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No honey for Zambian bee-keepers as apiculture struggles to survive

Alan Chanda abandoned his white collar job at a top international organisation in 2016 to pursue apiculture and formed his company, Dytech, his agri- business firm.

Chadzya Mambwe

KASAMA, ZAMBIA—IN a remote village of Mpepo in the northern part of Zambia, Alan Chanda, a bee keeper wakes up at the crack of dawn and takes his buckets before heading to the hives, ready for an ainticipated honey bumper harvest.

But the beehives are almost empty.

This is his fifth year since he became a honey farmer, but business has not paid as much dividends as other years.

“We used to harvest 200 tonnes of honey annually but this year I doubt our harvest will reach half of that quantity. The COVID-19 has come with its own challenges, the honey industry in Zambia just like any other business is limping,” he said.

Mr Chanda, whose bee farm lies on a 200 hector piece of land, is not only an entrepreneur but also a graduate of civil engineering from the University of Zambia, the country’s respected institution of higher learning.

“Dytech is a Zambian agri-business which produces honey under the brand name Sweet Harvest. We work with rural communities to produce high-value honey for export to global markets,” he says.

He says his company has since developed an innovative beehive harvester called ZAMHIVE aimed at increasing honey yields from 15kilogrammes 75kilogrammes per season.

“We have designed a commercially scalable model using our low-cost, highly-productive ZamHives made from unwanted wood waste and offcuts which produces 75kg of honey per season,” he said.

Mr Chanda continued to share the vision of Dytech and suddenly his once captivating smile slowly fades away as one of the farm assistants hands him over a face mask reminding him that COVID-19 still exists.

Asked why he suddenly wore a gloomy face, Mr Chanda narrates how his once sustainable business had slowly lost its lusture at the advent of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Mr Chanda said that the significant devaluation of the local currency (Kwacha) against the US dollar, as well as restricted travel due to COVID 19 has greatly affected the export of honey to neighbouring countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and South Africa.

“Travel restrictions and enforcing of lockdowns by some countries means there is reduced access to such markets and this has greatly affected the industry,” he says.

Chanda added that there has been an increase in the cost of honey production due to the economic impacts of the global pandemic.

Another bee keeper, Judith Sinda decried lack of capital, which has seen most farmers failing to increase production.

“It is worth noting that COVID-19 has adversely shrunk the markets and business expansion opportunities have equally been minimized,” he says

But there still lies opportunities through other by-products from honey.

The bee keepers envision production of sweets – lollipops, candy and lozenges – from pure honey as well as sweeteners for tea and coffee to be done through the out-grower schemes.

Globally, the outbreak of COVID 19 has come with devastating effects in various aspects of the economy, with the agriculture sector not spared as well..

According to the latest United Nations estimates, at a minimum, an additional 83 million up to 135 million people by 2020 may go hungry as a result of the economic recession triggered by the pandemic.

According to the World Bank, the pandemic’s economic impact could push 100 million people into extreme poverty.

The value of global trade of honey is estimated at over US$600 million with Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania being among the biggest producers in Africa.

“Some 95percent of all the honey is exported and five percent is sold within Zambia. We sell to two major chain stores and 200 shops across Zambia,” Mr Chanda says.

This in itself presents a huge opportunity for expansion of the honey business by the Zambian bee keepers.

Nonetheless, investment capital amounting to US$1million is a dream they yearn to realize.

“If I had such an amount, it would go towards scaling our out-grower scheme across carefully selected African countries. We would build 250,000 beehives and plant high-value commercially-scalable export-grade foods – such as mangoes and avocados – to create opportunities and for our out growers to have more than one income stream. We would also use the money to realize our ambition of producing sweets and drink sweeteners,” he says.

Dytech, being a new entrant on the local market, faces stiff competition from the early establishments in COMACO, Forest Fruits and Ubuchi, a local name for honey.

“The industry is very competitive. Most of our competitors only source honey from one of the provinces in Zambia, which has seen the prices going up. There has also been little innovation in terms of new products,” he says.

Mr Chanda says his company, Dytech sources honey from four provinces in Zambia.

He attributes the affordable pricing of his products on the local market to innovation and cordial relations with partners.

“In order to survive in a competitive world, we intend to have one farms in each of the ten provinces, each with 5000 beehives in the next two years,” he says.

Apart from the competition from other local market players, side selling by some of Dytech outgrowers is also another problem. 

“We would sign an agreement with them, but then they would sell some honey to our competitors. If we catch our honey out-growers side selling, we take away their ZamHives,” Mr Chanda explains.

Another challenge is deforestation; veld fires and human settlements that encroach into their farming areas.

“Some people have this tradition of burning wild forests to easily trap animals. It is essential to have partnerships with the government and local chiefs to ensure the forests are kept in pristine condition. Without their support, it is very difficult to secure the forests as honey production areas,” says Mr Chanda.

If such challenges are dealt with, apiculture, for people like Mr Chanda and Ms Sinda is likely to thrive in the country.

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