Kenya Beekeeping

In 2011 I had the opportunity to work with a womens beekeeping group in Kitui, Kenya.  This was a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project organized by Citizen's Network for Foreign Affairs (CNFA).  This was my first project in Kenya. Here are some photos.


Kitui is approximately 160 kilometers east of Nairobi.  It is a very dry tropical area. 

My project was to help members of the  beekeeping association improve their small-scale honey businesses. 

Although I am provided with a scope of work prior to a project, as usual I spent a couple of days understanding their current methods before introducing a lot of new ideas.  I'll share some of this background in the next few photos.


The bees are mellifera scutellata.  They are very defensive and tend to exhibit excessive swarming.  The are also prone to abscond from a hive when conditions are poor, such as in times of drought.

The hives are kept off the ground to reduce predation by honey badgers and ants.



Honey badgers are destructive predators.  They claw away at a hive until they gain access.  This hive (left) had its cover and entrance damaged by a honey badger.

The beekeeper (right) informed me that the honey badger is smart enough to sometimes attack his hives despite the elaborate hive stands.

Beekeepers near Katui rarely raise their own queens or split colonies.  Instead, they wait for swarms to naturally populate their hives.  They reported over 80% success in having empty hives populated each year.

Three types of bee hives are used in Kenya:  1. The modern Langstroth hive, 2. Log hives, and 3. Top bar hives. 

Most beekeepers prefer Langstroth hives, but they also prefer log hives more than top-bar hives. 

Several beekeepers told me that bees abscond more from the top bar hives than from log hives or Langstroth hives.  I can only guess that it is the bigger solar heat load on the top bar hive and poor insulation that causes the bees to leave.

It is common to see beeswax and often dead bees floating in bottles of honey sold in markets (left).  The bits of was are intended to convince the customer that the honey came from bees, and is not a sugar syrup mix. 

More modern packaging (right) can be found in larger supermarkets.


Now , onto my project:  After an informal analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of their beekeeping, my work targeted areas that are likely to have the biggest positive impact.

The training sessions were a mix of field and 'classroom' sessions.

I identified the following as the biggest areas of need: 1) development of beeswax as a product of the hive, and 2) the need to strengthen colonies by reducing stress on the bees and feeding them in times of dearth, and 3) general business skills.

In classroom sessions we covered all the beekeeping basics, including how to provide food and water for bees and how to divide colonies. 

Later, these concepts were demonstrated in the bee yard.




The Kitui area beekeepers had been throwing away their beeswax instead of rendering it to make candles or to sell in Nairobi.T he world market wholesale price of beeswax is approximately $8 to $10 USD per kilogram ($3.50-$4.50/lb) so there is an opportunity to create income here!

We decided to build a solar wax melter for the beekeeping association so that members could produce wax for use or sale. 

The only place with the tools necessary to build a wax melter was a secondary school. The wood shop teacher graciously took on this project.  In half a day the teacher, his students, and I had our melter constructed!

And it worked great, thanks to plenty of sunshine! 



On most of my USAID projects, I invite my counterparts to visit one or two businesses that are considered "best-in-class" in their industry. 

These benchmarking visits expose them to businesses that are a few years ahead of them technologically.  They learn business practices and the experience introduces them to local 'experts' in their industry. 



For this project, I rented a minivan and took 11 beekeepers to visit a honey processing facility and a very successful beekeeper a few hours drive away. 

It was a nice field trip, and everyone seemed to learn from the visit.

At left, they are learning about making beeswax candles and use of a refractometer to measure moisture in honey.



The beekeeper we visited had approximately 50 hives, which is larger-scale than the Kitui beekepers. 

He also harvested honey from stingless bees.  The stingless bees produce far less honey than the honey bee, but the honey is highly valued, commanding ten times the price of regular honey.



To strengthen business skills, I delivered a general business skills class for the beekeepers.  The goals of this class are to enable the participants to  determine whether a business idea can be profitable and feasible from a financial perspective.  In other words, they learn techniques that help predict whether they have a good idea or not.

It's a very interactive class that I developed with a Peace Corps volunteer friend in 2009. 

The  participants learn to identify critical success factors and how to learn from their customers and competitors. Of course, basic financial analysis with an understanding of amortization of capital expenses,  profit and cash flow is covered.

This concludes my Kenya beekeeping photos.  Please allow me to share some cultural photos below:


Every culture that I have visited has admirable aspects that I wish would spread to the rest of the world.  In Ukraine it is the food.  In Azerbaijan and Republic of Georgia it is the stonework.  It Kenya and Mozambique it is the small business ideas.

The two photos here show sugar cane venders selling bite-size cane bits to travelers.  




One of the markets I visited included a stall where a guy made rubber stamps out of the sidewalls of tires.  He draws it out on paper with the customer, then cuts it.  He's very skilled!

Not only does he not cut himself (often) with the razor, but he must write all the text backwards so it's reads correctly when stamped!

Here's a simple chair that could easily be made in Fiji, but we have no such small-scale businesses.

I will close this page with a group photo showing myself with some of the beekeepers I worked with (right), and a few photos from Kitui below that speak for themselves.





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