Most farmers in dry Kitui County have embraced beekeeping to cushion themselves from harsh climatic conditions and are thriving at it.
Sporadic rainfall patterns which characterize most parts of the arid and semiarid region have forced the farmers to drop crop production for apiculture.
Kitui is famed for its excellent honey thanks to acacia trees which are commonest across the vast county.
One of the commercial beekeepers from Ndithi village in Mwingi Central, Joshua Munyoki said he does not regret his venture into beekeeping.
“I dropped crop production because Kitui experiences erratic rainfall patterns and perennial crop failure. Subsistence farming is no longer viable,” said Munyoki at his apiary consisting of 95 modern/Langstroth and 45 log hives.
“I have dedicated my energy to honey production and business is brisk due to the ever-increasing demand for Kitui honey,” he added.
Mr Munyoki said he harvests an average of 400 kilos/liters of honey in each of the three seasons annually.
According to him, one hive gives between 10 and 15 kilos per harvest depending on the availability of water and foliage.
“A kilo/liter of honey goes between Sh.300 and Sh.500 but we are still looking for better markets since we feel the prices are still exploitative,” he revealed.
He said he has been able to support his family and educate his children with proceeds from the sale of the honey.
Eutichus Katungi is another farmer from Ikutha in remote Kitui South who is earning handsomely from beekeeping.
He owns over 50 modern beehives from which he harvests about 300 kilos of honey per season.
Katungi, however, decried market challenges and exploitation by middlemen which he said he had forced him to join 232 other beekeepers from the area to form the Kamaki farmers cooperative.
Though beekeeping has turned out to be a lucrative venture which is easy to manage and has few risks as an investment option, Mr. Katungi, who is also chairman of Kamaki Sacco, said challenges abound.
The experienced apiculturist said persistent droughts weighed down on their income as bees tend to migrate when water and flowers diminish thereby decreasing honey production.
Destruction of trees especially due to charcoal burning was another nightmare staring them in the face, he said.
“Acacia trees, from whose nectar bees make the best honey, is most preferred by charcoal burners but the recent ban on charcoal production by the county government came as a great relief for bee farmers,” Katungi explained.
He also lamented that most of their members lacked proper gear for harvesting honey and urged the county government to support them with bee suits, smokers, gumboots, gloves, buckets, and hive knives in order to optimize their potential.
He said lack of the equipment not only forced farmers to harvest only at night when bees are less active but also compromised quality of honey due to poor post-harvest handling.
“We also hope the county administration will secure and link us with more lucrative and reliable national and international markets for maximum profits,” he appealed.
Katungi said rampant honey theft was another setback they faced
“There are crooks fond of reaping where they did not sow. They raid our hives at night and harvest the honey thereby causing farmers huge losses,” he lamented.
His sentiments were echoed by his 71-year-old neighbor Kisoi Kamba who owns over 150 hollow log-hives.