Zimbabwe

A sweeter life for vulnerable families

GOTO, 18 July 2012 (IRIN) - Garikai Samaita, 36, from Goto village in rural Wedza, about 100km southwest of the Zimbabwen capital Harare, has discovered how to take the sting out of bees and use them to sweeten his life.

In about September 2011, a bee swarm settled in tree near his homestead and became a nuisance when they stung his eight-year-old son, prompting Samaita to try to smoke them off his property.

However, by coincidence an agricultural extension worker visiting a relative in the village discouraged him from such a course of action and advised him to approach international NGO Environment Africa (EA) for advice on honey production, and so began a bee-keeping project reaping a livelihood.

Samaita is one of several thousand people benefiting from EA's programme aimed at boosting rural incomes for vulnerable households through the sustainable exploitation of the environment.

Bees play a critical role in the balancing of the ecosystem and, as agents of pollination, increase production of crops, fruits, seeds and vegetables, and its honey is also a highly nutritious foodstuff.

"Bees used to scare me very much, especially after a friend of mine was stung to death by a swarm when I was growing up. We always lit huge fires underneath trees to drive them away, but the bees are very useful friends now," Samaita told IRIN.

Since embarking on his beekeeping enterprise, or apiculture, with two hives about nine months ago, his production of honey has tripled from the regular harvesting of six beehives kept in a nearby forest.

"I am now managing to get by and have enough money to look after my family, unlike in the past when we used to struggle. Here in Wedza, harvests have been poor for a number of years because of drought, but I am one of the few in this area who have enough food in the house," he said.

According to USAID's Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS NET) southern Zimbabwe was the worst affected by drought, and national cereal production for the 2011-2012 season is estimated at 1.1 million tons - a third lower than the previous harvest - and only about half of the annual national cereal requirement of about two million tons.

The US$80 or so a week generated from honey sales along the highway and from customers in Harare is sufficient to buy food for Samaita's family, pay the educational costs for his two school-going children, and cover the costs of his ailing mother's medication and hospital fees.

Samaita takes his honey-combs to a community owned processing plant at the nearby Wedza growth point, where EA assists in refining the produce and packaging the honey for sale.

The EA initiative began in early 2011 and is currently benefiting about 5,000 poor and vulnerable rural families in 23 of the country's 59 districts.

Adding value

Some beneficiaries have begun adding value to their apiculture through diversification, which does not detract from honey production, and are selling beeswax, which is mostly used in candle-making, woodwork lubricants and wood preservation. Other potential avenues for revenue from beeswax include hair care products, such as shampoos and hair wax, as well as soap.

The scope for other value-added products include propolis - which has medical applications - royal jelly, a honey bee secretion specifically used for the nutrition of queen bee larvae and used in the cosmetic industry, and bee venom (apitoxin), a colourless liquid with anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory properties.

On average, a beekeeper can produce about 60kg of honey per hive in a year, Barney Mawire, EA's country manager, told IRIN. The producer earns about US$10 a kilogram, which makes it "a potentially lucrative business for those that are involved in it".

Nellia Goromonzi, 40, a widow from Zvimba District about 90km northwest of Harare, has bought three head of cattle using the proceeds from her EA beekeeping enterprise.

"My life has changed so fast. We sold all our cattle to meet medical expenses when my husband died four years ago and I never dreamt of owning livestock again. I no longer have problems sending my three children to school and I have joined three other beneficiaries so that we may start a beer selling business," she told IRIN.

Goromonzi employs her cousin to hawk some of her honey produce along the road and supplies shops in the nearby Murombedzi business centre in rural Zvimba in Mashonaland West Province, and is also receiving orders from businesses in the nearby farming town of Chinhoyi.

Economist John Robertson told IRIN: "Beekeeping can indeed be employed to change the lives of people. Beneficiaries can generate enough money to fight hunger, buy assets and send their children to school or foot health bills. What is needed, however, are strategies by stakeholders and the government to make sure the initiative is sustainable."

fm/cb