Name: Nixon Ole Kamwea and his son Harun Parsoi
Location: Ololulunga, Narok County, Kenya
Interviewed by: Cornelius Kasisi & Tom Carroll
Interview Date: 12/11/2015
How selected for interview
Nixon was identified as a good beekeeper by Ewasio Niro South Development Authority (ENSDA). He was selected because of his keen interest in both bees and the environment.
We met with Nixon and his son Harun at his farm in Ololulunga, Narok county. Father and son, from the Massai community, work together on bees. We visited the family apiary site and observed the hives which were well maintained, clean and well shaded. Nixon has two apiaries – the first with 13 hives and the second with 5 hives. Fourteen hives were yellow painted Langstroths and the remaining four hives were top bar hives. Unfortunately three other hives had been stolen. Nixon and Harun were each equipped with a beesuit and a smoker and had access to a group owned centrifugal extractor if they needed. Some of the hives were received for free as part of a project and others were bought at half price (2,500 Ksh) also with project support. In fact three years before our meeting 300 Langstroths were given to the local bee group of which Nixon and Harun were members. There was no follow-up support after the hives were donated however and the group ended up splitting up the hives.
After visiting the apiary we adjourned to the family compound which was adorned with beautiful trees and shrubs. Nixon and Harun impressed us with their knowledge of local trees and shrubs. Chairs and a table were brought for us to sit on as we talked. We sheltered from the tropical sun in the shade of a beautiful yellow stemmed acacia. Nixon appeared to be a man in his sixties and his son perhaps in his mid-twenties.
Nixon told us that his grandfather had had bees and he was interested in keeping up the traditions of his ancestors. Nixon had worked in the tourism sector in the nearby Massai Mara game reserve and both he and Harun had excellent English. Nixon was now retired and making his living from his small farm where he kept livestock and poultry and grew maize and beans. The family also runs a tree nursery which supplies a range of tree seedlings including bee forage trees. Haroun works with his father and is also a traditional Massai dancer and is a member of Buffalo Dance Group – a local Massai dance group. Dance and songs are used as a means to community empowerment and to educate the community on issues.
Nixon told us that he learned his beekeeping traditionally until in 2009 when he attended Baraka Agricultural College in Molo where he took a one week course on beekeeping. He told us that he learned a lot from that course. After training at Baraka they decided to focus more on beekeeping and started removing bees from homes and putting them into beehives.
Nixon found that beekeeping can be profitable especially when there is a good harvest. He said bees can be more profitable than an acre of maize. This is because there are few inputs needed. Beekeeping fits well with the family philosophy as they are also avid conservationists. Bees need trees and trees need bees! Nixon told us that beauty is also worthy in itself. The beauty of the birds, bees, and trees adds value to their lives. Nixon said that when he sees bees on flowers it makes him happy.
Harun points out some of the species of wild flowers in their garden
Care for the environment underpins everything that Nixon and Harun do. They appreciate the pollination value of bees/how bees add value to the environment. They started a nursery to propagate trees including indigenous trees and supply them to the local community. Bees need pollen and nectar for forage but also they wanted to educate local people on the value of trees. They explain to the people the simple but powerful message: “No Forest, No Honey”. They also encourage people to become beekeepers.
Nixon and Harun talked of the bee forage trees in their local area. The presence of rains and trees flowering indicate when honey will be available. For example wild camphor is dominant and 2 weeks after flowering there is a very clear honey. This shrub is very important for animal fodder during drought but is being lost due to land clearance for agriculture. Other good bee plants to plant in the area are Keiapple, Grevillia Robusta and Eucalyptus. There are also many small weeds on farms which are good for bees. They were planning to plant passion fruits and to make sure that there was bee forage available throughout the year. They noted that the local rain patterns are disturbed due to climate change which is a major challenge.
The Beekeeping Enterprise
- Correct apiary siting is very important – the three most important elements are water, shade and food (bee forage).
- Keeping the apiary clean and routine checking of beehives on a weekly basis is very important. When the rain starts there are many spider webs. One spider which was mentioned was the king baboon spider.
- Red ants are a problem in the dry season. Black ants are a problem too but not as much as the red ants. Safari ants can be a problem as well. The solution is to keep the apiary clean and put oil on the poles of the hive. Wax moth is a terrible pest and destroys combs (especially in the Langstroth hive).
