Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Buhera farmers look to organised beekeeping

Buhera farmers look to organised beekeeping


keeping bees for honey is not really a revelation for small rural farmers in dry, hot Buhera.

It is an ancient technique that farmers – each owning an average 100 conventional beehives, according to research – have used to improve diets and to supplement income given poor agriculture yields because of frequent droughts.

But a combination of cheeky merchants that deflated the price for raw honey, deforestation (farmers cut down trees as fuel for smoking bees and to build beehives) and a lack of knowledge meant that farmers could only get a fraction of the value from their sweat.

Now a new buzz in town has not only led to a spike in incomes, but is also changing the way that farmers look at beekeeping, water and forests that surround them, factors key to curbing climate change and for responding to its calamities.

“Unlike crops, beekeeping is not always badly affected, if at all, by harsh weather,” said Chatanga Jori, 65, a bee farmer with 70 beehives from Chapanduka village, Buhera, some 400km south-east of the capital city Harare.

“We live in a dry and hot area where crops often fail. But honey never fails, even with little rain. It is sad to realise that all these years, the buyers were ripping us off,” he said.

To return power to the beekeepers, global anti-poverty charity Oxfam has built a modern honey processing facility at Chapanduka Honey Processing Centre, fenced a 1,5-hectare apiary, supplied honey extraction kits as well as train beekeepers to boost production and improve quality.

This is part of a multi-million dollar programme to scale up climate change adaptation across three districts, which is being implemented by Oxfam in partnership with Government and SAFIRE, with funding from the UN Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility.

In Buhera, villagers supplied labour and locally available resources like stones, sand and bricks.

“The centre, benefiting about 100 farmers, a quarter of them women, has seen the keepers of bees start to process honey using honey pressers, and solar extractors, which they did not do in the past,” says Dr Leonard Unganai, the project manager.

The farmers own about 2,800 beehives in total, each producing some 20kg of honey with every harvest, which occurs at least twice a year.

Between 2015 and January 2018, the Chapanduka bee farmers harvested the equivalent of 8 500kg of both raw and processed honey, earning more than $15 500, in a case where families have successfully diversified from the core food and cash crops such as maize, which are susceptible to climate shocks including drought, something common in this part of Buhera.

At $4 per kg, processed honey has a commercial value twice as much as raw honey, the erstwhile mainstay for the Buhera beekeepers.

“Farmers should not only focus on crop farming, which has been failing over the past years because of drought. We see a lot of potential in the honey value chain,” said Dr Unganai.

Nascent industry
As climate change bites, causing massive crop losses, beekeeping could help boost food production (through pollination), and assist families to adapt.

The option to diversify into bee farming means a diversification from dependence on other agricultural crops that are prone to climate and weather vagaries such as droughts, a common occurrence in Jori’s Chapanduka village.

Incomes from bees may bridge such failures. Also, bees produce much more than honey.

Products such as beeswax are useful for the cosmetics industry while farmers can earn money by making (and selling) their own candles, wax, soap and skin lotions at the household level.

Across Zimbabwe, only 70 000 litres of honey is produced by 16 00 farmers each year, according to the Beekepers Association of Zimbabwe. The southern African country has potential to produce 500,000 litres of honey each year, it says.

Worldwide, honeybees are estimated to be contributing over $200 billion to the global economy through crop pollination and production of honey, beeswax and other bee products for the market.

Tucked in the corner of Chapanduka, under a rocky hill, the newly built facility is hard to miss because of its new face of painting and bright signage, “Welcome to Chapanduka Honey Processing Centre”.

Chatanga Jori, the Buhera farmer who also chairs the Chapanduka Honey Processing Centre, remembers how middlemen had taken to arm-twisting beekeepers to sell them raw honey at lower prices while maximising their own profits.

“I am happy that we are now organised and can demand more out of our honey and this allows us to take care of our families better,” said Jori, who has earned a living from honey, helping to bankroll his children’s education up to university.

Fairly new to bee-keeping, mother of three Chritsine Mazambani, doubles up as the centre’s secretary. She jumped into the project at the prospect of earning alternative income to send her children to school.

“I am new to beekeeping but l can see a great future as it is so promising and with the assistance of traditional beekeepers like Jori failure is not an option,” said the 45-year old, who already has five traditional beehives.

Another beekeeper, Barbra Zvoutete said: “beekeeping has made a great difference in my life and that of my family. I can now assist my husband to buy food for our children. Sometime ago the  drought caused some of our livestock to die but we have managed to replace most of them now thanks to the money from honey.”

The farmers plan to introduce other activities such as peanut butter – groundnuts do well in Buhera – as well as candle-making out of the wax produced when processing the honey.

“The Project is also promoting the use of the Kenyan Top Bar (KTB) hive, a modern hive built to produce a lot more honey, and is accessible to women”, says District Project Coordinator Nyasha Kariramombe.

The traditional hive is often placed high up in the tree, in the forest, “which for a woman is not really accessible,” she said. The KTB hive can be located closer to home.

God is faithful.

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