Hitting the sweet spot

Hitting the sweet spot

…Qacha’s Nek businessmen’s honey business thrives

QACHA’S NEK – Malefane Khamali lives in a hard-to reach mountainous area where public and other essential services are scarce. Yet he couldn’t have it any other way, not least because he has become self-sufficient as a bee farmer in the area.
“I find it suitable for this type of business here,” said the 50-year old, who is one of a few people in the country keeping bees without a visible organisation that can help create opportunities for growth.
Khamali said he enjoys the bee-keeping business because “it’s easy”.

A resident of mountainous rural Tebellong in Qacha’s Nek, Khamali said he is content despite being cut off from essential services.
He started the venture in 2017 with a single hive but now owns five hives from which he is making a living.
He said he didn’t pay for the bees, which he collected from the mountains and he also constructed the hives.

“I found this type of business perfect and cheaper to run. I never bought the bees, I collected them from up the mountains and I never hired anyone to build the bee house, I built those houses myself,” he said.
“The other good thing about bee farming is that, unlike other animals, you need not drop even a small sweat looking after them,” he said.
“They look after themselves, they take themselves out to look for flowers and come back home without your involvement.”

“I do not buy any food for them or hire any shepherds to look after them.”
Khamali said his task was just to go and hunt the bees and put them in the hives. “Everything happened naturally after that.”
He said one thing he has to do for the bees is to make sure there are flowers nearby so that they do not fly away.
Another of the few beekeepers in the country, Hopolang Mokhetho also living in Tebellong, said he is surviving from the bee-keeping business.
He said he started the business with only one hive but he now has eight.

“The good thing about bee-keeping is that it is one of the cheapest forms of business and I enjoy the benefits of owning them,” Mokhetho said.
Pointing out the importance of bees, Mokhetho said they produce a compound called propolis, which can help people battling diabetes, cold sores, and swelling (inflammation) or sores inside the mouth (oral mucositis).

Propolis is also said to help in the case of burns, canker sores, genital herpes and other conditions, although there is no credible scientific evidence to back these claims.
Propolis is taken from the sap on needle-leaved trees or evergreens. Bee wax is also used to make candles, shoe polish and floor polish.
“Although the business itself is easy to start and to run, I still face some challenges,” Mokhetho said.

“Harvesting should be done four times a year, but I still have some challenges of finding suitable machines and I usually do my harvest three times a year or even two times,” he said.
The other challenge is that there are birds which eat the bees and kill many of them.
“I collected the bees from up in the mountains. This is where shepherds also like to go and collect honey but the bad part is that they burn the bees so that they can have access to the honey,” said.
“To me as a businessman I suffer because I struggle to find bees because they are burned.”

A bee’s life span is only 60 days, but they reproduce very quickly and that makes it seem as if they live longer.
The queen is usually the only one that lays eggs and its life helps the bees to be many.
The queen produces 1 500 cells a day and in 16 days there will be more bees produced.
Another bee keeper, 25-year-old ’Manaha Motšoane from Whitehill on the periphery of Qacha’s Nek town, started the business in 2019.
She was 23 years old when she started the business.
“It’s very easy and cheap to start,” she said.

“I am married, my husband does not have a permanent job and we have a child,” Motšoane said, adding that she “decided to help him with a cheap and affordable business”.
“Then bee keeping was the one. My father helped me to collect the bees and helped me with the shelter,” she said.
She said she is “making a lot of money” selling honey.
“I am able to help my husband with our household needs,” she said.
“Bee keeping is a good business for people living in remote areas because we can find them near and we can also keep them easily,” she said.

“Unlike keeping other livestock, keeping bees is advantageous because they cannot be stolen.”
Her major concern is that shepherds burning pastures and destroy many bees in the wild.
Several studies have shown that keeping bees can be a lucrative business in Lesotho.
In a study titled Enhancing Honey Production in Lesotho, the Food and Agricultural Organisation said three quarters of rural households in Lesotho depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
It noted that these households are increasingly vulnerable because of the deteriorating performance of the agriculture sector.

“Beekeeping and the production of honey and other hive products can help to sustain the livelihood of farmers that reside in areas with potential for apiculture,” the study found.
It however stated that the sector needs to resolve a number of problems before it can realise its full potential.
In response to these challenges, a project was designed with the aim of helping improve and diversify the livelihoods of agricultural-dependent households through the promotion of commercial honey production in Lesotho.

The project, funded by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, focused on building the capacity of the beekeeping subsector to develop the honey value chain from its current insignificant levels to becoming a noticeable player in the formal domestic market.
Strategic areas of intervention involved the training of beekeepers and the relevant advisory services, the rehabilitation of the National Apiculture Centre and the organization of beekeepers into cooperatives and associations.

To achieve its objectives, the project built the technical capacity of service providers and developed beekeeping guidelines, a beekeepers’ database and a beekeeping calendar.
Bee farmer field schools were established for beekeepers in the four project districts and the National Apiculture Centre was rehabilitated and provided with modern equipment and instruments.