- When opening the beehive combs and frames should be cleaned to make sure the correct bee space is maintained.
- Stinging by bees is generally not a problem. However one time they had an accident where the bees killed a donkey. A worker tried to remove honey and the hive fell down. The donkey was tied next to the disturbed hive. There is no problem unless the bees are handled badly. Warning! Do not tether animals near bees.
- They harvest honey from the Langstroth by cutting combs out of the frames. There is a group extractor available locally however it’s too expensive to bring the extractor to their home as it is too big. A small plastic extractor which would fit on the back of a motorbike would be much better. The reality is that it is useless to go for the extractor for a small number of combs so they just cut the combs from the frames.
- Nixon and Harun supply honey to people who need raw honey for cultural practices. There is a local herbal beer made from pure honey. Four kilogrammes of raw honey sells for 1,500Ksh (€13.8).
- Nixon and Harun sell refined local honey at 1,000Ksh /litre (€9/litre) and despite the high price people still buy/there is high demand.
- Nixon and Harun offer a service (for free) removing bees from houses and putting the bees into hives. They have removed bees from a house in Nakuru and also in Subukia and Kilgoris. They do however take the honey for their own use and the bee colony as well where possible so they are paid indirectly.
- Nixon and Harun sell bee forage plants from their tree nursery.
- In the future Nixon and Harun plan to monitor hives for people open hives and charge a fee. However people can be suspicious and think you are harvesting their honey. Trust is important.
- Pesticides are killing bees on farms because farmers are spraying wheat and maize. There is also minimum tillage which requires the use of sprays. This is a big issue for bee health – bees are dying on the farms.
- Siting the apiary is a big challenge due to theft. You need a padlock to secure the hive. A week before our visit 3 hives were stolen. Beeswax and a beesuit were also stolen. Thieves can also be very destructive. They use fire, take honey and throw everything on the ground.
- Nixon was concerned about any possible link between mobile technology and beekeeping and felt that mobile phones may be interfering with bees the bees.
- Rodents in hives was a challenge after absconding.
- In 2011 hive beetles were common/a problem.
- Environmental degradation and the loss of indigenous trees compounded by climate change is a great concern.
- Nixon is part of a local beekeeping group and he said that the problem is that everything stopped when the donors left.
- 300 hives (Langstroths) were given in the area funded by a donor. The hives were made and supplied by a Kenyan company.
- A one day training was given by the project on apiary siting, and how to handle the hive. The training was not practical as there were no bees!
- In the Ololunga area there could be 1,000 hives and the management of most beekeepers is very poor. There is a lack of understanding of bees. A lot of training is needed for the community. People don’t check their bees (management of bees is very poor). If you inspect the hive they think you are taking honey. People also don’t understand their bees and take all the honey and leave none for the bees.
- No follow-up was made by the project and no honey was harvested since (three years later).
- The group apiary was poorly managed as there were too many hives crowded together. Most of the Langstroths seen had no supers and most were empty. It was apparent that when they had been occupied the bees had absconded leaving behind wax moth and spiders.
- It was clear from our inspection that the group hives were not cared for. We were told that “after the donation was received nobody cares”.
- Collective marketing was a problem – there was no interest and follow-up.
- The group honey extractor which was also donated was too big and heavy to be moved between members’ homes and impractical for small amounts of honey. It was therefore gathering dust in the store.
Key learning points
- Families working together on bees (in this case a Father and Son) seem to be more successful.
- Nixon and Harun are focussed on the interface between bees and the environment and the benefits of bees and trees to the community.
- This is an example of a failed group project/hive dumping type of project where large numbers of Langstroths were distributed with little training or support which leads to nothing (a home for spiders perhaps!). Trainee beekeepers need practical beekeeping training and sufficient support until they acquire the necessary skills.
1. Bees & the Minister’s Boot
We were told a funny story about how a government minister came to the area and a swarm of bees entered into the boot of the ministers car while he as at a local meeting. Nixon was called urgently to remove the bees from the boot of the car which he did. Nixon said that afterwards it proved to be a very good colony!
2. Living in a bee house!
Nixon and Harun once removed bees from a house in Nakuru. They took 15 colonies from one house! It took them a week and they harvested 200 liters of honey. The bees were very defensive and they had to stop and pray at times. At one point the bees were stinging through double gloves!