i.e. away from roads, markets
- Shaded places
- Locations away from smelly products and swampy/damp conditions
Another thing to look out for when looking for an ideal apiary location is the presence of ants. Red ants and black carpenter ants are known for their invasion of beehives.
· Register your apiary farm
In Kenya, there is a new livestock bill of 2021 that affects bee farmers. The new livestock bill requires farmers who are keeping bees for commercial purposes to get a certificate of registration to allow them to continue with their venture.
It also requires practicing apiculture only on lands registered as apiculture lands.
The certificate also needs a yearly renewal. Failure to comply with the new regulations could land you a fine of 500,000 shillings or a jail term not exceeding 1 year or both.
· Choosing the best type of beehive
There are different beehives available in the country. You can choose to use either traditional or modern beehives.
Langstroth hives/ frame hives
Advantages of Langstroth hives
- You can harvest the largest honey quantity from these hives.
- They allow for the easiest honeycomb inspection and honey harvesting.
- The brood chamber is undisturbed during harvesting. It ensures that the bees will be available to produce honey for the next season.
- They enable quicker honey harvesting time since you can remove the honey chamber from the hive.
Disadvantages of Langstroth hives
- Due to their complex structure, you need the services of a skilled carpenter to get it ready.
- They produce very small amounts of wax compared to the other hives. It will require you to set up other beehive types to supply you with wax for attracting new bee colonies.
- They are vulnerable to thieves since they only have one entryway.
- The honey from these hives can only be extracted using a centrifuge machine.
- They least resemble the cavities that African bees naturally build in.
Advantages of log hives
- They are easier and cheaper to make as they require basic carpentry skills.
- They house a large number of bees and are the best for collecting large amounts of wax.
- Most widely used beehive type in Africa.
- They are difficult to steal due to the many cracks and openings in the hive. When the beehive is disturbed, bees will fight the attacker through those cracks.
Disadvantages of log hives
- It is impossible to remove the honeycomb for inspection
- It is difficult to circulate smoke through the beehive during harvesting.
- All the honeycombs must be harvested from the bottom or from the sides, which dirties the honey in the process.
- The gaps and cracks in the hive allow easy entry of pests into the beehive e.g. wax moths.
- The bees are disturbed during harvesting making the colonies abscond the beehive once the harvest is done.
Kenya top bar hive (KTBH)
Advantages of a top bar hive
- The honeycombs are fixed to individual hive bars, making it easy to inspect them and harvest honey.
- The hive has controllable entryways that make it easy for bees to protect the beehive from pests.
- Enables collection of large quantities of honey.
- These hives are easy to smoke during the harvesting
- The brood chamber is undisturbed during harvesting, and thus the bees do not abscond the hive once the honey is harvested.
- This type of hive has a close resemblance to the cavities that African bees naturally build in.
Disadvantages of top bar hive
- Their structure does not allow for proper ventilation as the log hive does.
- They are easy to steal from since they only have one entryway.
- Their structure makes it difficult to add more structures and chambers to the beehive.
· Order your beehive and other related equipment
Once you identify the best beehive that suits your needs, it is time to place an order.
Reach out to the local carpenter and inquire about the costs of getting a beehive done. If you live in an area with a bee equipment supplier, consider purchasing a ready-made hive from them.
Other beekeeping equipment you might need to purchase includes:
- Honey harvesting suits i.e. veil, overall, gloves and gumboots.
- Smokers- To control the bees during honey harvesting. The smoke keeps them from getting agitated.
- Centrifuge machine- for extracting honey from the honeycomb.
- Refractometer- to measure the water content in the honey
- Extractor- to process and refine the honey for packaging
- Hive tools- for lifting the hive tops during harvesting.
- Feeder- For feeding the bees if you live in an arid area.
When setting up your beehive, you should put it at a comfortable and reachable height. It will simplify your work during the harvesting season.
It is recommended that the beehives should be placed at least 1 meter apart from each other.
· Order your bees
Once you have bought the relevant beekeeping equipment, it is time to order your bees. The easiest and modern practice is to place your order with the nearest apiary farm. Ensure to negotiate on the price and also get the right type of bees.
This process becomes easier with time as you grow in the industry. On the initial day, you should get a professional for guidance.