The project acted as a catalyst for the development of the honey value chain in Lesotho, providing critical technical and functional skills to service providers in the honey value chain.
Areas of high honey production potential were identified and sufficient technical information provided to facilitate evidence and investment decision-based policy making.

The study said the prospects for up-scaling this initiative through existing or upcoming government or donor projects were now very high.
In another project, the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Environmental Facilities’ Small Grants Programme 2017 – 2020 proposed a project called “Capacity Development for Improved Honey Production”.
The project was to be implemented over a period of two years by ’Maseepho Beekeeping Co-operative Society, a Community Based Organization (CBO) based in the Qacha’s Nek district.

The project brings together like-minded beekeeping communities from around 10 villages within the three constituencies of Tsoelike, Lebakeng and Qacha’s Nek.
These communities have limited income streams due to the high unemployment rate in Lesotho and reside in the highlands areas (lower Senqu catchment area), where agriculture – their main source of livelihood – is highly unpredictable in the face of climate change.
People targeted to benefit from the programme include youths, women, men and people with disability in rural areas.

The project will be used to raise awareness on the dangers of burning rangelands as veld fires are a major environmental hazard in Lesotho.
These fires, coupled with unsustainable grazing practices, are the main drivers of land degradation in Lesotho.
They impact negatively on biodiversity resources and cause severe deterioration in rangeland conditions, such as decline in rangeland productivity.

The GEF said fire on the rangelands also poses serious threats to bee colonies as it destroys their natural habitats.
“Naturally occurring bee colonies depend heavily on the rangelands for foraging, therefore rangelands that are in good condition provide optimum conditions for the survival of bees,” it said.
“In view of the above and as provided for by the Rangeland Resources Management Policy (2014), fire regime cannot be used as a management tool on the rangelands of Lesotho, as it will further exacerbate degradation of the already fragile rangeland ecosystem,” it said.
“Fires destroy natural habitats of both flora and fauna and compromise the ability of ecosystems to provide critical ecosystem goods and services that sustain life.”

In another study called Situation Analysis of Beekeeping Industry, it is said following a market study of the honey industry in Southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia, Lesotho, Mozambique), it was established that the region has vast potential for honey production which currently is under-exploited.
It was also established that all the countries in the region (except Zambia) are net honey importers and that despite the potential most of the honey is exported from outside Africa with South Africa importing and exporting to the other countries in the region.
The study found that the organisation of beekeepers is weak and has to be strengthened.

It found that in Lesotho government support services to the beekeeping industry is through the Beekeeping Section of the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation (MFLR).
The section, it has been found, is manned by two people – the Head of the Section and Conservation Officer.
The section supports the beekeeping industry by training of prospective honey producers, assisting in the importation of production inputs, assisting in the extraction of honey as well as finding markets for honey.
The section also assists in bee removals and elimination of destructive colonies.

It also assists honey producers to source donor funds.
It was also found that the Lesotho Highlands Water Development Project (LHWDP) supports several farmers around the ’Muela Hydroelectric Plant in Butha-Buthe district.
The project works closely with the Beekeeping Section of the Forestry Ministry.
The Send-Me-a-Cow Stock Aid Project, located in Morija in the Maseru district, also supports seven beekeepers, the study found.
The beekeepers at Morija were given training on beekeeping by the Beekeeping Section.

The section also supplied the beekeepers with production inputs and bees.
The Lesotho Beekeepers Association (LBA) is supposed to be the umbrella beekeepers’ organisation in the country, according to the study.
The LBA mostly consists of beekeepers from Leribe District and most of the members of the Executive Committee come from the same district.
“Beekeepers from other districts seem not to be aware of the existence of LBA,” it reads.
The LBA was established in 2002 and is registered under the Societies Act of 1966.

The objective of the LBA is to eradicate poverty by promoting honey production in the country.
The founding Executive Committee is still holding office as there has never been a general assembly to elect new office bearers, according to the report.
The report says the LBA Executive Committee as well as the association are inactive.
“Members of the Executive Committee cannot even remember when they last met,” the report reads.
“The current membership is not known. One major problem facing the association is non-payment of the annual membership fee by members,” it reads.

“The other problem is non-attendance of meetings by members.”
The other beekeepers’ association is Women for All Seasons (WAS).
The WAS is made up of retired professional women who are on pension.
The association was started in 2001 with the objective of contributing to the economic development of the country as well as eradicating poverty.
It started with 35 members but currently has 10 members.
They also engaged in fundraising activities like selling sandwiches, raffle tickets and other activities and the money was used to purchase bee hives from South Africa.

The bee hives were located at Roma but were vandalized by herdboys.
The remaining hives were relocated to Ha-Foso in Berea where they were also vandalized.
The association was given a boost by the Church of Christ of the Latter Day Saints with a donation of 100 bee hives and honey extractor.
The hives were located at Qeme where some were washed away by floods.
The association has several hives under storage while the honey extractor has never been utilized.

The study found that a large number of members have lost interest in beekeeping such that they do not pay annual membership fees and do not attend meetings.
Another challenge is lack of knowledge about beekeeping.
“For instance they have the equipment but do not know how to use it, e.g. the honey extractor has never been used.”

Thooe Ramolibeli

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