The Herald - August 11, 2011
By Ruth Bataumochoh
Thirty-eight-year-old Judith Rutsito of Nyajese village in Nyanga was devastated when her husband died in 2002, leaving her with three children to fend for.
With no pension, nor any formal education that she could use to look for employment to sustain the family, her only option was to brew beer for sale, which she did vehemently for a good one year.
However, a visit to one of her brother-in-laws' homestead, Mr Andrew Nyandoro, turned out to be a life-changing experience that was also to improve her ebbing lifestyle and that of her children, who introduced her to beekeeping as a source of livelihood.
Reminiscing over the trying times she went through the first two years following her husband's death, Mrs Rutsito who is known in the neighbourhood as Mai Chifamba believes her fortunes could have turned around overnight.
Beekeeping, which is centuries old in Zimbabwe, has become a well-recognised entrepreneurial activity among small holder farmers with an estimated 50 000 beekeepers engaged in the activity.
The beauty of it all is that the bee farming industry, together with the horticulture industry and the safari businesses, once the preserve of white commercial farmers, is now open to the small-scale farmers, following the agrarian reforms.
And small- scale farmers have found beekeeping as a viable income- generating activity considering that it is done on a part-time basis, allowing farmers to concentrate on other agricultural activities, while waiting to "harvest".
With no heavy capital injection needed to kick-start the project as is the case with a litany of income-generating projects, smallholder farmers can afford to make a financial projection premised on the diverse plant species as well as the ecological and climatic conditions.
Like other beekeepers sprouted around the country, farmers in the Nyajese's Village 14, have witnessed a dramatic and positive change in their lifestyle, since they started beekeeping in the area.
Although most of them inherited the beehives from past generations that relied mainly on traditional technologies, they have been able to upgrade them to hives from timber, used pots and baskets.
Use of brown sugar, beeswax and propolis as baits has resulted in increased yields, undoubtedly doubling farmers' incomes.
Nyandoro (52), who has been involved in beekeeping for the past 19 years, says his flirtation with bees has paid dividends, adding that his lifestyle bears testimony of benefits he has to date accrued since a neighbour introduced him to apiculture.
"I come from a humble background and for 20 years, I slept in a traditional granary until I managed to build a three-bedroomed house from the proceeds of honey," he said.
Nyandoro who started off with 20 hives, now has over 100, a feat he has achieved owing to patience, persistence and determination. Nyanga
"I now have a regular source of income and I am able to plan and buy inputs for my farming projects, while paying fees for my children," he gushed.
Realising that the numerous spin-offs from beekeeping, villagers have since adopted "busy bee attitude" towards honey production.
So intense are their efforts to make money from honey that they have since formed a co-operative made up of more than 50 people - all beekeepers, though in various stages.
They say the co-operative is one of the mechanism they are using to collectively market their produce, and in the process benefit from schemes that are being introduced by players keen on investing in the beekeeping sector.
Already their synergies have yielded results after a private company Savanna Delights entered into a partnership with them that will see the latter training them on beekeeping and later buying their produce.
Savanna Delights is a private company that supplies honey to retailers as well as honey as a raw material to the pharmaceutical and other industries.
The company is not a novice in the industry having trained small-scale farmers in Mutoko, Nyanga, Chimanimani, Hurungwe, Raffingora, Zvishavane, Chipinge, Buhera, where more than 1 000 households have since benefited from the initiative, which Savanna did in partnership with the Swedish Organisation for Individual Relief.
Savanna Delights is already working on an initiative to empower communities in Shurugwi and Makoni in beekeeping.
Executive director for Savanna Delights Mrs Selina Mercy Chitapi said the company was born out of the need to eradicate poverty by empowering communities with special focus on beekeeping as an intervention strategy.
"It was also born out of the realisation that the apiculture industry in the country was underdeveloped, despite the vast marketing opportunities available not only in Zimbabwe but in the region as well," she said.
Mrs Chitapi, however, said although beekeeping was slowly taking shape in Zimbabwe, individuals and organisations involved in the initiative were still not able to service the growing market.
She added that the huge deficit of honey in the country had resulted in Zimbabwe becoming a net importer of honey, despite the competitive advantage it has in producing the product at minimum cost.
"The country produces in excess of 100 tonnes of honey for the formal market, a figure which is way below the market expectations.
"As a result, a lot of people who use honey in production of say pharmaceutical products are now importing from South Africa.
"Demand for honey worldwide stands in excess of 909 million kilogrammes per annum, with Brazil and China being the major producers," she said.
She called on the Government and the private sector to support honey production, as a long-term poverty eradication strategy.
"If support is extended to the beekeeping community the country has the potential to produce three million kilo- grammes of honey from rural communities alone."
However, despite the low production level of honey in Zimbabwe, the activity is quite robust in neighbouring countries like Zambia and South Africa.
In the North-Western Province of Zambia, beekeeping has since expanded from an informal activity to a booming source of revenue, where more than 10 000 beekeepers own 500 000 hives, producing 1 000 metric tonnes of honey per year.
Half of the honey and other bee products are exported mainly to Europe, earning the country the much-needed foreign currency.