Maasai women turn bee-keeping into gold

Nominated Senator, Ms Judy Pareno (C) inspects her new beehives flanked by other bee farmer at her Mashuuru farm . Photo Abdi Hussein

By Our Reporter

Nuisance swarms of bees that used to make dozen colonies in nominated senator Judith Pareno’s Mashuuru sub-county, Kajiado County, bungalow ceiling every rainy season have grown into a full money minting enterprise for women in the entire village.

Traditionally, the pastoralist Maasai community do not embrace bee-keeping as a venture owing to the danger exposed to herds of livestock. The stinging bees are considered as the biggest threat to domesticated animals.

Erratic rainfall due to climate change has adversely affected herders losing hundreds of animals to drought in the past as milk business remains untenable with prices becoming inconsistent.

 Lately, Covid -19 pandemic has dealt a blow to the multi-million beads work enterprises affecting mostly Maasai women.

But the trend is slowly changing. At Mashuuru Sub-county nominated senator Judy Pareno has tried and succeeded in enticing her neighbours to diversify their businesses and venture into bee-keeping for the last two years. Ms Pareno recalls that every rainy season swarms of bees used to hold her rural house captive. “They made colonies in almost every tree in the compound and at the rooftop prompting out family to continuously spray insecticides to disperse them,” she adds.

“I never thought bee-keeping could be a lucrative enterprise until a visitor advised me to put up beehives in my compound. This has become an additional source of income,” said Ms. Pareno.

The natural flowering flora and fauna spreading across the terrains of Mashuuru Sub-county provides nectar collection base. Traditional beehives locals used to hang in wilderness and communal  ranches have since  diminished.

She sought advice from bee-keeping experts and began with 20 beehives set in a segregated area away from livestock. She intends to extend the project to 100 beehives targeting an annual profit of  between Sh500,000- Sh700,000.

“Initially I used to use the honey domestically and I could give it to my villagers for free until I realised the honey was a commercial gold. I sell 500gm of honey  for Sh 500. Currently the demand is high that I cannot meet the orders placed,” she says.

Now, dozens of women from several adjacent villages  in Mashuuru Sub-county has been roped in and have started  bee-keeping enterprises with Ms. Pareno project serving as a training ground.

Bee -keeping experts hold sessions for women groups enlightening them on modern bee-keeping. The project is slowly drawing farmers in the neglected trade especially in farflung villages. Now gullible Maasai women are riding on the promise of windfall.

Most farmers now boast that this is free money one earns without much work as the bees do not re­quire feeds, med­ic­a­tion and other cost re­lated needs compared to livestock rearing.

“This is a promising future venture for Maasai women despite climate change. With two harvests annually, we are very hopeful. We have adopted  two com­part­ments  modern hives with lower part meant for the queen bee and the upper one hous­ing the worker bees,” explained Ms. Irene Melubo, rookie bee farmer.

Each woman is encouraged to have at least 10 beehives to reap enough benefits economically. With the word of beekeeping enterprise spreading like bush fire in the region, the women are targeting 100 farmers before registering a group later in the year.

“We are looking forward to registering a bee farmers enterprise with the aim of value addition to our final products. This venture will be one of the local economic springboards,” stated Ms. Pareno.

However, beekeepers are facing a myriad of challenges including Ipomea plant, Oliame leteti in Maasai dialect that isn’t eaten by domestic nor wild animals out of its awful smell. Nector obtained from it is said to be poisonous.

The green leafy plant is the biggest challenge to beekeeping in Kajiado currently occupying more than two million acres in the vast county.

The honey produced by the bees collecting the nectar from the plant poses a danger to human beings. The semi bitter sweet honey is said to make the consumer doze after taking it.

“For quality and sweet honey we are forced not to commercialise honey harvested during ipomea flowering season. From three harvests,one has to go to waste as the honey is bitter and dark,” noted Ms. Pareno.

Shortage of water is another challenge bee farmers have been grappling with in the region owing to a fact most rivers across the vast county are seasonal. The residents are reaching out to the county government to provide them with honey harvesting accessories that retail at relatively high prices to ensure high quality of honey.

With bee keeping taking a modern trajectory, the Maasai Community might go back to the traditional means of food preservation using honey as one facet towards food security.

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