Garreson Publishing runs a monthly e-mail newsletter for beekeepers (subscribe). This article is the first in a series of interviews of beekeepers from across the world.
Honey and wax vary in color and flavor- do you have any favorite flavor from Kenya?
I think Acacia honey is the favourite in Kenya. Generally African honey is darker and stronger in flavour.
How big are your beekeeping classes, and how do you find students?
Our classes are 15-20 students and most of the students are sponsored by charities as ordinary farmers cannot afford even a modest fee – about 90 USD for a week including tuition, food and accommodation.
Have you experienced any cultural challenges teaching beekeeping?
Yes – the biggest problem is to try and understand what is appropriate for the circumstances of the local area where I work. That means getting rid of ideas to get the latest equipment etc – simple is better defiantly. Often small beneficial changes to existing practices are the best way to go.
How significant is becoming a beekeeper to someone’s life? As I understand it here, most people are hobbyists, and of the people who keep bees for a living, very few of them are full time (it is an add-on to other farming).
While beekeepers are small scale – they are not necessarily hobbyists. Beekeeping is very important in contributing to people’s livelihoods. My own calculation is that beekeeping with 10 hives can generate the equivalent in income from close to a hectare of maize at national average maize yields of 1,800kgs per hectare. [GP - 1 hectare = 2.5 acres, 1,800 kg=2 tons]
Do you think field techniques with African bees would be helpful to beekeepers in the U.S. dealing with aggressive bees?
Of course there is always allot to learn. However the problem is that many of the useful practices in Africa are not documented. Therefore it is hard for American beekeepers to learn about Africa beekeeping practices. This is an issue I would dearly love to address through more research on the ground into local beekeeping knowledge and practices.
How do people market their honey?
In the area I work beekeepers sell allot of their production directly to neighbours. There is also considerable trade in honey for making honey beer which is also considered medicinal. Otherwise beekeepers can in addition sell to traders or honey packing companies. There are plenty of options but it does depend on where you live in the country. Beekeepers in remote parts of the Kenya where honey is relatively plentiful may have more problems selling their honey and sell it for a lower price.
Do people in Kenya value bees for pollination?
Generally people are not aware of the value of bees for pollination. Some large companies do keep bees for pollination but the average small scale farmer focuses on honey which is a high value product. Farmers where I work can sell honey at 2-3USD/kg farm gate in small quantities. [GP - kg = about 2.2 lb. For comparison, we sell a 2lb jar for about $6.75 US at our roadside stand, and my local grocery store sells commercially processed honey at $3/lb]
Garreson Publishing would like to thank Tom for generously allowing us to interview him. You can download his book or contact him directly through http://apiconsult.com/. In the coming months, we will continue this series from different perspectives, seeing how beekeeping impacts lives across the world. (subscribe)