We’ll turn Kajiado into a bee paradise

Jacktone Achola

Kajiado County Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Executive Jacktone Achola during the interview on May 10. He says value will be added to honey from the region.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

 Kajiado remains a pastoralist county, with 80 per cent of the region being semi-arid. More than 700,000 livestock died during the drought last year. Because of that, locals are embracing bee-keeping. Seeds of Gold writer Francis Mureithi talked to Jacktone Achola, the Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Executive.

Why are pastoralists encouraged to embrace apiculture?

Bee-keeping is an alternative source of livelihood and helps combat the effects of climate change. The insects conserve the environment and are also a steady source of income due to the high demand for honey and its by-products. They preserve the health of the ecosystem and grasslands. The insects keep grasslands healthy and maintain a stable climate.

How is the devolved government improving bee farming?

We have set aside Sh20 million for agricultural activities, with bee-keeping being a beneficiary. We will help to set up processors in an effort to boost production and look for a markets. Many pastoralists do not know the value of bees. With drought and climate change, livestock farmers need to diversify.

The county has been working with partners to boost honey production. Has this worked?

Authorities in Kajiado County have a bee-keeping strategy. We’re implementing a project called the National Agricultural Value Chain.

How would you describe the uptake of bee-keeping in this region?

Based on the 2020 and 2021 experience when the county lost more than 700,000 livestock, many people are moving from pastoralism to apiculture. Households have realised that keeping livestock is expensive. Having animals can mean you lose an entire investment in a season. Locals are embracing bee-keeping as profitable.

The poisonous ipomea plant ravaging more than two million acres in Kajiado is the biggest challenge to bee farmers.

How is the devolved government addressing the problem?

The plant has hit livestock farming. Grass cannot grow where this plant grows. We have elaborate plans to eradicate it. We have allocated money to uproot it by involving farmers, starting from the 2024/25 financial year.

We shall launch a campaign to sensitise Kajiado residents on the dangers of this plant and why it needs to be destroyed. This is also expected to restore degraded pasturelands.

There was a time honey from Kajiado failed quality tests. Has this been resolved?

The County Quality Assurance Department is aware of this and is determined to ensure Kajiado produces honey that is of high standards and quality. Ultimately, our target is not just local consumption but beyond our borders. We want our farmers to sell their honey at international prices. They need to have more money in their pockets.

How is the county government helping disabled bee-keepers?

Our priority is youth and people living with disabilities as we know they are vulnerable. Most people in these groups do not own livestock. For many, the only source of cash is bee-keeping. We need a paradigm shift. Women, young people and disabled persons shall be provided with bee-keeping knowledge and equipment. The devolved government is also looking for markets for these farmers’ honey.

The Kajiado County government is committed to ensuring that disadvantaged groups make their own money.

What is your take on the warning from experts that keeping large herds of cattle contributes greatly to global warming?

Large livestock numbers contribute to the degradation of the environment. Pasture production is affected and that is why we are encouraging moderated pastoralism to keep enough animals that can be supported with a pasture.

Moving large herds of animals from one region to another contributes significantly to the degradation of the environment. We have launched a campaign telling families to reduce the number of their cows, sheep and goats.

Why are you implementing moderated pastoralism?

The drought that hit Kajiado County in 2020, 2021 and 2022 was catastrophic. Families lost livestock and livelihoods because of the drought that was largely attributed to climate change.

We encourage communities to diversify livelihoods. Bee-keeping, for instance, is a very profitable venture. The number of bee-keepers in Kajiado is still low but will increase with time.

Some have raised alarm over land sub-division in Kajiado. What are their fears?

This may compromise bee-keeping. The county government has a 10-year spatial plan that was launched by Governor Joseph ole Lenku as part of the ongoing reforms last year.

The scheme provides a structured framework for coordinating and integrating sectoral plans and activities and support development programmes.

There are areas we cannot allow subdivision as we want land for livestock production to remain intact. There is land for settlement. We will ensure agricultural land is preserved. We shall set aside land for residential purposes. Anyone wishing to divide land must get authority from the Department of Lands.

The Executive is committed to implementing the policy that will see Kajiado emerge as an investment hub in agriculture. The County spatial plan will provide policy and guidelines for integrated development, land use regulations and enforcement development.

Lack of value-addition along the honey value chain has compromised the quality of honey from Kajiado. Does this worry county authorities?

The limited ability to add value to our honey allows traders to buy and repackage it. Processing honey will be at the county aggregation park. There will be a multi-purpose value chain centre.

 What are the other advantages of having a one-stop value chain centre?

Apart from producing and looking for the markets for our produce, we shall brand it for visibility.

There will be strategic positioning of our products at supermarkets and other retail outlets in Nairobi and other major towns.

The centre will increase economic benefits and identify problems and potential in the apiculture value chain like lack of knowledge and skills to operate modern hives, low occupancy and marketing.

The centre will also build a promising alliance between smallholder farmers and private export companies.

How soon will this ambitious programme be implemented for the benefit of the small farmer?

We have rolled out the construction of mini-processing plants. The inaugural processing plant in Kajiado Central is almost complete.

Farmers are encouraged to take their raw honey there. It will later be sold as branded honey from Kajiado County.