A social venture transforming arid land through modern honey farming
By Pius Sawa
When Sylvia Mwangi and Brian Ndirangu went camping at Lake Baringo in 2016, they had no idea that their trip would turn into a stroke of luck for the beekeepers in Kenya’s semi-arid East Rift valley.
It was on tour with Louis Jumah, a tour guide, that something caught Sylvia’s eye.
“Seeing how mothers sold crude honey on the roadside at a throw-away price was the start of the Baringo Asali project,” said Sylvia.
That is when Sylvia, Brian, and Louis came together with a single goal: to help the community increase its honey production. According to Sylvia, the traditional beekeeping methods used by the residents of Baringo weren’t strong enough to improve the economic standards of local households.
“The beehives were traditional and it took almost three years before harvesting,” explained Sylvia. The worst part: “A mother selling a tin of honey for less than five dollars to sustain her family was far too low in comparison with the same amount sold in local shops,” said Sylvia.
Located in the semi-arid and arid lands of Kenya, Baringo County is dominated by shrubs that are a good habitat for bees, with local communities having practiced beekeeping as the major source of subsistence livelihood for many years. But the inefficient methods used in producing and harvesting honey have seen the locals stuck in abject poverty.
According to Kenya’s National Farmers Information Service, 80 percent of Kenya’s honey comes from arid and semi-arid lands, which have high potential as a source for honey production. However, 80 percent of this honey comes from traditional log hives, which yield far too little to boost local incomes.
With modern hives like the Kenyan Top Bar and the Langstroth, honey production in Baringo will multiply. This will increase the country’s annual production, which currently stands at around 4000 metric tons. One hive has the capacity to produce between 20 and 30 kilograms of honey, with one kilogram selling at between six and nine dollars.
“All of us are passionate on matters pertaining to development and young people in our communities,” said Sylvia.
Sylvia, a graduate of the University of Toronto, thinks her degree in industrial engineering is the right one to bring change to the communities in Baringo County. As a Mastercard Foundation Scholar, Sylvia is one of 3,500 university students studying in Africa or overseas, chosen specifically because of their academic talent, social consciousness, and leadership qualities.
“My degree focuses on operations research, human factors, and information engineering. I hope to be able to apply my skills to the Kenyan health care system, making it more accessible and improving its quality,” she explained. “Currently, I am using my skills and networks to help improve the living standards in the community by introducing modern beekeeping methods, as well as establishing better sales channels for the honey produced.”
To ensure that the community accepts these proposed new changes, the Baringo Asali team has embarked on a sensitization program, demonstrating the potential of the honey industry and how modern farming techniques can transform and improve their livelihoods.
“We are providing training on modern beekeeping knowledge, providing the beehives themselves, as well as harvesting equipment,” said Sylvia.
A pilot project is being run to show farmers exactly how modern beekeeping and honey harvesting is done, and once this is achieved, Sylvia and her peers will help market the honey produced.
“We will use our networks as a team to create partnerships that will provide the community with a market for the honey that is produced. In addition to that, we will help the community develop an investment plan when it comes to community development,” said Sylvia.
One of the community projects that would get first priority, according to Sylvia, is clean piped water. She says that Baringo has access to a freshwater lake, but households don’t have water in their homes.
“We hope that some of the money earned from the sale of honey will be able to help the community get piped water, as well as other commodities that they would require.”
Already, the Baringo Asali project has approached companies that make modern beehives, and discussions around costs and installations are at an advanced level.
Baringo Asali won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge at the Mastercard Foundation Baobab Summit in Johannesburg in 2017, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth. These young leaders earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities. A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.
Baringo Asali will give mothers back the time they spend selling honey to travellers on the roadside and allow them to improve their standard of living.
“We hope to enable the community to live decently,” explained Sylvia. “It is already a marginalized community that struggles to acquire basic living requirements, such as food. We hope this project will allow them to build better, safer homes and increase school enrollment, particularly among the smaller children who normally accompany their mothers to sell the honey.”