31 January 2006

Nigeria: Beekeeping As Manna for Nigeria


The greatest service of bees to mankind is in their service as pollinators to many plants. For instance, about 90 crops grown in the United States alone are dependent on insect pollination, performed primarily by the honeybee. Tunde Fabunmi a journalist-turned-beekeeper insists that investing in beekeeping is tantamouint to investing in the very foundation of agricultural enterprise and the benefits are limitless.

BEE-KEEPING is like any other business in which you have to invest for you to expect returns. But it is different from most other investments particularly in the agricultural sector. It is different from other businesses in the agricultural sector in the sense that before you start most of these other businesses, you need to put some basic things in place. For instance, before you go into poultry production, you would need to provide space and build a house for your chicken and provide feed for them too. You would probably need the services of a veterinary doctor and so many other in-puts and thereby incur running cost. Then you have to consider how to dispose of the waste generated.

" But in beekeeping, you need to provide only a little input. The main thing you need is money to start off. You could do bee-keeping in a very small space. You could do bee-keeping in a 10 feet square area of land. So, you don't need to own land to do bee-keeping. Then you would need money to provide the tools and accessories. It does not require running expenses. And that is one clear feature which distinguishes it from other agricultural endeavours.

"Another feature of bee-keeping is that the labour required for its upkeep, is very minimal. You need to go to your bee farm about once or at most twice in a month. This is unlike the poultry or pig farmers who need to attend to their birds or animals about thrice in a day. Another unique feature about beekeeping is that it does not generate any waste. Everything in a bee hive can give you money; from honey to propolis and even the bee sting that people run away from, provides good health for the bee keeper and his friends who appreciate the healing virtues of bee therapy.

Another unique feature of beekeeping is that unlike other aspects of agriculture like poultry which generate one or two products, in beekeeping you could get honey, propolis and pollen to sell. Then the good health which the beekeeper derives from the business is another reward for him. This is why I have described investment in beekeeping like investment that is close to manna.

"When you have the interest, the next thing that follows is how to acquire the knowledge of how to do it.What this means is that you would have to go for the training in beekeeping, no matter how little. Your training would involve how to handle bees and what you need to handle them. The training lasts for just one day. Our training fee for last year was N6,000 per participant. After you have acquired the training, you would then need to look for an ideal location to site your beehive.

An ideal location must be an area where there is ample vegetation; where the bees can get enough raw materials to produce honey and the other by-products of beekeeping. The area must not be water-logged, and must be free from all forms of pollution. Beekeeping is predicated on plants. And plants draw their nutrients from the soil. So, if you have polluted the ecosystem, you are not likely to produce wholesome honey and that may pose risk to the final consumer of your products.

" This is in order to make the investment a viable business venture. A forest or farm area where there are both wild and cultivated vegetation. is suitable. Even the Iroko tree is not just useful as timber, the bee can use its nectar to produce honey and its resin to produce propolis. Apart from these, there are other useful things the bee gets from the Iroko tree. The rubber tree can also provide nectar for the bee to make honey. Even bamboo, sugar cane and coconut trees could all be used by bees for production of honey and other by-products. There are so many plants which could be of tremendous use to the bee for honey production.

After acquiring a place, the next thing you need to do is to acquire the bee hives. From my own experience, the cost of beehives constitute about 70 percent of your investment in beekeeping.

"If you want to do beekeeping as a hobby, you could just start with one or two hives. But if you want to start it as a business, you need to start with a minimum of five hives. It costs about N75,000 to instal five hives. You also need other accessories like the the bee suit and the boots. These are protective garments to prevent bee stings. You need the hive tool and smoker. These are accessories you must have. But like I said before they don't cost much. The smoker is about N3,500; a standard pair of boots about N1,800 and a complete bee suit is N6,500. You also need the wax foundation sheet. You need 20 of them for each hive.

" Once you have all these, we can follow you to your farm and help you to establish it for just a token fee. We would also help you to inspect the bees until you have the courage to handle them yourself. This is because even after the training, so many people we have trained still do not have the courage to handle the bees. Sometimes we help them to harvest their first honey. After that they can take over.

Can bees be kept in the midst of a human population?

" There is no straight yes or no answer to your question. The reason is that it depends on the circumstances that prevail in a particular society. For instance, in most European countries, people can conveniently keep bees in cities. This is because most of their cities have lots of vegetation that line up the streets. Another feature of these European countries is that they have high rise buildings. So if you put your bee hive at the very top of such a building, it would not pose danger to anybody. For instance there are lot of bee keepers in New York City.

" But unfortunately you would not be able to keep bees in a place like Lagos. The first reason is that there is no vegetation in most parts of Lagos. The second reason is that as a result of the way houses are built in Lagos, they would not be conducive for bee keeping. People destroy plants a lot in this part of the world. And without plants, bees cannot thrive. Again, many of the houses in our cities are bungalows and would pose a danger to people if they are used for beekeeping.

In the first place, what we do as beekeepers broadly includes honey production. But it is imperative to mention that in practical terms nobody can teach you how to make honey because it is the bees that make the honey by themselves. There are various signs that could indicate that honey is ripe for harvesting. A honey comb is like the radiator of a car with holes in it. The bees deposit honey there until it becomes ripe. When the honey is ripe, the bees seal the comb and it becomes air tight. So as a bee keeper, if I open the hives and notice that most of the combs are sealed and brownish in colour, then I would know they contain ripe honey. So , when I observe this, one method I could use to harvest is that I could take the hives away. But I might not take it away if I have another hive to replace the one with honey.

After the honey is harvested, it has to be stored for marketing.

According to Robert Gwinn, Charles Swanson and Philip Goetz : "Some honeys are marketed by floral type. This means that they are given the name of predominant flowers visited by the bees when they accumulated the honey."

Apart from honey, the beekeeper also makes money from beeswax which is a by-product of beekeeping. Beeswax has many uses. Its cake could be used in honeycomb foundation. It could also be used to produce quality candles, cosmetics, agriculture, art and industry.

Honey is marketed in several different forms. These include liquid honey, comb honey and creamed honey. In the production of honey in the comb, extreme care is necessary to prevent the bees swarming. A beginner has to be very cautions in this aspect.

Fabunmi said : "A beginner would need slightly above N100,000 to start. When you start beekeeping, the first harvest is not always much. It would take at least six months before a beginner harvests his first honey. Another important piece of information is that beekeeping is time bound. You could start beekeeping between September and March. After your first harvest of honey, the other bee products come in trickles. If you want the other bee products in commercial quantity, there is another training for that. But a beginner can get the other bee products for his own consumption.

He insists that: " If he doesn't break even, then he is likely to recover up to 80 percent of his investment within the first year. In the second year, he could even make up to 200 percent profit or more."

Given my experience, I think states in the northern part of the country are more suitable for beekeeping. This is because climate has a lot to do with beekeeping. The bee makes better honey in a climate with dry air than one with moist air. Some beekeepers specially rear queen bees for sale.

According to Robert Gwinn, Charles Swanson and Philip Goetz: "The queens are reared for sale to other bee keepers for re-queening established colonies or for adding to two or three pound ( 0.9-1.4 kilogramme) package of 8,000 to 10,000 live bees to form new colonies or replenish old ones."

The queens are produced when the beekeeper cages the reigning queen in a colony, then inserts into the cluster, from 30 to 60 queen cell bases into which he has transferred young ( one day old) worker larvae.

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