Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
HONEY bees are generally considered to be dangerous and the venom from their sting can cause a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction.
However, despite their sting, the little insects have brought a new buzz to the life of a youthful entrepreneur in Bulawayo, Mr Welcome Bhila (33).
He prides himself in being a successful young businessman who has made great strides in apiculture (beekeeping), an industry that is often overlooked in Zimbabwe despite its potential.
A holder of a degree in information technology from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and a diploma in business management, Mr Bhila quit his job in one of the country’s leading companies to pursue his goal.
He injected an initial capital of US$10 000 from his savings to start his own company in Bulawayo, Bee’s Honey Company in 2013.
Today, Mr Bhila does not regret the bold move. The company employees 10 people in Bulawayo. In Harare they have a commercial office manned by two people with most of the operations being run from Bulawayo.
Bee’s Honey Company manufactures beehives for beekeepers and also serves as Bulawayo’s sole market for honey. The company also does honey processing, packaging and distribution.
“As Bee’s Honey Company we are trying to fill the gap in terms of demand for honey in the industry. We work with small scale farmers by training them and supplying them with equipment and also buying their honey,” said Mr Bhila.
“There is a huge demand for honey locally and on the export market. In fact, with this Covid-19 outbreak, there are health benefits associated with honey hence demand has even gone up. We are trying to create partnerships and linkages with anyone who is willing to make sure that the benefits of apiculture are realised.”
Mr Bhila said his long-term plan is to set up branches countrywide and expand his business by venturing into cosmetics and brewery.
“We have wines, lagers and ciders, which are made from honey. Our long-term plan is to go into serious value addition, but for now we are concentrating on honey because its demand in natural form, is very high and our production is still low,” he said.
“For us to do value addition when quantities are still low is difficult because you can’t create a demand for a value addition product yet you have not fulfilled the demand for a direct product.
“This is what we are trying to balance by trying to increase production by coming up with different schemes.”
Mr Bhila said he is in the process of building the country’s first beekeeping academy and research centre. “We also provide training programmes for individuals around Bulawayo with some coming from as far as Harare. I will soon introduce a one-day beekeeping training for women and youths and my focus being to get as much knowledge as possible in return for more honey and other by-products,” he said.
Demand for honey and other bee products is high in Zimbabwe. Besides being a food and a sweetener, honey is used in making confectioneries and pharmaceuticals, and as a natural medicine.
There is also a strong market for beeswax for making cosmetics, antiseptics, and for floor polish, furniture and shoe polish, soap, skin lotions and cough syrups.
Honey has health benefits, as a detoxifier, and contains vitamins E, D, C, and K, which help strengthen the body’s immune system.
“Honey and beeswax are also growing export commodities along with bee venom, propolis and royal jelly.
“These show great potential for employment generation and the good thing about most of these by-products is that they fit into the cosmetology industry,” said Mr Bhila.
“There is a wide diversity of values linked to bees and pollination beyond agriculture and food production.
“Bees and their habitats provide ecological, cultural, financial, health, human and social values.”
Mr Bhila said beekeeping is critical for local development as it typically requires minimal investment, generates diverse products and provide flexibility in timing and locations of activities.
He said people who venture into bee-keeping without proper training are often not able to maintain the bees up to harvest time.
Mr Bhila, who is also the national secretary of the Zimbabwe Apiculture Platform, said there is need for Zimbabwe, which used to be one of Africa’s largest producers of honey, to reclaim its position.
“I have trained in Zambia and Swaziland and Zimbabweans are more understanding when it comes to acquiring knowledge hence, we have better advantages compared to our countries.
“I have done training programmes under partnerships with Comesa and the African Union on beekeeping. I am a trainer of trainers and I am trying to train people as much as I can,” he said.
Mr Bhila said they buy the honey from local farmers and sell it to local pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies with some being exported to South Africa.
“We also do packaging and we have our own brand. It’s rare to find it in the local market because it sells fast. With honey it is seasonal and in Zimbabwe we have two seasons that is May-June and November-December,” he said.
“With beekeeping your only inputs are your beehives and if you do your planning well you recoup all your expenses in the first year. A beehive costs US$30 and that includes the mounting and setting up, and that standard beehive will give you 15kgs of honey and we are buying a kg at US$2.
Mr Bhila said despite the company being in its infancy, they are already getting enquiries from companies in the Middle East, China, UK, Japan and Turkey interested in their products.
“The advantage of local honey is that it is semi-organic because the Government hasn’t approved chemicals to be used on bees and therefore our honey is chemical free. It’s semi-organic because most of the processes that we use on our bees don’t use any chemicals and that is an advantage over our competitors,” he said.
Mr Bhila said the major challenge in the apiculture industry is access to funding largely because banking institutions are skeptical when it comes to issuing out loans to beekeeping farmers.
“Our industry is an area banks are not familiar with as they only associated bees with sting yet there is actually more money in honey than other farming activities.
“We buy a tonne of honey for US$2 500 yet there are no operating costs such as fertilizer among other inputs,” he said.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), through pollination, bees benefit human nutrition by enabling not only the production of abundance of fruits, nuts and seeds, but also more variety and better quality.
Mr Bhila said the minimum lifespan of a beehive is eight years. He said they are working on a queen bee breeding programme whereby a farmer has an option to buy the bees without necessarily having to wait for the natural swarming to happen. Queen bee breeding is an artificial method of creating queens.
He said “Apitourism” is also another area with a potential for Zimbabwe to earn foreign [email protected]