Honey production is another area in our agricultural sector that we have not fully exploited, especially for the export market. Even though it has a huge local and export demand, the current local production cannot meet the several tons of the product that are needed by international buyers.
Honey is a widely known and used product. Yet, in marketing honey, it is important that consumers have confidence that they are getting what they are paying for. Thus the most important aspect of honey processing is maintaining quality. A good quality honey in which potential users have faith in is essential to establishing and maintaining marketing outlets.
Nutritionally, honey is virtually pure carbohydrate. It contains only trace amounts of other substances. The greatest nutritional attribute of honey is that it consists of simple sugars. These sugars do not need to be digested, but are assimilated directly by the body. This makes honey a quick energy source.
Honey is a natural sweetener. It can be eaten as it is or used in any type of cooking, or to sweeten beverages. In some regions, honey is traditionally used to prepare special foods for certain occasions. It is also widely used in folk medicine. Honey has a long history as a wound dressing. For example, its bacteriostatic property (inability to allow bacterial growth) helps to control infections.
Honey is also used in some areas to make alcoholic beverages such as mead or honey wine. In parts of Africa, honey beer is a traditional and popular beverage.
What do I need to start to keep bees for honey production?
You basically need the bee hive, which is where they live. The hive is a very unique place the bees live and carpenters can make it for you with wood, it is not something you can buy in the open market. You will need land that is a bit away from people and livestock like cattle. You will need smokers, a bucket, a knife, and smokers fuel, which is the equipment you need to create smoke.
How do you buy and know the best variety of bee to keep for honey?
For now, we are still producing wild honey in Nigeria, where you only attract them. Instead of buying the bees, you attract them, but in developed countries you buy what is called starter pack, just like you buy day old chicks, but mostly in Nigeria, you attract them from the wild and find a place to keep them. And you get them mostly after the rain or before the rain, that is, before the rainy season starts you get them, and after the rainy season stops you can also get them.
Is there any particular place in Nigeria that is best for keeping bees?
You can keep bees anywhere in Nigeria but it’s just that the yield of honey will be more in areas where you don’t have too much rain, because honey in the rain forest is lower than honey in the savannah. Bees kept in the savannah environment produce more and better honey than those kept in the rain forest region because of high humidity in the rain forest region.
Generally, people will say honey is honey, that is not a true statement because we have a lot of rain here in the south, our honey is wet and have moisture but in the north you can have rain now and in the next hour the sun is shinny heavily, so you have more dry honey, which is better.
Why do I have to keep bees to produce honey, instead of doing other types of farming?
One of the major reasons why you want to keep bees is that you will have time to do other things, unlike other animals that needs sometimes your 75% attention every day, you will only attend to the bees say ones in two weeks and if you have a very good environment you should be attending to the bees once a month. Our bees don’t really like you disturbing them too much, but bees in advanced countries don’t mind you disturbing them; in fact, they love you coming around them often.
Two, if you are a crop farmer, your crops will do very well because the bees will help you to pollinate the flowers. They will visit more of those flowers and that will result in more yield for the farmer. In fact, in advanced countries bee pollination is a huge business, some farmers actually rear bees for pollination only. Companies that produce orange drinks or other fruit drinks enter into contract agreement with farmers who have bees to help in pollinating their crops.
Let’s assume you have an orange orchard that can produce up 50, 000 Tons of orange juice per year, you will need bees to pollinate the plants at the onset of flowering to be able to achieve that capacity. So what you need to do is to approach those farmers that keep bees for pollination, after which your yield will be massive. Pollination is a massive business opportunity out there.
Three, demand for honey is more than supply; you can never meet up with the demand. Once people identify that you can produce the real wild honey, the demand will always be more. The man that trained me back then in the year 2000, though late now, used to have people making a down payment for his honey 6months in advance. Once people know you have the good stuff, you will never be able to meet the demand, you will be wondering how it is happening, it is people that have used your honey that will be advertising it to others.
Then, apart from the honey, there are other byproducts that make the business more interesting, there is the bee wax, which is the best wax ever for making clothes like our popular Adire or Baltic. Also, ForeverLiving Product company has about five of hot selling products from bee, the minimum price for some of these products is about N2, 000. These products on their own are even more expensive than honey itself, that is, in the beehive, honey is the cheapest of all the products you can get from bees.
This means, even while you are keeping your bees to get you honey, there are several other byproducts that can make you more income that have not yet been explored. Another reason why you want to produce honey is that wild honey can never go bad, you can have it even outside your fridge for 5years and nothing will happen to it, the potency, colour, and taste will not change.
How do I attract bees from the wild to my bee hive?
The very best attractive agent or object to use is the bee wax, now bee wax is a product produced by the bees, it is like a comb, it is produced from the body of the bees at the courting stage just as milk is produced from the breast of a woman as soon as she gives birth to a child, so at a certain stage the bees produce the wax from their body. So when you take that wax and rob it in the hive, the smell from that wax will attract them to come into the hive, they are likely going to perceive it from a distance. Also, of all the baits that can be used to attract bees, the bee wax lasts longer.
