Bee keeping in Kenya has been practiced since time immemorial. Currently there are two million hives in the country. Most bee keepers in Kenya base their practise on indigenous knowledge which has been passed from one generation to the next.
Areas covered with bees in the country include the mountainous areas, the savannah area, the coastal region and the drier parts of northern Kenya.
Development of Bee Keeping In Kenya
The government of Kenya attempted to introduce modern bee keeping to communities who were already practising the art back in the 1950’s. The government further initiated a training program to train honey and beeswax inspectors, with the resultant establishment of beekeeping demonstration centres in various parts of the country.
Between 1967 and 1969, the government of Kenya received a grant from Ox-Farm through Freedom from Hunger Council of Kenya, to carry out a feasibility study to determine the viability of beekeeping as an income generating activity with specific focus on the drier parts of the country.
In 1971 the government of Kenya obtained assistance from Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to establish a national project on beekeeping. The project spearheaded the establishment of beekeeping co-operatives, honey refineries and equipment workshops especially of Kenya top bar hives. A major milestone was the establishment of the National Beekeeping Station in 1982.
Current Status of Beekeeping in Kenya
The structural adjustment programs of the 1990’s paved way to liberalization of the beekeeping industry which in turn encouraged privatization and commercialization of equipment and services, with both private and public sector partnerships with respect to equipment manufacture and delivery of extension services.
Several individuals operate at various levels of the value chain as producers, processors and marketers.
The Kenyan government has provided an enabling environment for the implementation of beekeeping activities services in collaboration with the private sector, research and training institutions as well as development partners.
The Role of Government in Beekeeping in Kenya
The Kenyan government has continued to support beekeeping by offering subsidized training at the National Beekeeping Station to equip them with the necessary basic skills to run the enterprise.
Field staffs are sponsored for refresher courses at the national beekeeping station and elsewhere.
The government environmental conservation and awareness program incorporate; public lectures, pronounced tree planting days, regular field days and exhibitions to disseminate information on beekeeping.
Of great importance is the annual agricultural shows and trade fairs across the country during which beekeeping information is disseminated and demonstrations done.
Challenges of Beekeeping in Kenya
Some of the challenges facing beekeeping in Kenya were adequately brought forth by the Egerton University Travel Report- Honey Bee/ Mushroom Technological Packages May 25th-June 2nd 2013, to include;
- Poor coordination of apicultural research
- Lack of transparency
- Poor infrastructure
- Inadequate personnel and poor training
- Substandard inappropriate equipment
- Human wildlife conflict
- Apiphobia; through natural selection the African bee has been adapted for surviving in very harsh conditions
- Poor quality products; most of the honey is used for brewing local brew hence people tend not to need very good quality
- Low production; this is as a result of poor quality equipment
Egerton University offers a course in apiculture to BSc. Animal Production Students as well as to non agriculture students taking diploma courses. There is currently a lot of potential in beekeeping at the university and its environs but, which has not been exploited. There has not been a keen interest by people specifically farmers to take it up.
Egerton University is keen to buttress its training in beekeeping by improving its infrastructure as well as revamp its demonstration facility.
Members of the trilateral program (from Egerton University and Punjab Agricultural University) carried out an excursion to Baraka Agriculture College for clarifications of matters that had arisen from the discussion they had about beekeeping in Kenya.
The team also while on their way to Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) to conduct an excursion whereby their main activity focused on honey production, met with marketers on the roadside selling unbranded hone.
There is a great need of strengthening apicultural research, enhancement of private-public sectors collaboration, promotion of honey markets and encouragement of sustainable and strong beekeepers networks.