Leader of the group harvesting honey

Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASALs) experience frequent droughts and severe water shortages which extremely hamper their ability to produce sufficient food to sustain them. As such, this has left them relying on the ‘food for work’ relief programmes for food. Unless something drastic is done to avert this situation, the future of these people is blurred. This article is about that alternative – Is about looking at alternative livelihoods and is bee keeping.

Bee keeping is increasingly becoming popular among the inhabitants of Eastern parts of Kenya. Having suffered the pangs of hunger, these residents are opting for bee keeping as an alternative for crop farming. People have formed groups which help them in pulling together resources for establishing bee keeping projects. Such groups are also eligible for support from the government and organizations such as ICIPE, Sustainable Agriculture Community development Programme and the Biovision Foundation. These groups have established the infrastructure of water and plants needed for a successful apiary through the support and encouragement from the above mentioned programmes to ensure optimal benefit.

Bee keeping may seem a difficult venture but far from it, it’s one of the easiest. All one needs is catcher box which should be situated adjacent to a stream. In the case where the groups cannot access small streams, they purchase a small pump to provide water from far of streams to the places where these catcher boxes are situated.

The next step is for them to attract the bees. This is done by applying some honey in the catch boxes and leaving them where they are supposed to be. After two to three days, they say the swarm of bees inhabits the boxes and so start their process of honey making in presence of water and flowers. The farmers wait for the time the honey will be ready while protecting them from predators, pests and diseases.

It takes three months for the honey to be ready for harvesting. At harvesting time, the group harvests honey using large clean plastic buckets, kitchen knives, hive tools and bee smokers. Dressed in a protective overall, veil, gloves and gumboots, the beekeeper lights the bee smoker and approaches the hive from behind. After smoking the entrance to the hive twice and removing the roof, the hive tool can be knocked against the bars to identify the ones that contain combs. A high pitched sound indicates the bar is empty while a dull echo indicates the presence of combs.

After checking to see that the combs are well capped and the honey is ready for harvesting some of the filled combs are removed from the bars, placed in the bucket and covered. The bars are returned to the hive. Three or four full combs are left in the hives to ensure the bees have sufficient food to continue their work.

At the peak of dry season, which is one of the major challenge, bees are given supplementary feeding to prevent them from deserting the hives .Sugar diluted with sugar at a ratio of 1:1 is made into a syrup and put into feeders so the bees can find it easily.

The honey is then collected and refined in clean dry surroundings by melting through heating it indirectly in medium-sized stainless steel saucepans that have been placed in larger water-filled containers. The resulting honey is strained into a bucket through a double layer of fine netting. Any scum that floats to the surface is scrapped off. The fine honey is then packaged and ready for sale.

Having observed all this, it occurred to me that this is one of the best initiatives that should be adopted by youths to act as a source of income. More so, it is a way of environmental conservation while encouraging biodiversity.