Dar es Salaam — After experiencing a two-year downfall, beekeepers will now have a reason to smile following a fast recovery of the sub sector that has seen export earnings from honey and beeswax growing seven times and threefold respectively within a year.
Data from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism shows that both honey and beeswax have started recovering from historic decline in export revenue in 2014/1, which was triggered by fall in prices.
In this financial year, beeswax export earnings dropped to Sh1.1 billion from Sh8.5 billion in 2013/14 while honey revenue slid to Sh46 million from Sh380.9 million in the same period.
But in what seems to be a strong comeback, in the third quarter of 2016/17 financial year, beeswax had generated Sh4.57 billion of exports from Sh1.57 billion in 2015/16, which was boosted by increase in volume and price. Honey, a premium bee product, recorded a historic growth of exports revenue by more than 650 per cent from Sh161 million in 2015/16 to Sh1.22 billion in the third quarter of 2016/17.
Experts say the sector has more potential than what it offers now and if invested well it would boost President John Magufuli's industrialisation agenda.
A further analysis by The Citizen has discovered that despite its popularity compared to other bee's crops, honey has recorded the lowest export earnings, about six times less than that of beeswax in the past six years, a sign that the later has more potential to boost beekeepers and national economy.
For the period between 2011/12 and March 2017, official data in 2017/18 ministry's budget speech shows the government collected over Sh19 billion from wax exports compared to Sh3.4 billion, which was generated from honey.
Beeswax is a natural wax produced by honey bees of genus Apes and is used to manufacture health, beauty products and candles. Beekeeping is one of the sub sectors that has not been given priority despite its contribution to government revenue as well as providing employment.
However, only 26 per cent of the potential has been harnessed, according to the ministry. Currently, it is estimated that 34,000 tonnes of honey are produced per annum against the potential of 138,000 tones.
Beeswax potential is 9,200 tonnes, but so far only a quarter of it is produced. Tanzania is the second largest producer of bee products in Africa after Ethiopia, which is estimated to produce around 50,000 tonnes yearly.
Government view on the sector
The Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) Beekeeping Officer, Ms Mwanahamisi Mapolu said beeswax was more expensive in international market compared to honey that is why it has high revenue. Ms Mapolu told The Citizen that a kilogramme of beeswax in foreign market ranges between $9 and $10, which is equivalent to Sh22, 000 while honey price stands between $4 to $5 (Sh11, 000).
"Businessmen opt for products that pay them handsomely," said Ms Mapolu, adding that processing beeswax is easier and cheap because it is consumed by human beings.
"However, the businessmen must reach the standards required in order to get customers. Both products have a huge demand in and outside the country." She added the sub sector is growing fast for a big number of youth are involved in the production of both honey and beeswax using modern techniques.
The government estimates that the sub sector employs up to 2 million youth annually, adding that the largest markets of beeswax are Germany, Japan and US.
What experts say
Mr Nicholas Tutuba, a lecturer at Mzumbe University, Morogoro campus said the demand of wax and honey is very large in and outside the country and it's growing everyday but citizens have been not sensitised enough to see beekeeping as a commercial activity. He added that there is one government Beekeeping College only so far, which offers a certificate and diploma education.
This, according to her, prevents the sub sector from growing to its full potential because there are a few officers to provide education to the community.
He said although the industry has a great chance of alleviating poverty, there is no research agenda like in China where they are researching on cure by using bees and its products while in Europe and US, they are exploring on bee glue, royal jell, bee pollen and bee venom.
"There are two important things I see and that are; we have failed to establish our brand and we do not have enough data to show that we can be reliable suppliers," he said.
Failure in collecting data on beekeeping business is likely to hamper the government efforts to boost the sub sector whose products mainly come from Tabora, Singida, Dodoma and Tanga.
Singida contribute to produces about 21 per cent of all Tanzania honey annually.
Head of Tabora Beekeeping Training, Semu Daudi said most of businessmen are selling their products in free market, which hinders the authority to get correct data. Mr Daudi also said there was a problem in policy and regulations supervision as everyone is speaking about the sector.
"The sector is very potential and people can benefit from it like here in Tabora where beekeepers earn a lot of money for selling honey," he said.
Even as beekeepers celebrate what they earn, some of them are still using poor methods that hinders bumper production. The Singida Youth Entrepreneurs and Consultants Cooperative Society (SYECCOS) president, Mr Philemon Kiemi said over 90 per cent of beekeepers are using log hives, which are characterised with low productivity less than 7kg.
He said the number of beekeepers in a country is unknown, but it is only estimated to be 1-2 million, tonnes despite that the lack of placement of the sector to forest conservation instead of beekeepers.
"Lack of initial capital for smallholder beekeepers and lack of private beekeeping reserves in the country are things that affects the sector," he said.
Mr Kiemi said SYECCO are planning to invest Sh300 million to increase beehives in the region to 14,000 by January 2018 and increase honey production to 450 tonnes annually.
Currently, they own a total of 6,000 beehives with capacity of producing 25 tons per year, adding there are about 1,000 beekeepers in Singida, and about 90 per cent of the hives are traditional hives and approximately 10 per cent is improved hives in subsistence apiaries.