ZAMBIA: Abuzz with bees

By Nawa Mutumweno – From its humble and traditional focus a few years ago, beekeeping and trade in honey products has blossomed into a sustainable source of livelihoods for many.

Apart from speaking with one voice and exuding a distinct personality, the honey industry is now more organized, thanks to the Zambia Honey Partnership (ZHP).

ZHP was established three years ago as a coordination framework that is providing a rational approach, by both the public institutions and the private sector involved in promoting sustainable social and economic growth of the honey sector.

It has emerged through a series of stakeholder meetings which were initially coordinated by SNV Zambia. Three meetings bringing together Government agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), business and trade associations, bee keepers, exporters/packers, researchers and international development agencies have so far taken place.

The Partnership which is chaired by the Zambia Honey Council (ZHC) has a Secretariat housed at the Agri-Business Forum (ABF).  ABF as coordinator provides guidance, establishes an optimum framework and creates opportunities for cooperation in addition to brokering potential investors into commercially orientated streams of the Partnership.  ABF is an organization that was set up to represent the interests of private sector companies in the country especially those directly or indirectly linked to outgrowing (contract farming).

ZHP is anchored on ten Operating Principles that revolve on a coordinated strategy, objectives, defined functions in the value chain, cooperation, communication links, information sharing, respect and enthusiasm.

It is a well known fact that Zambia is one of the largest producers of honey in Africa producing about 1 000 metric tonnes of export quality honey per year although total production is envisaged to be more. With more concerted efforts, the country could become a significant source of high quality honey in the world.

Traditional beekeepers in the North-Western and Copperbelt provinces harvest an average of 10 hives each. Each hive yields about 10 kgs per year. The average annual sales from these households stand at about 100kgs. The average producer price for comb honey is about ZMK 2 000 per kg. This translates to an annual income of about $53. These returns are acceptable given the fact that investment costs of the traditional bark hives are minimal.  The only cost is the opportunity cost of the household labour.   Traditional beekeepers who have been introduced to modern top bar hives have had their annual incomes improving substantially.

There are three broad methods of honey production practiced in Zambia:- traditional honey hunting (exploitation of wild colonies in trees, etc. This ad hoc practice is slowly dying out as new and improved technologies are being introduced); traditional log hives (this is the commonest method of production where tree barks and logs are used to build hives. Honey collection is still ad hoc and uses basic equipment and techniques that causes inefficient collection and poor quality product); and ‘top  bar’ hives ( a modern and improved hive that has been introduced and adapted with some success in Zambia. These hives have encouraged more professional and commercial focus on honey production by allowing effective colony management that gives higher yields and colony propagation.

Forest and forest industries contribute around 4% of Zambia’s GDP. Honey has been produced in Zambia for many years, particularly in the North Western, Luapula and Northern provinces. Previously produced for home consumption, honey has been in recent times become more of an organized business. North Western Province  is the country’s largest honey producing area producing  about 600 metric tonnes  of traded honey from some 18 000 beekeepers.  Total honey production for the market is estimated at about 800 metric tonnes per annum with 200 metric tonnes being sold on the domestic front, according to the Zambia Honey Council.

In coming up with the Partnership, various underlying factors were identified. These encompass low production, idle capacity of beekeepers; low volumes of quality honey onto the market; unfulfilled demand in the local, regional and international markets; lack of market information; non-commercial approach to beekeeping/under exploitation of potential and capacity; lack of relevant short and longer term finance within the honey value chain;  uncoordinated approach by donors operating in the sub-sector ; and lack of clear strategy and subsequent practical activities that would provide value addition to honey and honey products.

“Based on the above scenario, ZHP’s principle objectives revolve on the following  dimensions: to develop a partnership framework to address key value chain constraints and opportunities in the honey industry; to build markets/small farmer capacity to produce honey, expand domestic production, improve competitiveness and increase value addition; to scale up core value chain activities (inputs, production, logistics, credit and marketing) to catalyse significant small farmer development in the honey sub-sector; and to identify and support lead initiatives through a three-year coordinated development approach to build on ongoing activities to scale up  through learning,” Felix Chizhuka, ZHP Secretary elaborated.

