Wilder Herrera

I took up beekeeping thanks to a training opportunity offered by Cenfrocafe. I really enjoyed it and became very passionate about bees. I decided to take up beekeeping as an additional activity on my farm because I believe in always developing my skills. I started with three bee hives, and after two years had 15 hives. Right now, I have 35 honey-producing hives. Aside from keeping bees, I grow coffee and I am part of the reforestation project here in Cajamarca, Jaén. I keep domestic animals too.

I started with three bee hives, and after two years had 15 hives. Right now, I have 35 honey-producing hives. 

Beekeeping is a short season and high-value business making it a profitable venture for farmers. For one to produce a crop like coffee for example, a farmer needs at least two years. To get honey on the other hand, a well-trained bee farmer needs only 6 months and they can begin to harvest honey.

I invest a lot in beekeeping, and it’s not just because I have a lot of experience as a producer, but because I make sure that I’m always learning. For me, beekeeping is great especially in a place like this where there’s an abundance of flora, it is like a paradise with the potential to produce high quality honey, so what we need is more hives because we can harvest a lot of honey here. 

Beekeeping is great especially in a place like this where there’s an abundance of flora, it is like a paradise with the potential to produce high quality honey… 

I am grateful for the training opportunities I’ve had that continue to help me grow as a farmer. Because of the knowledge I have on bee farming, I know that this is a profitable business for me. I also know that beekeeping compliments other agricultural activities as it helps in pollination and honey has many health and nutritional benefits. Beekeeping provides a lot of benefits. Bees have a very important role in pollinating the flowers that already exist and I’ve learned that while honey is produced all over the world, there’s a great diversity of flowering plants which provide nectar and pollen for bees. Apart from honey, there are other beehive products that bee farmers harvest. I produce honey, wax, pollen, propolis, jelly and apitoxin – which is the poison of bees that are used in countries like Korea and China.

 

Through training from the Universidad Agraria La Molina in Lima and by working with the Peru Inka industry,  I have learned how tomake my own branded products from honey and other beehive products like facial cream, soaps and shampoos. This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. As chairman of my local organisation, I am working on a project that runs until the end of 2022 and together with my cooperative, we are working to expand into international markets in the middle east. Our plan is to see beekeepers in the Cajamarca region sell their honey to international markets.

Our plan is to see beekeepers in the Cajamarca region sell their honey to international markets…

Bees may be small creatures, but they play a very important role. As a beekeeper, one needs to dedicate their time and be passionate about this business, and constantly attend training sessions to learn more about bee farming and to develop skills in this industry. I think it is important to leave something for our children and grandchildren. If God gives us life, it is important to live in harmony with nature. We’ve all experienced the sudden climatic changes all over the world, and I believe with reforestation and beekeeping we can play a part in contributing to protecting our land and our planet. I encourage other farmers to try bee farming, because it is a profitable business that also contributes to environmental protection. 

Q&A WITH OUR CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE MANAGER

At the core of Producers Direct’s model is its Centre of Excellence network, a farmer-run enterprise hosted by a smallholder producer organisation. Our goal is for each CoE to serve as a ‘one stop shop’, providing ​support to farmers through ​farmer-led training, ​funding through a farmer-led credit fund, ​market ​access ​and farmers accessing applicable data to help them make better farming decisions. The CoE model enables farmers and producer organisations to break down the barriers that farmers face, upskilling them to boost their resilience, productivity and livelihoods.

Carolyne Mutai is a manager at one of our Centres of Excellence (CoE) – Sireet OEP, located in Nandi Hills, Kenya. In 2015, she started working as a youth coordinator and was part of the team that established the Sireet CoE, which was started to create additional sources of income for smallholder farmers. Carolyne runs the day-to-day management at the CoE, working closely with youth agents to support farmers to run their agriculture enterprises.

Sireet CoE is largely known as a tea-processing cooperative, and while the cooperative has over the years produced high-quality tea, smallholder farmers in Sireet have ventured into agricultural diversification. By introducing other products such as bananas, avocados and honey they have been able to increase their incomes and mitigate some of the risks that relying on one crop can create. 

