Garikai Samaita is a 36-year-old farmer from Goto village in Wedza district, about 100 kilometres southwest of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. Over the last year, he has discovered how to take the sting out of bees and use them to sweeten his life.
In September 2011, a bee swarm settled in a tree near his homestead. They stung his eight-year-old son, so Mr. Samaita decided to try to smoke them off his property.
However, an agricultural extension worker visiting a relative in the village suggested a different course of action. He suggested that Mr. Samaita to approach the international NGO Environment Africa (EA) for advice on producing honey. That advice prompted the start of a beekeeping project, from which Mr. Samaita is now reaping a livelihood.
Mr. Samaita embarked on his beekeeping enterprise about nine months ago with two hives. Since then, regular harvesting of six beehives from a nearby forest has tripled his honey production.
He adds, “I am now managing to get by and have enough money to look after my family, unlike in the past when we used to struggle. Here in Wedza, harvests have been poor for a number of years because of drought … I am one of the few in this area who have enough food in the house.”
It is not only Wedza that has been hit by drought. Southern Zimbabwe has been particularly badly affected. At a national scale, cereal production for the 2011-2012 season is estimated to be only half of the annual requirement of two million tons.
Mr. Samaita earns US$80 a week from selling honey along the highway and to customers in Harare. This is enough to buy food for his family, pay school costs for two of his children, and cover the costs of his ailing mother’s medication and hospital fees.
He takes his honeycombs to a nearby community-owned processing plant, where EA assists by refining the honey and packaging it for sale.
The EA beekeeping project began in early 2011 and involves about 5,000 poor and vulnerable rural families in 23 of Zimbabwe’s 59 districts. Some EA farmers have diversified into selling beeswax. Beeswax is mostly used in candle-making, but also to make soap and hair care products such as shampoo and hair wax.
Other value-added bee products include propolis, with medical applications, royal jelly, in demand by the cosmetic industry, and bee venom, a liquid with anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Barney Mawire is EA’s country manager. He says that, on average, a beekeeper can produce about 60 kilograms of honey per hive in a year. Mr. Mawire says that the producer earns about US$10 a kilogram, making it “a potentially lucrative business.”
Nellia Goromonzi is a 40-year-old widow from Zvimba District, about 90 kilometres northwest of Harare. She bought three cattle with the proceeds from her EA beekeeping enterprise. She says, “My life has changed so fast. We sold all our cattle to meet medical expenses when my husband died four years ago and I never dreamt of owning livestock again.” Ms. Goromonzi is happy that she no longer has problems sending her three children to school. She has joined with three other EA farmers to start a business selling beer.
She employs her cousin to hawk some of her honey along the road, and supplies shops in a nearby business centre. She also receives orders from businesses in a nearby farming town.
Mr. Samaita says, “Bees used to scare me very much, especially after a friend of mine was stung to death by a swarm when I was growing up. We always lit huge fires underneath trees to drive them away, but the bees are very useful friends now.”