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"The sky's the limit"

Story written by Oluwaseun Johnson

I never planned to study entomology or be a beekeeper. Actually I enrolled in the school of Biological Sciences hoping to be a medical doctor.

Some days after the Asian tsunami in 2004, I was intrigued by a scientific publication that suggested that animals, particularly insects were sensitive enough to leave days before the catastrophe. This is how I became interested in entomology and wildlife and found out insects are the most successful of all living beings.

Discovering the Apiculture world

By that time, the labour market was choked up. I started thinking about possible business markets I could get involved in. Out of all the insect families the most popular one are the beetles (Coleopterans), which is of great economic importance to agriculture. However, as I did not see much of an entrepreneurial future in this sector for Africa, I thought instead about bees (Hymenopterans) and began to specialise in entomology and wildlife at my third year of undergraduate study.

When I finished my undergraduate studies, I applied for the voluntary national service for graduates of higher institutions of learning in Nigeria. Thankfully, I realised soon enough that keeping bees during my service year wasn’t the right choice due to the violent people that I met there, so after my service year I managed to set up an apiary while engaging myself in other side jobs to survive.

My first apiary had a capacity to carry 33 hives. The picture below was just before it was finished.My first apiary had a capacity to carry 33 hives

The location was very suitable as it was rich in water source (a little stream), density  and diversity of angiosperms both in and out of season. It was located in the dense vegetative area called Galadimawa, which is in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Overcoming vandalism

This could have served for training and capacity building purposes. It could have also helped carry out environmental health studies in that area for the city of Abuja. Unfortunately, when the time for harvest came, thieves took away all the harvestable honey and destroyed the infrastructure.

I had to pick up the left overs, relocate the hives into a fenced farm and built a 60 hive capacity apiary. I designed this apiary also for training purposes among others. A picture of when it was under construction is shown below.

60 hive capacity apiary

Yet vandalism has not stopped; it is better now as I have employed someone to look after the apiary. Likewise, farmers who are in the surroundings help protect my apiary as they see the yield of their crops has improved thanks to its proximity.  

Training women farmers in bee-keeping

I am currently training farmers under a USAID MARKETS 2 project. We are training in five states of Nigeria and it is of great joy empowering farmers. We have seen the impact of pollination intervention in strawberry farms in Platue state, pepper farms in Kaduna state and soya beans in Benue state. Besides, we have been able to provide a market for beekeepers and people from Kasiri in Kaduna state now have takers available for all their products.

In the past, women did not have buyers. During our Farmer Interest Analysis for the Chikum and Kajuru women of Kaduna state we were informed that after harvesting the honey women only took the little they needed and poured the rest into the river as they could not carry the dense liquid home. They also burnt the bees so that these wouldn’t disturb them when they were working in their farms. Thanks to our project, now they know better.

Moreover, farmers in Ondo and Cross river states in Southern Nigeria are willing to slow down the use of insecticides and practice traditional methods that discourage pests and promote effective pollination.

Expanding the business

Despite all the obstacles, I believe agriculture’s future is brighter than ever. I was recently at a mega store to attend a suppliers’ meeting for a honey packaging company I am consultant at and I was very elated with the increase of locally manufactured honey demand.

Recently,  an economist on another forum made a conservative estimate of what the beekeeping industry is worth in Nigeria and concluded on about three billion naira yearly (around 15 million USD). Considering this number only included honey, bee bread (pollen), propolis and commercial pollination and not bee venom or royal jelly. It is very promising.

Despite the several challenges, I won’t give up. I hope not only to raise enough capital to set up a minimum of 300 - 1,000 hives in several apiaries in Nigeria and Ghana, but also to train farmers on bee-keeping to learn to practise apitherapy. The household nutrition dimension of bee products brought home is overwhelming. The sky is the limit.