Everyday, smallholder farmers face numerous challenges and addressing these challenges is difficult. In a recent interview with Carolyne, she talks to us about  the innovative approaches and strategies that farmers have adopted over the years and even during the pandemic and shares how she thinks farmers across the agriculture value chain can be supported to grow their incomes.

What does your typical day as a COE manager look like?

This depends on the projects I have. For example, when I come in the morning, I go through my schedule for the day. On some days, farmers come to my office in the morning with different requests, like currently, many of the bee farmers want to find out how they can get beekeeping equipment or to find out about selling their honey, so I attend to these farmers first and then go to the farms to meet with farmers to keep up to date on what is going on and help with any challenges they are experiencing. I always have to be in touch with the farmers and so visiting their farms is something I do regularly. Then the rest of my day involves me working on any other tasks either in the office or outside the office.

 

How many farmers are there in your network in Sireet OEP?

We have slightly above 6000 shareholders, but when we count the total number of farmers who have access to the services at Sireet, the number goes up to about 14,000. These services that non-shareholders access are like training, or when they get a market for their products. There was a farmer who recently came in to find out whether he could attend a beekeeping training that was led by one of our promoter farmers and also about where he could sell his 60 litres of honey. Like I mentioned, many farmers are interested in beekeeping

 

 

How have smallholder farmers in Sireet coped with the negative impacts of the pandemic?

The biggest challenge for many farmers was finding a market for their produce. Because of the lockdown restrictions and the curfew, many markets, even within our farmers’ locality, were closed, meaning a lot of their produce would just go to waste because they did not have anywhere to sell. Even the farmers who would usually wait for buyers to come to buy produce from them in the farms also experienced this challenge because movement was restricted. Again, because many farmers are above 40 years old, they had to stay at home to protect themselves from getting infected. After months of making losses, some farmers began trying other profitable ventures like poultry farming and as more farmers learned about how to manage the risks of Covid-19, they found ways to still be productive, despite the pandemic. Thanks to the lifting of the lockdown restrictions and the curfew, and vaccine uptake, more farmers felt safe to go back to work. 

 

What would you say are some of the things that make Sireet a cooperative that’s farmer centered?

The cooperative was founded and is owned purely by farmers, meaning the decisions made at every level are for the benefit and growth of the farmers. Because of this, farmers feel a sense of ownership and a responsibility. The structure of the cooperative also is such that farmers get to interact with the leadership team and doing this makes them feel part of the cooperative and this interaction assures them that their concerns are heard and addressed. 

Our farmers also value trust, and so whenever we have a project, we ensure to engage them throughout the project and address any challenges and support them all the way so that they can trust us with their enterprises. We ensure to give them information at every stage of the project.

From working with farmers all these years, what would you say has been the impact of training on their enterprises?

The biggest impact has been them implementing what they’ve learned in the training sessions in their own farms because they find the lessons helpful. And because they learn from their fellow farmers, they always have their peers to seek clarity from and they can always learn more from them because they are within reach.

We’ve selected promoter farmers based on the enterprises they specialise in and also according to their regions (zones). In that way, farmers know which promoter farmer to go to for training, advice and any other support they may need from promoter farmers. We have promoter farmers in all our zones and the great thing about our promoter farmers is that they are always willing to share their knowledge and expertise. 

There’s a woman who began growing vegetables in her kitchen garden, and when we offered banana training, she was part of the training. After the training, she started growing bananas. She now runs her own banana business, and is now one of our promoter farmers, training other farmers on banana farming. She also brought together a group of women who formed a chama (an informal investment group) where they give monthly contributions to support their goal of becoming bee farmers. They recently came to me asking about how we could supply them with beehives. 

 

When interacting with farmers, what are the challenges that they always highlight that they’d want addressed?

For bee farmers, harvesting honey is one of the areas they need training in. There are farmers who have up to 200 bee hives, all of them colonised, but not having the right harvesting gear or the right skills to ensure that they do not contaminate the honey during harvesting prevents them from making maximum profits from their beekeeping businesses.

