Thursday, September 28, 2023

Beekeeping has tremendous business potential – but beware of honeycomb robbers

That “good to excellent bee-keeping conditions” exist in some parts of Botswana will be very good news to the entrepreneurially-minded but there is also the bad news. A study by the Department of Agricultural Economics at the Botswana College of Agriculture (renamed the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources) also identified the dangers that come with this business venture. Not only did beekeepers report having to deal with vicious bee pirates (ants), at least 11 percent of the respondents said they had been “robbed [of honeycombs] by man.” It remains unclear who these sweet-toothed criminals are but their peculiar criminality poses a threat to a venture with immense potential.

Such potential is clearly stated in a preliminary report based on a desk study conducted by the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP) under Business Botswana. PSDP commissioned the study on the development of honey (and morula) products for local and export markets. A prior commercialisation study found that the total annual demand for honey in 2005 was 40 tonnes, with 35 tonnes of it being imported. Seafood Whole Botswana was reported to be importing 78 percent of all imported honey. Local production amounted to 11.8 percent of officially documented demand for honey (123 tonnes) over six years from 1996/7 to 2003/4 – a total of just over 13 tonnes in six years.

Understandably, desk research cannot provide more current information that field research would but the situation doesn’t appear to have improved.  In 2005, there were around 500 active members of beekeeper groups but “despite the effective promotion and reach of training, 60 percent of people trained did not continue with beekeeping.” On the basis of the latter, only 124 colonies were harvested in 1999/2000, yielding 600 kilogrammes and in 2003/4, 136 colonies yielding 1206 kg were harvested.

Despite the fact that several regions of Botswana (Gaborone, Central, Southern Western, Northwest and Francistown) are regarded as being suitable for beekeeping, this potential is not being fully exploited. The lead honey producer in Botswana is a company called Real Tasty which is located 7 kilometres off the Kanye-Jwaneng road in a northerly direction at the 40-km mark. The company, which was started with a government loan amounting to P21 000, delivers its products to the Ladies No.1 Farmers Market and Botswana Craft Market in Gaborone as well as the Shell Restaurant Filling Station in Jwaneng. Part of the problem has to do with lack of systematic focus on bee-keeping: all beekeeper associations are local, representing small numbers of individual beekeepers and, with the exception of the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN), all of Botswana’s centres of higher education don’t offer beekeeping training. BUAN itself only offers beekeeping as a module within a degree programme.

PSDP looked into how this sector can be energised and the desk study benchmarked good practices in three SADC countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The study also sought to identify key players in the European market for consideration as distributors as well as to determine minimum required quality standards set in the European market for imported goods. Early indications are that the EU market will not be easy to penetrate because of stringent requirements. One is that every shipment of honey must be accompanied by a health certificate (honey is an animal product) stamped by a local veterinary officer. It also emerges that not enough Europeans are exactly hankering for honey from Africa. As a leading market for Fairtrade certified honey in the world, Germany accounts for 24 percent of the global market. The study says that leading German importers are “not necessarily interested in African honey.” The United Kingdom market offers some promise because while “major importers such as Rowse and Gale have shown no interest to date in Africa”, a company called Tropical Forest Products is one of the leading EU importers of African honey. Currently, most of African honey is from Ethiopia.

The local market requires a different approach because “Batswana, like other Africans, prefer natural honey than processed liquid honey.”


Read this week's paper