Exclusive: My work as a beekeeper comes from a deep caring and concern for the fragility of the honeybees’ population, says Mr Bees Africa Founder Kunihira Stephen

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As people are turning towards healthier food options, the demand for organic honey is also on the rise, thereby giving a golden opportunity to entrepreneurs to enter the profitable and eco-friendly occupation of apiculture.

In an exclusive conversation with Agrigate Global, Kunihira Stephen, who is also known as Mr Bees, shared his insightful sights on the business of bee-keeping.

Mr Kunihira is the founder and CEO of Mr Bees Africa Ltd that is located in Uganda. Stephen also works as a consultant on hive health for troubled colonies and concerned beekeepers. At present, Mr Kunihira is also serving on the Board of Directors for Source of The Nile Beekeepers Consortium Limited.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Tell us about your experience in keeping bees so far.

I have been tending my own hives in Uganda over the last 8 years, using my naturalist and biodynamic approach.

My work as a beekeeper comes from a deep caring and concern for the fragility of the honeybees’ population, and profound respect for the structure of their collective lives and their impact on the health of Mother Earth. My goals are focused on the wellbeing of the colonies I nurture, and through teaching others, I’ve raised the awareness of and caring for these amazing creatures.

My naturalist and biodynamic methods, and hive designs have developed from my years of working with and listening to, Honeybees, as well as having studied many beekeeping courses.

Honeybee lives’ in-depth workshops nurture beginning beekeepers and encourage veteran beekeepers to adopt a naturalist approach, that’s why I chose this route.

Q. Would you recommend beekeeping as an alternative/additional source of income for traditional farmers?

Beekeeping doesn’t cost much to start since, in most places worldwide, bees are free of charge.

Bees are pretty well independent species that work on their own as they’re a source of food like honey, pollen, royal jelly, and the products from bees are a source of money and have a ready market. Bees give flowers a boost through pollination, thereby increasing the crop yields and sustainability of nature. Keeping bees, in fact, is one of the best ways of saving the bees and nature conservation.

Also, beekeeping is for everyone, not gender segregative i.e. both men and women can do. Even children, the elderly and the disabled can start this initiative.

The products from beekeeping are a great source of medicine and immunity-boosters as well.

Q. What is your advice for beginners?

One of the most important things to do before starting beekeeping is to sort out the important decisions from the less important decisions. If you pay attention to the rest of this, you’ll see hardly anything.

I would like to point out that there are many things in beekeeping practices that you can easily change as you go along. There is no point stressing out over these things. There are other things in beekeeping that are a crucial investment and are difficult to change later.

First and foremost, start by picking a book on honeybees, their evolution and behaviour, learn to work with bees first in your head and then practice.

Secondly, identify where you want to practice beekeeping and engage any beekeepers around to guide you in seasons.

Next, start with a cheaper but productive hive (transition hives) to enable you to study and understand your bees, moving forward can bring in frame hives.

Then, identify a credible beekeeping company to work within marketing and for any other technical consultancy/assistance. Get to know the products you want to produce and specialise in them.

Be clean, smart and gentle. Take care of your bees like you would with a cattle farm, give your bees adequate time. Invest in research to find out why certain things are happening with your bees. In future, when you start harvesting bee products, maintain quality while keeping consistency and reliability to maintain your market. While keeping bees, know that the safety of your community and your clients come first.

Q. What are some essentials for a beekeeper?

For a beekeeper, several tools and pieces of equipment are crucial, including a smoker, jacket or suit, hive tools, a bee brush, a beehive, bees, bee attractant, Queen catcher, land, proper source of water supply and sheds or shades.

Q. Since you also market your own brand of Honey, what are your suggestions to marketing and selling of bee produces like honey and wax?

In fact, honey marketing opportunities will vary depending on the volume of honey. However, it is important to identify a suitable market according to one’s needs. Also, customized packaging and good brand name are other factors that need to be taken into account while selling the bee produce. Delivery services, if possible, are always an added advantage.

In addition, reliability and communication are key components in the entire process of marketing in order to create a loyal customer base.

Q. Would you like to take us through the investment aspects of starting as a beekeeper?

A farmer investing in 50 transitional beehives will need around 1503 USD capital for the start, including every other essential tool.

Each of these beehives when we’ll manage produce nearly 15kgs of honey. The hives in the later are harvested two times a year-African season.

In the market, each kilo of honey costs 6USD. 50 Beehives produce 1500 tonnes of honey yearly. In simple terms, 6 USD  x 1500 = 9000 USD per year is income generated on honey alone and thus the business is sustainable since it is a long-term enterprise.

Q. What, according to you, are the steps that policymakers need to take to popularize beekeeping as a career?

Policymakers must protect local honey by imposing heavy taxes on imported honey. Also, massive advertisements, talk shows, and TV presentations and exhibitions on overall beekeeping should be encouraged in order to sensitize masses on the role of bees in the ecosystem.

Moreover, the authorities need to protect natural forests and sensitize the public on planting more bee-friendly plants, besides motivating people to buy local honey initiatives.

In addition, subsidiarity of prices must be there by beekeeping companies for smallholder/scale beekeepers. Encouraging foreign investors in the beekeeping sector and regulating the use of pesticides, and other fertilisers are also some other measures.