Queen Bee: Keeping bees is a profitable business

Pauline Otila -Kamwara, Managing Director of the Beekeeping Enterprise during an interview on the way to the airport North. [David Gichuru,Standard]

Pauline Otila jokingly calls herself the queen bee and at the end of the interview we christen her the same. Although its worker colony may not number in the thousands – and not all of them are female – it is a hive of activity at Apiculture Venture Limited.

Since starting in 2018, he has built houses for bees, collected honey from them and made many products from his noisy little friends. He loves them; the seats in his office boast bee-themed upholstery and he wears a silver bee statue on his chest.

The treasurer of the Beekeeping Platform in Kenya even has a museum in his building where he maintains a collection of old and new methods of beekeeping and honey harvesting to encourage students, organizations and farmers to develop an interest in beekeeping.

Workers who make beehives in beekeeping enterprises. [David Gichuru,Standard]

Ms. Otila worked for a beekeeping company for 16 years, identifying gaps she felt were not being addressed, including honey processing and access to markets for farmers. He was responsible for management and operations.

An industrial visit with the company had previously opened his eyes to opportunities.

“In 2013, the company I was working for sent me to Israel and I thought it (beekeeping) was something I could do at home because I visited a few women who were doing it and they were a bit older but they were doing it. in a very professional manner. I thought, I’m young, why can’t I go back home and start working?

He returned home and started.

At first, its purpose was to provide a market for beekeepers.

“But I realized that working with them is not easy; They promise you so much (honey) today. you go tomorrow and he’s not ready. I decided to start with my own beehives, install them on farms and make my own honey,” he says.

People who needed a beehive approached him one after another.

Beekeeping Enterprise [David Gichuru,Standard]

Mrs. Otila says that she could not find enough land. The women it was mainly aiming to help also faced this problem. Many communities disinherit their daughters and therefore many women had poor access to land.

“I had an idea: why not rent vacant land? people in the diaspora mostly buy land that they don’t use for up to 10 years, why not rent it and keep beehives. The first plot of land I rented was in Isinya. It still operates today. Since then I have leased land in different parts of the country: Juja, Garissa, Eldoret, Bondo (Usenge), Bissil, Emali,” he says.

Individuals and later organizations that wanted to support beekeepers became his clients.

Ms Otila’s company deals in two beehives – the Kenyatop bar which sells for Sh4,800 and the Langstroth which costs Sh5,000. He has more than 1,100 beehives on various plots of land that he leases. He sold more than 5,000 beehives in 2021. The two types of hives are the pot hive, the basket hive, and the successor to the more common hive hive.

The Bachelor of Commerce graduate with a Masters in Strategic Management explains that his 17-employee company can make between 150 and 200 hives a week.

In the workshop, wooden boxes are cut into pieces, frames are made on which beeswax is glued, and the wax, which comes in blocks, is melted with steam, then the liquid wax is sieved, soaked to soften, rolled to pattern the final pattern. shaped like a beehive and then cut to size and placed in a frame.

The Langstroth hive, which is the most modern, consists of two boxes, the bottom box where the queen lives and lays her eggs, and the top box, the super box. A wire mesh with very small gaps separates the two boxes, where the queen can lay her eggs, to prevent the queen from moving into the super box where she can lay her eggs.

Beeswax and cream

A sheet iron lid covers the hive to prevent water from entering the hive, and a plywood lining prevents the hive from retaining too much heat. Both the super box and the brooder box have beeswax frames.

During harvest, new frames equipped with wax are installed in the super box. Those with honey are removed and taken for processing. The machine removes the beeswax without crushing it and the honey is then indirectly heated and if necessary filtered and then packaged.

Ms Otila also manufactures various products including lip cream, jelly and chocolate and is looking for investors to scale up these products.

A kilo of honey is 1000 manats for retail and 850 manats for wholesale. A kilo of creamed honey boiled until white is 2000 sh. Otila’s honey is called golden bee honey.

It offers training to visiting students for eight hours for 2,500 manats per person.

“I try to make it affordable for people,” he says.

Ms. Otila says that before renting out land, she checks the safety of her equipment, the location (to house 100 hives plus it is cost-effective), accessibility, topography (when the hive is full, it can be difficult to move the contents uphill; if it rains, it can spoil the area). should take into account. flooded), vegetation (bees depend on nectar to make honey and pollen to feed their young), and water (80 percent of honey is water).

“I’m experimenting with catch boxes. After identifying a suitable location, I purchase the background of that area and leave my trap box for three weeks or a month. This will tell me if I should move. I wonder what kind of activity is around, like if there’s a lot of spraying. “If I’m sure, I move the bees from the catch box to the hive,” he says.

Ms. Otila also rents hives to people looking for pollination services, which she says are grown in the country.

“Most of the customers are interested in pollination, not beekeeping. About 80 percent of crops must be pollinated by bees. Avocados, sunflowers, canola, strawberries, watermelons, it’s needed,” says Hass. The beehives are mostly bought by large companies.

For renters, he charges between Sh100 and Sh150 per day, depending on location.

When she started, Mrs. Otila needed financial help from her husband and a place to build her hives. He started with a budget of Sh4 million and ten hives.

Grants and low-interest loans have come in to help businesses grow, and she encourages women to go for these grants and loans.

“Some organizations promote beekeeping and pay for a stand or accommodation. They help business development, albeit indirectly.”

He believes that there is little state support and awareness for beekeepers.

With honey, one of the most adulterated products on earth, Mrs. Otila has to deal with disenfranchised customers when her honey is a little too dark in color or crystallized.

“Good honey will crystallize. People say that manufacturers add sugar. A kilo of sugar is expensive, who would take an expensive product to damage a good product? “Honey counterfeiters want to increase their margins and will use molasses or bananas,” he said.

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