As he steps into the expansive apiary wearing a brown overall coat, he may easily be dismissed as one of the casual farm hands employed by Egerton University. He picks a hammer and hits a protruding nail in one of the beehives, opens it and checks for the pest infestations, cleans and replaces some combs.
"If we knew just how significant bees are to the survival of the human race, our attitude might change," says Joel Naibei. "At the end of the day, we should realise that if we are having a cup of coffee early in the morning, eating pudding for lunch, and fruits for desserts, we have the bees to thank for it. It's time we did something for their conservation."
Naibei is a certified master beekeeper with the technical knowledge of how to keep bees, and the subtle nuances of maintaining them.
At the Njoro-based campus, Naibei is on a mission to create a "perfect bee" as Egerton is developing key research areas in queen bee breeding and rearing.
The institution hopes to eventually come up with a pedigree queen bee to improve the fortunes of beekeepers.
"Empty hives is a major concern to beekeepers in Kenya. Bees will not move from one beehive to another unless there is a queen as they swarm once per year," says Naibei, who is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA-K).
"I grew up with bees in my home village at Kapskwony in Mt Elgon. I operated 30 beehives, from which I produced and sold honey. This motivated me a lot. I made good money," says Naibei.
But how does he raise the queens? "The lifeline of beekeeping is queen rearing,” he says. “The queen has a life expectancy of four to five years. The workers' bees have a life expectancy of 60 days. To have a sufficient population of bees to collect nectar, we need better practices of beekeeping."
"Our queen rearing kit has a sensor to measure temperatures to allow larvae to hatch," explains the researcher.
"The queen takes 16 days to hatch larvae and after 10 hours, they are picked and kept in a virgin queen bank where they are bred in compartments.
"Once they mature, they are taken to separate compartments, after which they are mated and left to lay eggs," he adds.
To monitor the queen bee, they are marked with white or yellow colours. He says the hives should be constantly inspected to check their health status in terms of population, confirm whether the queen is laying eggs and has sufficient feeds.
"I'm also responsible for preparing bees and equipment for pollination activities, feeding bees, cleaning and constructing hives, raising and replacing queen bees, dividing colonies when necessary."
The US-trained beekeeper says beehive configuration is crucial and it must have two chambers.
"The lower chamber is reserved for the queen to lay eggs and hatching of workers' bees while the upper part is a honey chamber."
Vandalism of beehives and the use of pesticides in the neighbouring farms are among challenges the institution faces.
"Bees are under great threat from the combined effects of climate change, intensive agriculture, pesticide use, biodiversity loss and pollution," says Naibei.
"For safe beekeeping, one needs a 100 meter radius without human activities," he explains, noting that the area should have foliage that offers the insects nectar.
"Some of the chemicals and pesticides used by farmers are harmful to the bees' memory and therefore, their abilities to navigate back to their hives and to gather food is affected.”
This leads to immune suppression, which exposes bees to infections and diseases. He believes a public campaign on pesticides harmful to bees and other pollinators is crucial.
Naibei urges people to make pollinator-friendly choices.
"Even growing flowers at home to feed bees contribute to this effort," he says.
He suggests counties where beekeeping is a major activity should help farmers draw a flora calendar.
Remy Tuey, the director, Apiculture Research Institute at the Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation (Karlo) in Marigat, Baringo County, says propagation of queen bee is a very technical and expensive undertaking.
"Queen bee propagation is an expensive process as the bees are induced biologically. For a farmer, if he has a colony, it is advisable to split it to give the bees space to hatch eggs and release young bees to swarm," says Dr Tuey.
He explains that the young queen bees can replace ageing ones or be used in new beehives to boost swarms.