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Kenya: Calling All Beekeepers

Published: Friday, 10 Mar 2017
Author: Katie Deska
Department: Global Center for Food Systems Innovation

In its 2009 National Beekeeping Policy, the Kenyan government estimated that the nation is producing only a mere 15 percent of available honey, and harvesting just over one percent of potential beeswax. To help beekeepers get more out of the hives, a group of seven researchers launched a grassroots-style, cell phone-based, data collection initiative aimed at identifying best management practices and most productive landscapes for honey bees.

"There's a lot of anecdotal information about beekeeping, but there's little scientific data," said Maryann Fraizer, a beekeeper and extension associate at Pennsylvania State University who partnered with Benjamin Muli, of South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU). "We're trying to get hard data from the beekeepers that can be utilized to increase their honey and wax production. We'll model the data they provide and create recommendations for them and deliver these via cellphone, which is how we're collecting the data... We'll be making recommendations to the beekeepers in the next couple months."

Funded by a 2015 Early Innovation Grant from the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation (GCFSI), the project consists of nearly 40 beekeepers who have been providing researchers with data for the last year, generating over 400 records that were used to create a map that indexes the landscape in relation to honey production.

Utilizing a cellphone and a pre-paid SIM card, participating beekeepers tell Janet Kilonzo, project manager and recent graduate of SEKU, how much honey and wax they produce and when, and what circumstances they encounter throughout the year. Beekeepers report what plants are blooming, if drought has been a problem, and whether or not there's been colony loss due to ants or honey badger attacks. They also record and report how many of their hives are occupied, and the time at which the bees abscond or recolonize.

"We have recorded the GPS coordinates for each beekeeper's hives and Eric (Lonsdorf), a specialist in landscape ecology, used satellite imagery to index the land cover, rating it in terms of quality for honey bee foraging. Our preliminary results show that we can see the impacts of landscape quality on honey production. Using these tools, we hope to be able to help beekeepers predict where they are likely to have the healthiest colonies and produce the most honey," said Fraizer.

As for the beeswax, there is a high demand from the international cosmetics industry for clean, pesticide-free wax, characteristic of many of East Africa's hives. However, many beekeepers in Kenya and elsewhere are unaware that the wax – which is commonly thrown away – could provide extra income. To encourage beekeepers to harvest the wax, each project participant was given a solar wax melter to aid with processing.

Other hive-based products include bee venom, royal jelly, brood, pollen and propolis. Each has the potential to contribute to income generation, employment creation, and enterprise development.

Aimed at collecting data and disseminating information, resources, and equipment, the GCFSI-funded project helps to advance Kenya's goal of developing a more robust beekeeping industry – one that can improve the livelihoods of rural farmers.

Michigan State University's Global Center for Food Systems Innovation addresses critical pressures on the world's food supply by creating, testing and enabling the scaling of solutions. GCFSI takes a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses the entire food system and considers major environmental, economic and social trends, as well as workforce development needs that will impact future food security. Launched in 2012, GCFSI is one of eight development labs established through the Higher Education Solutions Network of the United States Agency for International Development.