After delivery, you should install them in the hive to start the journey of honey production. Remember to coat the inside of the beehive with wax to bait the bees into occupying the beehive.
· Caring for the bees
Once the bees occupy the beehive, you need to regularly check on them. Some of the problems you might face with your beehive are vandalism/theft and invasion of the beehive by pests.
Regularly checking on the hives will help you identify any of these challenges at an early stage. If you find ants have colonized your beehive, remove them and re-wax the beehive before hanging it on another tree. Grease the hook of the beehive to prevent ants from tracking it down.
· Harvesting the honey
Once a hive has been colonized, you can make your first harvest after 9 months. After that, you can increase your harvesting frequencies from 2 to 4 times per year depending on your climate zone.
If you live in a place with nectar-producing flowers, you should harvest the honey after the withering of flowers. This increases the chances of harvesting more honey. Remember that the more honey you get the more the income. This increases your chances of becoming a millionaire through beekeeping in Kenya.
Some of the most common beehive invaders are
- Wax moth
- Honey badgers
- Hive beetles
- Honey consuming birds
- Human beings
How to harvest honey
The ideal honey harvesting time is in the evening. It is the time when most bees are calm.
Below is the harvesting process:
- Wear protective gear for protection against stinging. Once in it, ensure to get a second confirmation on its full coverage.
- Smoke the beehive and wait for the bees to calm down before approaching the beehive. Consider carrying 2 smokers for constant smoke supply during harvesting.
- Carry the hive to a harvesting table. It should be at least 20 meters away from the hive location to prevent bees from finding you once they try to go back to the colony.
- Open the beehive and allow smoke to pass through the beehive to remove the extra bees in the beehive.
- Harvest the honeycombs and sweep them clean off bees with a bee brush. Remember to leave some wax on the hive surface so that the bees can rebuild their home. The best honeycombs are the ones that are at least ¾ full. It shows that the honey is ‘ripened’ and ready for harvesting.
For honeycombs with pollen and brood, you should leave them for the next harvesting season.
- Place the harvested and brushed honeycombs in a clean bucket. Once you fully harvest all the honeycombs, wear clean latex gloves and crush the honeycombs to release the honey inside.
Honey from a Langstroth hive will require a centrifuge machine for extraction from the honeycomb.
- Filter the harvested honey and wait for about 24-48 hours for the filtered honey to settle in a settling tank
- Package the hone for sale.
When processing your honey, you need to do it under hygienic conditions. Store the honey away from strong-smelling substances to avoid it from absorbing that smell.
Store your honey in a cool dry room, away from sunlight and damp conditions. Generally, light-colored honey sells faster than dark-colored honey.
You should never heat cold and solidified honey in an attempt to liquefy it. Boiling honey destroys the flavor and its medicinal value
On average, a beehive produces approximately 8- 10 Kgs of honey.
Costs and Profit Margins of Beekeeping Business in Kenya
In Kenya, a Kilogram retails between 700- 900 shillings depending on the brand and point of sale. If you manage to harvest 10 Kgs of honey from one beehive, you can make at least 7,000 shillings minimum
If you have 10 beehives, you can easily make 70,000 in profit per harvest. It is a fairly profitable business model for an average Kenyan farmer that doesn’t have huge startup capital.
A Langstrong hive, which is the most expensive type, costs an average of 4,000 shillings. This I a confirmation you can practice bee farming with as little as 10,000 shillings.
As the demand for honey grows, the price will keep growing in the future making bee farming a high-income industry.
Conclusion on Beekeeping in Kenya
Beekeeping is becoming common with farmers in Kenya. As we have seen, there is huge potential for beekeeping due to the demand both in the country and globally.
Unlike other farming activities that require a huge amount of attention, beekeeping requires less time and attention to do. If you have more capital, you can farm on large scale increasing the chances of making more money.
The presence of a ready market also makes it easier to sell your product in combination with the high shell life of bee products.
This is a clear indicator you can become a millionaire through beekeeping in Kenya.
To recap, the steps involved in the beekeeping business in Kenya are:
- Research on beekeeping
- Identify an ideal location for setting up a beehive
- Register your apiary farm
- Choose your preferred beehive type
- Get a beehive and the necessary support equipment
- Order your bees
- Care for the bees
- Harvest the honey
- Process and package the honey