Drought hits beekeeping enterprise leaving farmers distraught

Mariam Hassan, a beekeeper during an interview with Nation.Africa in Makere-Gwano Village in Tana River County.

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor I Nation Media Group.

Four months ago, Jonathan Maro was a prosperous honey trader with more than 12 beehives under his management.

He would harvest between 25kg and 30kg from one beehive in a good season, making more than Sh300,000.

It was a good investment until the drought struck, and water sources and plants dried up, cutting production.

He watches in disbelief as his hives remain empty day after another, the bees abandoning them for other hives distances away.

"I woke up to check on one of the hives, only to find the bees had eaten everything and left. The activity in all the others was not vibrant either, and I knew I was doomed," he says.

Since the drought hit, he says, the heatwave had become unbearable. The bees had not been making enough honey and their production fell by half.

Of his 12 hives, only two have bees but the farmer notes that things are getting worse as the number of bees goes down.

"Other keepers in the next village have resolved to make food for the bees, mixing sugar with water. That is where all the other bees are fleeing," he says.

But he is optimistic that when the rains return, his beehives will be refilled and he will bounce back.

Mariam Hassan, on the other hand, decries pressure from buyers.

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor I Nation Media Group

She has orders to deliver more than 400kg of honey and her clients strictly demand honey from Tana River County.

But her beehives are empty. The bees have abandoned the trunks, forcing her to outsource.

"We are all facing challenges. I have to go to Lamu to get honey because there is a shortage here and all beekeepers are distressed about the effects of the drought," she says.

Having traversed the Tana Delta and dealt with farmers in Galole, she says she has no doubt that the honey enterprise is experiencing its worst crisis.

Only a few beekeepers are still in business but they too foresee a difficult phase if the drought persists.

"The bees are fleeing to Lamu and Garissa. Anyone with a beehive along the river or nearby is certainly lucky this season," she says.

With more than 200 beekeepers facing a slump, experts say that the farmers may have to start afresh when the drought season ends as the bees will not return for now.

Apiologist Joseph Ole Sapit says bees fly 55,000 miles to make just one pound of honey and once they migrate, they rarely go back to their first home.

"The farmers still stand a chance. They will have to improvise to revive their enterprises in these harsh climatic conditions. It's an eye-opener," he says.