For avocado farmers, the only challenge would be to ensure that they get the right seedlings for a certified nursery, because management of avocado farms, with the right seedlings, is not a challenge. For banana farmers, the challenge is finding the right variety of bananas to grow, from the many different varieties that are in the market.So they need training in order to identify the right variety that will do well in their area.

The other challenge for farmers is lack of finance to grow their enterprises and lack of markets for their produce. Access to finance creates opportunities for farmers to explore a wide range of farming options and when they have a market to sell their produce, then their enterprises will thrive. 

 

Other than growing avocados, bananas and beekeeping, what other ventures are farmers diversifying into?

Some of our farmers are dairy farmers, they keep poultry and some have fish ponds and kitchen gardens. 

 

What has been the impact of working with youth agents?

I’ve worked with three of the five youth agents for close to five years. The other two joined us last year. The youth agents are responsible for the different zones within Sireet, and work closely with farmers to support their day-to-day activities. Working with them has made my work more manageable. 

 

What about young people? What agriculture related activities are they doing? 

Some have ventured into beekeeping because it is a shorter season, high-value farm enterprise when compared to crop production. In Sireet, we are creating opportunities for them through value addition and also by being part of the value chain, including areas like transportation. Training and enabling the integration of technology to unlock opportunities is also one other way we are working to ensure that young people can earn a living in agriculture.

 

How can young people be supported to get into agriculture?

By engaging them in youth forums, where as groups, they will share their ideas and tell us what areas they want to venture into when it comes to agriculture. I also think, by engaging with other young people from different counties, they’ll have an opportunity to see what agricultural activities young people are doing and learn from their peers and exchange ideas. 

 

How are the farmers in Sireet dealing with the negative impacts of climate change they are seeing on their farms?

Climate change has been one of the things that we get to talk about here in Sireet. Last year for example, the weather was unpredictable and in previous years, farmers have noticed the changing weather patterns that continue to affect their yield. We’ve had training sessions where farmers are taught about the importance of growing trees to preserve biodiversity. We have a tree nursery here in Sireet, where we distribute seedlings to farmers. We also have training sessions where farmers learn about how to take care of wetlands, preserve the rivers and the forests. In one of our training sessions last year, farmers with kitchen gardens learned a simple farming technology- multi-storey gardening, where through irrigation, they are able to maximise their crop production all year round.

Two years ago, we also had a project where farmers learned how to utilise weather forecasting to help them make plan for the many day-to-day decisions like crop irrigation, what’s the best time to add fetiliser and when to expect rain… And the decisions they made helped them to predict weather patterns and make decisions to improve the production of a successful crop.  

 

Finally, what have been your lowest and highest moments of working with smallholder farmers?

My lowest moments had to be during the pandemic when we had to stop the training sessions and visits to farms, so we couldn’t respond to the challenges farmers were experiencing at the time. It was also a low moment because farmers made huge losses 

One of my highest moments has been seeing farmers put into practice what they’ve learned during training sessions. When a farmer calls to tell me that they are happy they came to the training because they’ve implemented what they learned, and it has improved their yield, that makes me happy. 

 

Q&A: Young Kenyan Agri-preneurs developing tech solutions for bee farmers

When three engineering students from Dedan Kimathi University of Technology saw the challenges bee farmers experience every day, came together and developed a solution. Jackline Tum, a tech enthusiast with a passion for using technology to solve community challenges was interested in helping bee farmers because growing up in Nandi County, she had seen first-hand how farmers would incur losses and fail to get value from their beekeeping ventures. Together with her fellow student, Joseph Musya and Clinton Oduor, they started IBees – an automated non-invasive method to help beekeepers remotely monitor the state of their beehives in real-time on their phones.

This way, farmers get notifications via the IBees mobile application that inform them about any potential risks to their hives, enabling them to act fast and deal with the challenges. Using the mobile application, farmers can also keep apiary records such as harvests and beehive operations tasks and schedules that allow them to track progress and stay up to date.

