“Bee keeping/honey production is one agricultural business that you don’t wait to sell your product; before you produce buyers are already queued up to pick it off you. And wild honey does not get spoilt; 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.” – African farmer Mogaji
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.
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, bucket, a knife, and smokers fuel, which is an 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 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 type 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 the 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 to 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 indentify 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 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 cloths 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 bee hive, 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 bee wax 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 bee wax to buy?
Unfortunately, most bee keepers don’t process it to sell, they trash it, but you can contact bee keepers for it. Also, the bee wax is a very high export commodity to the international market. There is bee wax 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 fragrant and it is healthier to inhale the fragrant.
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 the 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 would be 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.
What do I mean by outsourcing the honey?
let us assume you know where honey is produce locally in large quantity and you have done you research and you have found a market internationally that needs the honey, it is very important that you get a sample of that honey from the producer and carry out a test on it to ascertain the type of honey that is produced there.
Why are we not able to produce enough for the local market, talk less the international market, what are the challenges?
Honey is been done on a subsistent basis in Nigeria as far as I’m concerned, that is, the farmer is making honey just to support whatever he is getting to meet his family needs. And because it is not the core purpose of their farming, they just use a small area of their farm land to keep some bees and then make honey from them.
There are no large scale honey producers, no large scale farmland dedicated to producing honey in commercial volume, and what this means is that the production you will be getting will be limited and of course this will affect the quantity and the quality that is been produced for the export market.
So, the solution will be that farmers or even cooperate bodies go into the farming of honey in a large or commercial level. Companies can come up with improved varieties of bees that produce the honey.
They can give farmers the improved varieties as incentive to produce the honey, like what some big tomatoes paste producing companies do. They will give farmers improved varieties of tomatoes to plant and when they harvest they supply the companies that gave them the improved seeds.
I think if our companies or the honey farmers themselves can come together to do this, we will have more production of honey locally and even more for the export market because the export market profit the farmer more. This will also guarantee the sale of their product and they will be more interested in producing more because there is a ready market waiting to buy whatever they have produced.
Another thing I want to say here also affects all other products for exportation and not just honey. It is, lack of structured market, that is, when the producer produces and does not know how or where to take the products to. There is no central market where he can take his products to, you know, a central place where buyers can meet them and pick up their products.
All that is available now is the open market where if you are lucky to find someone ask for your product and you sell, if not you take it home till the next market day. If farmers could get something like a commodity house or commodity exchange house where their products will be guaranteed of market, it will be a very great thing for the farmers. This affects all other commodities in the
Nigerian market and of course this limits our production capacity.
Another issue is the exporters themselves, the exporter should try as much as possible to invest time in doing their research work thoroughly, which includes getting their testing right. The exporter must also be sure of the contact they are supplying the products to, are they the right people to deal with? Do they have a good track record of dealing with Nigerians successfully? These are basic questions you need to get genuine answers to before ever embarking on your first exportation.
Do not be in a hurry to start exporting, get the licensing you need first so that you are not infringing on any law enforced by any agency or government.
So, if we are able to get the above issues right we will grow from just making honey to support our income to farming honey to be our major source of income, because the market is huge both in Nigeria and overseas, the potency of honey itself cannot be over estimated.
Is there any way the government is helping honey farmers?
Well, to the best of my knowledge I don’t know any government scheme or programme that is currently running to help bee farmers or honey producers but I do know a few organizations that are set up to help farmers in some of these areas may be interested, like the Raw Material Development Agency, and also one or two companies that use honey as raw material for their products, if honey producers and bee keepers could approach them, they may be willing to support or be partner in the project.
How profitable is the exportation of honey?
The price of honey in the international market gives about 50-70% profit, and with the present exchange rate you will be better for it. the local price varies from one seller to another and is based on the specific specie you have, it’s from N1, 000 – N1, 500 per kg, and 1 Ton is 1000kg, which will mean N150, 000 per Ton.
In the international market you will be getting prices of between 1000 – 2000$ per ton depending on the variety of the products you are having.
For instance, if you sell the product internationally at the lowest price for $1, 000, that will be income of N200,000 using exchange rate of N200 to a dollar. If you bought the product locally for
N150,000 per ton, it then means you will be making a profit of N50,000 on one ton. If you deduct your transport and other logistics (of course it is going to be FOB, that means once you are able to get the stuff to the airport or seaport you have done your beat, the person buying will handle the rest), you will still make a good profit.
Let’s assume you spent N30, 000 for all expenses, including packaging, transportation, airport handling charges, and other charges and fees, including the 1% bank charges and some other fees.
Your profit will be N20, 000 per ton. That is to say, you are buying at the highest price locally to sell at the lowest price internationally you are still making a good profit.
To achieve this, you have to do your research work very well and you could march what you have locally with what is desired internationally in terms of varieties, and march it to the price.If for instance you are able to get locally at N130,000 or N150,000 and you are selling at $2, 000, it means you will be making more profit.
Now, you may want to ask, does it worth the effort? If you invest N150, 000 in a fixed deposit I don’t think you can make N20, 000 in 30days, so if you ask me, it’s worth it because it can be better than that, this is just to stay on the safe side.
The market is there like I always tell people, but two things are central, the quality and the quantity. These two are key to how much profit or success you can make in any exportable product. In fact, when you drop your goods with your shipping agent and you collect your documents and take them to the bank, you can go to bed or you start to prepare for the next batch of supply. The other things to take care are just procedural. The export agent will handle their beat, and the banks will handle theirs too, your own part is to get your quality and quantity right.
The quantity becomes an issue if you cannot guarantee steady supply of the same variety, and the quality is what the customer is buying, so if you are not sure of these two, you had better look for another type of business to do so that you can save your precious time.
What will be your advice to would be honey marketers and exporters?
Before doing any export business, you must consider the first things first. You must get your acts right. What do I mean by this? I mean you must be able to identify a seller that you can be getting your products from on consistent bases if you are not the one producing the product yourself.
Also, you have to make sure you have a registered company name, and get all the legal documentation for all your products and company, NAFDAC approval, and export License. If you are able to get all these right, the next thing will be to identify buyers and send your samples to them with copies of the result you did, I mean the result from the product inspection you did.
How big is bee keeping/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. Bee keeping/honey production is one agricultural business that you don’t wait to sell your product; before you produce buyers are already queued up to pick it off you. And wild honey does not get spoilt; 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 bee keeping/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 the 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 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 antibiotic. 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 arthrites and many others. So honey production is just an aspect of the bee hive.