Again, you can use perfume, you can also use lipstick because they have a content that attract the bees inside them, that is why government usually warn Youth Corpers who are going for camping\training in the bush to keep their lipsticks and perfumes back at home because a number of those lipsticks have beeswax in them. And no matter how you process any product from the bee hive, it must still retain its natural competence.
Some people also use cow dung and some traditional bee keepers have been able to identify some plants that when they smoke them and the bees perceive the smell they will be attracted.
Where can I get this beeswax to buy?
Unfortunately, most beekeepers don’t process it to sell, they trash it, but you can contact bee keepers for it. Also, bee wax is a very high export commodity to the international market. There is a beeswax candle and this candle burns 2times better/lower than the ordinary candle. That is, by the time you are burning the second ordinary candle, the bee wax candle is still burning the first one. It also has a better fragrance and it is healthier to inhale the fragrant.
How big is the beekeeping/ honey production business in Nigeria, is it very lucrative?
I have not seen a very serious or dedicated bee keeper/honey producer probably in the urban area that will complain of lack of market, that is, his or her honey have been on ground for months because nobody came to buy it, never, I’m yet to see one, people that may complain will be those in the interior rural area, and that will happen because they are unable to market the product.
But I can assure you that the moment honey marketers discover them, they will soon begin to have issues meeting orders. Beekeeping/ honey production is one agricultural business where you don’t wait to sell your product; before you produce, buyers are already queuing up to pick it off you. And wild honey does not get spoiled; it can stay for years without going bad, even outside the refrigerator, it is not like tomatoes that you have to look for buyers for very fast.
Is this a business anybody can do, do I require any form of training?
Yes, anybody can do it, but you need a little bit of training to get involved in beekeeping/honey production, however the training has been corrupted by some rickety trainers, people who have not even seen a bee hive before training you on how to keep bees or produce honey.
You need training in both practical training in the field and the theory.
How do you harvest the honey from the hives?
For harvesting honey you can use the combs that contain only honey and have at least two-thirds of the cells sealed. Preferably, use only the lighter-colored combs. Dark comb contains propolis, which can impart a strong taste to the honey. Using only honey comb prevents contamination from brood and minimizes the pollen in the final product.
Removing honey from comb by pressing: Harvest only comb containing honey, then cup up the comb or squeeze with hands after which you will strain through coarse strainer or screen wire. And before you Bottle and cap the honey you have to strain through fine material (cloth or screen) to remove all unwanted particles.
All honey contains some pollen and too much pollen in honey is mostly an aesthetic concern. High pollen content gives honey a cloudy appearance and can also give it a stronger taste. Hand pressed honey or honey that was removed by squeezing it from the comb has a higher pollen content than extracted honey. (Extracted honey is honey removed from the comb by centrifugal force. The liquid honey is spun out of the comb, and the solid pollen remains.)
Just like I said earlier, there are several untapped areas in bee keeping, the breeding is one huge business opportunity that is yet to be tapped in Nigeria, instead of attracting them even though there is no harm in that, but it could also be better if you can walk to the market and buy bee like you buy day old chicks. There is a business opportunity in learning how to breed bees.
Also, there is opportunity in using bees for crop pollination. There is also opportunity in propolis, which is very high in antibiotics. ForeverLiving Products has that product. So, you will find different specializations in bee keeping. There is also what is called Api therapy. Api-therapy is the practice of using bee products to cure illnesses like arthritis and many others. So honey production is just an aspect of the beehive.
What does it entail to export honey?
Honey is a special product because it has various varieties that you can produce from the fact that there are various varieties of bees that produce honey. So, if you want to produce honey for export, you need to pay a very serious attention to the following:
The particular variety
Bees are everywhere, and because you can produce it anywhere, there is the tendency to have different varieties, but it is equally important that you source your honey from one source for sake of homogeneity, that is, if you are unable to produce the honey by yourself, because you can actually outsource the production aspect and concentrate your business on the export market.
But if you are the one producing it, fine, it means you know the type of honey that you are producing based on the variety of bee that you have been keeping. It is the variety of bee that you keep that will determine the type of honey you will produce, and as soon as you have produced enough for export, you will have to do a product test, to confirm that you actually have the exact honey.
This is very important because either you produce it locally or you outsource it, you still have to do a product test or analysis of that product because part of the documentations you will attach and send to the supposed buyer is a copy of the result from the test that shows the type and quality of honey that you have produced.
Visit analysis centers to do the testing
The quantity may not be very important at this stage because it’s just samples that you will be sending to the buyers before they request for more. There are quite a few centers where you can carry out Inspections on honey. These include SGS Inspection, IV Inspection, SITCO, Berwick Van Tweed, Gruppo Limited, MO Destiny Multi-Services Limited, and Hallelah Integrated Services Limited. You can do a Google search to find more of such centres.
Again, it is very important to know the variety you will be supplying your customer so that you don’t supply a particular type today and another type tomorrow, you will not be considered as a serious person who is ready for business, and also it means you have to be doing test every time you produce because your bees are also coming from everywhere.
So, with the test result you can approach buyers, and based on your packaging, presentation and market research which you have done to find potential users and buyers, you can be rest assured you will get buyers and your products will be sold out in no distant time.
Don’t forget you also have to register your product with NAFDAC, this is very important; and also with other agencies that regulate farm produce and products.