Mapping honey value chains adds sweetness to Africa’s potential

Source: Mapping honey value chains adds sweetness to Africa’s potential | Herald (Opinion)

Mr Chaipa Mutandwa

Sifelani Tsiko Agriculture & Innovations Editor

Beekeeping is an important activity that helps smallholder farmers to raise additional income to improve their livelihoods. Zimbabwe and most other African countries have perfect conditions for commercial bee farming. In this report, Sifelani Tsiko (ST), Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor speaks to Chaipa Mutandwa (CM), national programme coordinator of the Beekeepers Association of Zimbabwe on challenges facing the industry and what could be done for honey industry to flourish and access global markets where demand is high.

ST: Beekeeping is now seen as a profitable conservation industry. Can you tell us more about the state of beekeeping in Zimbabwe and Africa at present?

CM: Uptake of beekeeping as a business venture is slowly increasing in the country. Of course, we still have problems. The country is still witnessing a lot of adulterated honey and honey which does not conform to stipulated food standards. Production is still very low due to poor technologies used by a majority of the producers. The technologies have a low yield capacity.

Apart from this, lack of support from the Government and financial institutions is preventing the industry from growing. If well supported, the beekeeping industry could contribute significantly to the growth of the economy and become a source of livelihood for many people.

In Zimbabwe beekeeping can be a profitable venture if well managed, given the abundance of wild colonies and lengthy seasons that encourage production. Farmers need to shift from the traditional log and bark hive method which is destructive to new technologies such as the top bar and Lang troth hives, to boost production and earnings.

ST: Is there information  data and statistics  about the current African bee populations, honey production levels and the economic returns?

CM: Currently, the country has no data-base on both production and bee-populations, hence there is a need to fund research and development of a mechanism to harness information and come up with a national inventory of activities. Bee populations are on the decline due to a number of factors including agro-chemical use, veld fires and other unfriendly methods which destroy the honeybees. Other countries in Africa such as Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia are moving progressively towards building data-bases and inventory of their beekeeping activities. Here in Zimbabwe, our activities are still disjointed and with no coordination. We need to unite and come together to carry out an inventory of our activities.

ST: What is your organisation doing to improve the presence of data on beekeeping in Zimbabwe and most other parts of Africa?

CM: Our association is working to make sure every apiary is registered and is compliant to the requirements and specifications of the regulatory authority. In line with the “BEES ACT” every beekeeper should see to it that his/her apiary or beekeeping activity is known through registration. Registration is done with the VET which is the regulator for the honey sector. Registration helps with traceability of honey to the source of production and will reduce the problem of having adulterated honey flooding the market resulting in the killing of market confidence.

ST: For the beekeeping sector to grow and reach its full economic potential, what do you think needs to be done?

CM: The sector actors need to identify and develop an inventory of its value chain. Availability of financial opportunities from the government and other financial players helps to grow the sector is also important. Developing and implementing a beekeeping business model will help our players to realise their full potential. In addition, we need to build partnerships with other critical stakeholders to improve our operations and boost productivity.

ST: There is a world shortage of honey – especially organic across the world. The price of honey is high, as is international demand. Local production is disjointed and weak. What can be done to improve on this?

CM: Our members need to have access to new and accessible technology to increase their yields. This technology must be affordable and easily accessible. Training in best practices as well as quality systems is also very important for beekeepers. Improving bee-forage by planting bee-friendly plants that provide both nectar and pollen continuously, is also quite important to sustain our industry. Involving honey value chain actors is also critical to develop the sector.

ST: Beekeeping in Zimbabwe and most other African countries is largely run by NGOs, which set up rural communities with basic equipment and then leave. What do you think needs to be done to ensure continuity of such projects when donors leave?

CM: There is a need to develop a business and entrepreneur mind-set through training from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Small and Medium Enterprises Development. We also need to have a working structure for both actors – Government as well as the beekeepers which will support the growth of the industry. Market development is critical. Without visible markets and improved private sector participation, continuity will be difficult.

ST: Deforestation is taking place in Zimbabwe and Africa. What incentives and safeguards do you think need to be taken to protect trees and other plants critical for the survival of bees?

CM: As a country we need to have a policy that speaks to beekeeping and its relation with the environment. The establishment of bee-friendly tree nurseries. More trees mean more forage and more food for the bees. This results in richer honey harvests and all this could provide financial incentives for maintaining an ecosystem. When beekeeping is done properly, we can help restore an environment in which bees can thrive and survive. We need a policy where every farmer has a bee hive. This policy can help safeguard our bees, which are also critical pollinators for our crops.

ST: African bee populations are in drastic decline across the continent owing to hotter and more frequent extremes in temperatures, scientists say. What is your comment on this? What is your comment on the loss of the diversity of pollinating insects?

CM: The killing of bees results in food insecurity. As a country we need to establish bee-reserves or land reserved towards the protection of the bee-colonies. As an association we need to build partnerships with ZimParks to establish apiaries in these areas to conserve bee colonies for future use.

ST: Diseases are also threatening bees and other pollinators in Zimbabwe and most other African countries. What are some of the major diseases which are threatening bees? How is your association helping to contain the spread of the diseases?

CM: Promoting the use of modern technology, hives that are user and environmentally friendly could be one way. Developing partnerships with research institutions to understand and inform actors on these diseases is important. We need to work closely with bee researchers and experts to identify all diseases and increase surveillance of our bee populations. Sharing and disseminating information to beekeepers on the impact and effect of diseases such as varroa-mite and wax moth is also important.

ST: Bees and other pollinators support the food chain and experts say some 80 percent of indigenous flowering plants in Africa benefit from honey bee pollination – approximately one-third of all food produced is the result of honey bee pollination. Looking ahead, what do you think needs to be done to strengthen beekeeping in Zimbabwe and Africa?

CM: I think we should help farmers to understand the importance of bees and the role they play in pollination. We also need to involve all seed houses in developing a pollinator use and approach model. In addition, we need to have a joint approach by all stakeholders to help increase awareness by even sponsoring billboards to spread awareness. We should also help beekeepers to develop business pollination contracts with farmers on a win-win basis.

ST: The honey bee production chain – will Africa be able to increase its share going into the future?

CM: The African environment is conducive when it comes to producing organic honey which is free from many chemicals. The future of honey production is Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa. Africa is the new frontier for providing the world with honey which is safe and medicinal and nutritious.

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