Last year in partnership with support from UK-Kenya Tech Hub and UK aid, Producers Direct held a Youth Direct na AgriBiz Digital National Innovation showcase to provide a platform for young agri-preneurs to showcase their work in the agriculture space and share their successes from these innovations. IBees won the best innovation award. We spoke to one of the co-founders Clinton about their brilliant innovation, their learnings as they develop it and their future plans for IBees.

How are bee farmers responding to the IBees innovation?

Clinton: At the moment, we are working mostly with bee farmers in Nyeri County and we just recently began to work with bee farmers in Murang’a County and so far, we’ve received positive feedback from the farmers we sampled. They’ve told us that there are a lot of challenges they are facing and having the IBees device is helping to provide solutions to some of  these challenges.  

 

Are there examples of farmers who have shared their challenges and how IBees is helping address these challenges?

Clinton: There is a farmer from Nyeri County who told us that she kept having issues with honey badgers and this was a big problem for her. The solution we offer using our device is the ability to detect vibrations, knocks and also tell if a bee hive has been toppled. Having near real time alerts for her was a much needed relief that helps her respond to these threats in good time. So, whether a farmer is close to the hives or not, they can receive alerts from anywhere in the world. 

We also spoke to a bee farmer in Kitui County, where there are many bee farmers, who told us that a lot (about 14%) of hives destruction is caused by honey badgers. This is a big number considering the number of bee hives that are currently in Kenya, so it is a big problem. We’ve also noticed honey badgers coming to our bee farm at the research centre, further reinforcing that they are a big problem for many bee farmers and farmers need to be able to detect their approach before they get to their hives. 

 

Tell us a little about the farmers in your network

Clinton: Most of the farmers in our network are above the age of 35, but they are also not very old. We have a few young farmers aged 35 and below, but most of them are still trying to understand the business of beekeeping, so they have not done it for a long time. Some of the farmers in our network do beekeeping at large scale for commercial purposes, but some just keep bees as a hobby. There are also farmers from counties like Laikipia County, where they experience human wildlife conflict, who keep bees as a form of protection against destruction by wild animals like elephants. 

 

 How have the farmers in your network embraced using digital tools in their day-to-day farm activities?

Clinton: Today,a good number of Kenyans can access digital technology. But we also acknowledge that this is not so for many farmers. Because of that, we’ve ensured that the device we have designed can be used by any phone user. For example, we have enabled alerts on SMS texts, so for farmers who own feature phones, using our device is not a challenge.  Besides, even bee farmers with traditional bee hives can still use our device

  

What winning the Youth Direct na Agribiz competition meant for IBees

Clinton: Winning the Youth Direct na Agri Biz competition last year was huge for us. First, it showed us that we are contributing towards improving the lives of farmers and helping increase their produce and in turn their incomes. It also made us know that we are enabling sustainable beekeeping practices and  playing a role in bee conservation. We are currently losing bees at a very high rate and this threatens things like food security going forward. The win also enabled us to buy some of the equipment and tools  that we needed to take our project to the next level. At the moment, we are doing extensive active learning before we begin to do this at scale, so that win was a great boost for this project.

 

What are the challenges you’ve experienced when trying to get more bee farmers to use your product?

Clinton: One of the biggest challenges that we have had so far is that some of the components needed to put together our device aren’t sourced locally, and so when we factor in all the costs incurred, the device becomes expensive for the average bee farmer. Because of this, it is difficult to convince a farmer to buy it. So we have invested a lot on our prototype to ensure it works really well before we take it for mass production. And we are hoping that if we produce it at scale, because many farmers will need it, the cost will reduce, making it affordable to many more farmers. At the moment, the device goes for 5000 KSH (USD 50), but after mass production, we are hoping the cost will reduce significantly. And after purchase, the only other cost the farmers will incur will be an annual subscription fee that’s about the price of a jar of honey, like 800-1000 KSH (8-10USD)

What, in your opinion, can be done to make young people consider opportunities in agriculture?