Further, the ZHP will focus on key honey packers/processors who  wish to enhance their commercial orientation to local and international markets, consolidating and expanding market share as well as adding value to product; provide a practical demonstration of effective collaboration along the honey value chain between honey processors and beekeepers, traders and buyers to fulfill the Partnership aims;  ensure beekeepers gain the correct technical and business orientated skills through a combination of private  and public sector resources; ensure that profitable output markets are identified and exploited through effective institutional arrangements (e.g.  outgrower schemes), training, extension and more effective information flows; partnership to provide assurances to encourage relevant involvement by others  and improve transaction efficiency along the value chain and to reduce risk to encourage further private sector involvement; identify specific clusters within the value chain to address key constraints and promote viable business opportunities at both  and national level.

The Partnership has put in place strategic investment programmes to steer the industry on the road to success. These include Competitive/Innovation Grants Facility (IGF); Value added development (Training); Supply chain development and strengthening; Export promotion through targeted trade fairs; Beekeeper field exchanges;  Financial product development; Advocacy strengthening; and Tracking and traceability.

Innovation grants will be made available in due course as an incentive to individual partners of specific value chains within the ZHP.  These will be selected through a competitive process based on project proposals. Grants will be used to complement and support interventions and will be done under a cost sharing arrangement with a view to enhance buy in and ownership.

The IGF will be availed to beekeeper/producer associations identified within the auspices of the ZHP and processors/packers wishing to enhance their processing, quality control and assurance and marketing activities. The objectives of the IBF are to accelerate the transfer of improved production (including inputs), processing, honey analysis and marketing technologies to beekeepers/processors/packers within the supply chain; improve the logistics and transport/bulking of honey from association to processor; and improve relations and effectiveness of skills transfer between rural service providers and farmers/producers/processors within the value chain.

In terms of product development (value added),  the goals of the industry over the three-year investment period is to raise the total honey and related product sales in the sub sector  from $ 2000 per metric tonne to  at least $3 000 per metric tonne. Training will be provided to processors/ packers in new and alternative product development including candle making, propolis collection and packaging and royal jelly.

Market awareness and sales promotion are being facilitated through improved organizational practices, increased awareness of foreign market requirements, production and processing methodologies. New market linkages and increased export opportunities for value chain products are being established through organized networking activities such as exchange visits, joint promotions of finished products, business to business (B2B) meetings, forums and trade fairs.

ZHP endeavours to reinforce the brand values; differentiate members from the competition; command a premium in the marketplace; force the disclosure of information for other products; generate public interest in and awareness of environmental and societal issues; demonstrate transparency in action; and establish consumer confidence.

A Communications Strategy has been developed to provide a forum for the undertaking and dissemination of value-chain analyses, best practices and other experiences that could be generated from studies and survey findings. Valuable experiences are being captured for the honey value chain, relating to both smallholder farmer productivity and marketing as well as private sector/agribusiness methods of engaging smallholder farmers.

ABF, the ZHP Secretariat is working with both domestic and regional knowledge networks such as SNV, ESAANet and AgriProFocus, among others to facilitate wider information sharing and dissemination.

The expected results of the support programme of the ZHP involve: to target three main honey producing provinces, 8 honey processors and 15 000 beekeepers; by leveraging the current market demand for specific African-sourced honey, develop successful, profitable and sustainable off-take agreements between processing and beekeeper associations with local and international buying partners (Spar, Tropical Forest Products, Honey Central and Pehan Produktor); increased value added of  sold honey  from an average of $ 2 000/mt to $3 000/mt; increased number  of beekeepers from 15 000 to 20 000; increased sales of local honey from 200 to 600 metric tonnes;  increased sales of exported honey  from 450 to 600 metric tonnes; increase the number of processors engaging in formal outgrowing contracts from two to seven; increased the number of processors meeting Europen export requirements from two to five;  introduce traceability  systems among local packers from zero to three; increased  wealth creation of individual  beekeepers; and  establish the ZHP as a shining example of a learning and best practice platform for wider partnership development to cover other agricultural commodities/private sector development initiatives in Zambia.

That beekeeping and the production, processing and packing of honey for local and international markets is now recognized as a viable activity is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Although it remains largely traditional and unexploited, the industry has  tremendous potential to help  expand Zambia’s export base, foreign exchange reserves  and, most importantly, broaden and deepen the income  levels for many rural livelihoods.

It goes without saying that Zambian woodlands today resonate with two kinds of buzz. First is the hum from millions of bees gathering nectar from the surrounding dry forests.  Second is the rising excitement among local villagers who see honey production as a rewarding and potential source of income.

The author is the Communications Consultant for the Zambia Honey Partnership