Zambia: Honey Industry matures

By  Nawa Mutumweno – The country’s honey sector has developed substantially since the establishment of an umbrella body – the Zambia Honey Council (ZHC) – in 2003. From humble beginnings as the Zambia National Beekeepers Association (ZNBA), the industry has become vibrant and focused with an innovative business touch.

ZHC has injected a growth dose into the mainstream of the industry which is now more organised, coordinated, result-oriented and business-inclined. From its traditional focus a few years ago, today beekeeping and trade in honey has blossomed into a source of livelihood for many and is being recognized as a viable and worthwhile business.

“Apart from improving the lives of the beekeepers, the Council has brought together traders, packers, suppliers, service providers and major retail shops  as they are key components of the value chain,” ZHC chief executive officer Bill Kalaluka disclosed in an interview.

True to its mission, the ZHC is serving the honey industry through enhanced coordination with a view to increase demand and production of honey and other bee products, quality control and assurance and identify potential markets.

Success stories abound with the key ones being the introduction of District Honey Associations and Honey Area Associations, Bulking Centres, Quality Assurance Mark (QAM), Field Standards, Training Manual and Training of Trainers Programme. The Training of Trainers programme (based on best practices in the production and storage of good quality honey) has proved cost-effective and sustainable for the Council.

Another boost to the Council’s operations has been the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Zambia Bureau of Standards which clear-cut inspection standards at operational premises of companies that process and package honey.

The traditional bark hive is now being used alongside new technology – top bar hive – which is more gender-sensitive as its application is more tenable for the womenfolk. Thus, more and more women are joining the bee ‘bandwagon’ unlike in the past when it was more male-dominated.

“About 90 percent of beekeepers still use bark hives with only a few places such as Kapiri Mposhi taking up the new technology. This is a challenge we are facing to make beekeepers embrace the new technology,” he elaborated.

The Bulking Centre initiative is part of the marketing strategy through which buyers and traders procure honey at well managed centralized places with proper documentation. Prior to this intervention, buyers found it difficult to purchase honey and had to travel wide to get reasonable quantities. The centres are provided and managed by the beekeepers themselves while the Council supplies the buckets, scales, gloves and other protective clothing. So far, 16 bulking centres have been established in Central, North Western and Western provinces. When beekeepers have produced adequate stocks, they utilize the ZNFU trade and market information SMS system to identify buyers offering the best prices for their produce. For a commodity to be included on this system, it must be of economic value and operating in a structured market system with a defined supply chain from the producer to the trader and consumer.

ZHC launched the Quality Assurance Mark (QAM) in April 2008 as a base on which processors and packers adhere to a strict and quality standard to meet the set production benchmarks of processing and packaging honey. So far, 14 companies have attained the QAM and continue to renew it on an annual basis. Another five companies have since applied for accreditation. It is also heartening to note that Zambians are now well informed on issues of quality assurance, demanding for products that meet specifications.

The quality of Zambian honey and packaging has improved a great deal as can be seen from honey products sold in major retail shops such as Melissa and Spar where ZHC has employed shop merchandisers who engage customers on a one-to-one basis on the medicinal and health values of honey. Apart from these retail outlets, ZHC has also carried out promotional programmes in the print and electronic media to raise awareness and increase the use of locally produced honey and other bee products. For thousands of years, honey has been recognized as one of the most natural home remedies that treats a variety of ailments.

Zambian honey has proved popular on the international market making inroads into South Africa, Botswana, the United Kingdom (UK), Germany and the United States of America (USA). The “trade barrier” issue of the American Foul Brood (AFB) raised by South African is being addressed by the honey sector and the relevant authorities following a study which was commissioned under World Bank assistance.

“Market opportunities on both the local and international fronts are vast with increasing high demand which we have not so far met,” Mr Kalaluka pointed out

Mr. Kalaluka paid glowing tribute to government through the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, beekeepers, processors, packers and cooperating partners for adding value to the industry and keeping the faith in its vibrancy and trade potential.

He called for the finalization of the Beekeeping Policy which will propel the honey sector as an emerging industry that is set to contribute to the country’s economic revival. The Draft Forest Policy has since been concluded. The Zambia Honey Platform is now in its third year and was providing a coordination mechanism to drive the industry forward and enhance the stature of the sector. Through this framework, participation by both the public and private sectors is guaranteed.

In the next few years, the ZHC would like to curve a niche that establishes it as a major marketing body for honey facilitating the production of honey and related products to the right specifications with a readily-available market. Secondly, all stakeholders that play different roles should come together and work together, bringing the aspect of comparative advantage into perspective.

“Each organization in the sector should play its specific role. Then, the industry will develop and move forward,” he concluded.

For more information, contact:

Mr. Bill Kalaluka

The Chief Executive Officer

Zambia Honey Council

Multi-Media Centre

Bishops Road, Kabulonga

Telefax: 00260 211 263 098