Feature: Kenyan farmers raise stingless bees to boost income and stabilize ecosystems

NAIROBI, May 28 (Xinhua) — Mark Livaha is a middle-aged farmer from Kakamega County in western Kenya. Properties.

Livaha said growing up near the dense forest of Kakamega fueled her passion for bees, given the endless supply of honey the insects generated for her community.

Thanks to nudges from researchers at the Nairobi-based International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), Livaha joined a group of smallholder farmers in rearing stingless bees.

Livaha said the domestication of the stingless species has been profitable in addition to helping in the conservation of Kakamega Forest.

“Soon after introducing stingless bees to my farm, they multiplied rapidly and produced enough honey for consumption and sale in the nearby market,” Livaha said.

He is an active member of the Kakamega Stingless Bees Farmers Association which exploits forest insects, rearing them at home to produce honey while pollinating crops.

Livaha said the 35-member farmers’ organization has benefited from capacity building by scientists affiliated with ICIPE, to enable them to earn a sustainable income from stingless bees.

He said stingless bees are found in dead wood, on the ground and on the walls of houses and their diet includes icing sugar and sugar solution.

Livaha said her organization has also trained local hunter-gatherers on how to spot stingless bees in Kakamega Forest and collect them for domestication.

He added that as a native of Kenya’s only rainforest which is an extension of the vast Congo Basin rainforest, he had vast knowledge on the conservation of bees and other pollinators like butterflies and butterflies. the birds.

“Even locating stingless bees deep in the forest hasn’t been difficult since I learned the art from my grandfather on hunting expeditions,” Livaha said.

He said that after domesticating the stingless bees which are small in stature, it takes them three months to start producing honey depending on the availability of flowers.

Some of the challenges facing stingless beekeeping include attacks from predators like lizards, birds and chickens, drought and habitat destruction, Livaha said.

He revealed that currently his organization manages 70 colonies of stingless bees and harvests honey in March, June and September, adding that the quantities fluctuate depending on weather conditions.

Production reached 100 liters in 2021, says Livaha, adding that some of the major customers for organic honey include a local public university, households and shops amid growing demand for the product due to its health benefits.

Different species of stingless bees found in Kakamega Forest typically produce high-quality honey in addition to helping pollinate crops in predominantly agrarian western Kenya, says Maxwell Ikutwa, a small farmer.

According to Ikutwa, the domestication of stingless bees has provided farmers with an alternative livelihood, in addition to encouraging them to conserve native forest that is closely linked to their heritage.

“At least we are able to feed and educate our children with the product of honey instead of cutting down trees for charcoal and firewood. So there is no incentive to encroach on the forest since we started raising stingless bees,” Ikutwa said.

Nelly Ndung’u, a scientist at ICIPE, said empowering farmers to domesticate stingless bees for honey production and pollination has transformed rural livelihoods and promoted healthy ecosystems.

Ndung’u observed that smallholder farmers were in an advantageous position to conserve pollinators like bees and butterflies if they were enlightened about the multiple benefits to be gained, including food security and new sources of income.

Kakamega stingless beekeepers pack the honey in a 500 milliliter bottle that retails for 500 shillings (about US$4.30), according to Joyce Saina, a honey collector.

She added that a one-liter bottle of honey costs US$8.59 and that demand for the product from national retail chains has increased, prompting farmers to improve harvesting, storage and harvesting techniques. packaging.

Kakamega County Beekeeping Development Manager Frindina Khavere said local authorities have developed new policy tools in addition to leveraging training, awareness raising and market linkages to encourage more beekeeping. farmers to raise stingless bees, increase rural incomes and conserve forests.