Clinton: As a young person with a technical background, I’ve seen a lot of innovations by young people in the agri-tech field. This is encouraging because it shows young people have an interest in developing innovations that farmers and the agriculture industry can benefit from. And while not all young people can be directly involved in agri-tech, I think there are many opportunities in this industry. The value chain is broader than just taking a jembe and going to dig. And I think if organisations and stakeholders in this industry can make the opportunities available for young people by offering the skills and training required, many young people will take up jobs in this sector.  

 

What’s next for IBees?

Clinton: Like I mentioned, we just expanded into Murang’a County and our goal is to scale beyond Kenya into other beekeeping countries. The challenges bee farmers are facing in Kenya are also common with bee farmers in other countries, so we believe we can help provide a solution. Aside from making profit from selling our device, we want to gather the data we receive from the devices from beehives in different locations and work with institutions to use the data to learn about how we can save our bees. We want to make an impact on our planet through saving the bees because the importance of bees for our environment and to our crops and food systems cannot be understated. So, aside from IBees being something really cool that my two friends and I designed, we want our work to make an impact in the world. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working with Farmers to Increase their Incomes Through Beekeeping

“ I attended beekeeping training at the Sireet Centre of Excellence (COE) office and after that training, another team of farmers came to teach us more about beekeeping. From these training sessions, I learned more about beekeeping and how to get a market for honey and other farm products.”

At Producers Direct, we understand that agriculture is a key contributor to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and we work with them to support ownership of key crop value chains and on-farm diversification into multiple crops as a key way to increase incomes. By growing multiple additional crops and products, in addition to the main cash crop, there’s potential for farmers to earn more and grow their incomes.

We’ve seen first-hand the wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise which exists in underserved rural farming communities. Our model and approach focuses on creating opportunities for smallholders to share, build upon and strengthen this knowledge and expertise. Using our farmer-led COEs, smallholder farmers  are learning how to implement new and innovative farming techniques  through peer to peer training to transform their farms into sustainable businesses. 

One of the ways our farmers are diversifying is through beekeeping. This is a fairly manageable venture that farmers can add around their farm households, it is flexible and does not require as much tendering as keeping livestock and other crops. Additionally, beekeeping fits well into smallholder farming systems because it does not take up a lot of space, does not rely on other factors like soil fertility or compete with other resources needed by crops and livestock, making it a suitable venture even for young people. 

With this in mind, Producers Direct has introduced modern beekeeping through training and recruitment of bee farmers across East Africa  and Peru, to enable them to set up bee hives, produce and sell honey. Using our four-part, farmer-led support services, farmers are given training on beekeeping, and training on the importance of documenting farm records and how they can make use of the data to make better beekeeping decisions. Farmers then receive funding in form of beehives and equipment needed to launch their honey enterprises. Bee farmers then work with our network of youth coordinators who create links to local markets where farmers can sell their honey. 

 

Through the four main components of our model, we support farmers to start their businesses, earn additional incomes and share their expertise with other farmers. “In one of the training sessions, we got loans in the form of bee hives to help us set up our beekeeping businesses. This was helpful because we are now able to put our training to practical use.“ Our bee farmers in Uganda and Tanzania have, to date, received 986 Langstroth bee hives and 60 complete kits of protective honey harvesting gear. 

“In one of the training sessions, we got loans in the form of bee hives to help us set up our beekeeping  businesses. This was helpful because we are now able to put our training to practical use.”

 

Alongside our work with farmers, we are creating a farmer-owned brand of honey. By purchasing Producers Direct honey, hundreds more smallholder farms will become sustainable businesses. This honey is currently on sale in Kenya with plans to scale out across our network. 

Beekeeping has the potential to supplement or enhance the incomes of our smallholder farmers  across East Africa and Peru, adding an additional $29 a month (over 50% increase for farmers earning $1.35 a day), according to our research. Our goal is to continue to work together with farmers to sustain this growth, support their beekeeping enterprises by providing them with finance and linking them with markets where they can sell their honey and in future, other bee hive products.