Innovation that seeks to create jobs in beekeeping industry

24May 2018
The Guardian
Innovation that seeks to create jobs in beekeeping industry

Three years back, in 2015, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) produced a report on ‘Enhancing Linkages between Tourism and the Sustainable Agriculture Sectors in the United Republic of Tanzania.’

The potential of beekeeping in Tanzania is huge. Tanzania is the second honey producer in Africa after Ethiopia.

Somewhere in the report, UNCTAD offers thermatic strategies. One of those strategies read: “Awareness and capacity building: raising awareness and building capacity to attain a high level of consciousness, understanding and ability to support the implementation of linkages between tourism and agriculture is crucial.”

In June, just by coincidence, Jasmijn Bleijerveld, a structural engineer and architect, chose to venture in honey production and processing in Tanzania and create jobs for the youth and women. Good news. She has ventured into an industry UNCTAD treasures and encourages Tanzanians and their government to give priority.

In this effort two things come out prominently: First, Jasmijn must be proud of her innovation for she is speaking the language spoken by UNCTAD. Secondly, this innovation should enjoy full support of the state and Tanzania’s development partners who include the UNCTAD.

Jasmijn calls her innovation Jasmine Bee. And one is tempted to ask Jasmijn: ‘why the trouble madam engineer’? The answer is excellent. She argues that she wants Tanzanians to benefit from the God-given gifts: trees and their flowers, water bodies and bees. It would be wise to remember that these gifts are not found in every country on this planet.

The innovator says the whole idea, the main purpose, behind her innovation, is to create a commercially viable exclusive organic and fairly-traded Tanzanian bee products brand by improving the traditional honey industry by introducing innovative locally -beekeeping equipment and by developing a self-reliant apiculture businesses model.

Introduction and scaling up of beekeeping, she argues, is a holistic solution to a number of development challenges. “Our impact will be in a range of areas such as environmental conservation, economic growth, gender equality and food security,” she notes.

Yes, her professional background, her demonstrated creativity, hands-on approach and project management experience, gives Jasmijn the ability to build her business into a key stakeholder in the Tanzanian honey industry.

Creation of commercially viable exclusive organic bee products is not a bad idea. The UNCTAD report says “the global market for organic products has been rising from almost nothing 30 years ago to over US dollar 72 billion in 2013. The inherent challenges notwithstanding.”

Jasmijn wants to take organic production to the grassroots by improving the traditional honey industry by introducing beekeeping equipment people will be willing, able to understand and ready to use. She needs not worry if she gets the support of those who matter.

For small producers will be able to understand and use them because the UNCTAD says in Tanzania “organic farming is mostly associated with traditional farming, in which no inputs are used and therefore on this basis one can say that many small-scale farms are organic by default…”

The potential of beekeeping in Tanzania is huge. Tanzania is the second honey producer in Africa after Ethiopia.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the sub- sector employs 2 million people with 38.8 million hectares of forests and woodlands available for beekeeping activities.

However, the sub-sector faces a myriad of challenges which include poor processing equipment and lack of modern tools. Jasmine Bees’ seeks to improve honey production and processing in Tanzania.

Jasmijn grew up in Indonesia and loved to spend the weekends in walking in the tropical forest, climbing rocks in the water streams.

At the age of 5 she recalls, she thought it was wise to become a ranger in a tropical forest.

“As a little girl I already wanted to protect the trees, the animals, the bugs, the rains, and the sounds,” she says without knowing the tropical forests were in great danger “and that without them our planet would be in trouble.”

Some 35 years later, she knew that in Tanzania alone, illegal logging destroys 500,000 hectares of its natural forests every year and that forest communities were left behind with a destroyed environment, drought, flooding and other unpredictable disasters.

It is this life-long interest in nature and desire to take care of the environment, plus a love for honey, that gives her the passion and energy to accomplish her dreams for Jasmine Bee --- a trade name for the honey products she produces.

Jasmijn argues that the fact that approximately 70 percent of Tanzanians currently live in rural areas and their daily existence depends on smallholder farming in an environment increasingly under pressure due to rapid population growth, unfertile farming soil and increasingly longer dry seasons; any economic development should be one that does not harm the habitat.

“Our belief in beekeeping as the most obvious and viable choice for small-scale, but commercial, apiculture entrepreneurs is because beekeeping benefits all community members,” she says.

Jasmine Bee seeks to stimulate the use of modern beekeeping equipment, as, besides better hive management, and higher yields, it will engender greater female participation.

Jasmijn says that modern hives overcome the necessity of performing beekeeping activities that involve rigorous manual labour far from home allowing women to combine the responsibility of childcare and earning extra income.

Beekeeping has a long history in Tanzania and it is playing a significant socio-economic role as a source of food for rural people, raw materials for industry and income for beekeepers in intermediaries. More than half of the honey produced in the country is consumed locally as food or making refreshment and medicines. In rural areas, the prices range from US$ 3 to 4 per kilogram packed honey, while in cities, it ranges from US$ 4 to 6 per kilogram.

Talking of markets, she explains that Tanzanians are willing to pay relatively high prices for raw, pure honey which is seen as a medicine for the throat, burns, and ulcers. Women also apply the honey on the face, as a face mask.

Since the start of Jasmine Bee, they have sold 7.5 tons of honey and 1.6 tons of beeswax on the local market worth USD 53,000.

Their ambition for 2018 is to export 60 tonnes of honey and grow to 450 tonnes in five years’ time.

She sells by word of mouth especially to safari companies and restaurants who are interested in the larger quantities of a 20 bucket of 28kg of honey. Another dimension: Jasmine Bee should cooperate with the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) so that the idea raised by UNCTAD in their aforesaid report materialised.

“I sell the honey from my home and office,” she notes.

According to available data, average production in Tanzania is 9,380 metric tonnes of honey worth USD 9.38 million, and average of 625.3 metric tonnes of beeswax worth USD 1.9 mil. Utilisation is only about 7 percent of the existing production potential. Main buyers of Tanzania’s honey are European Union countries, Oman, UAE, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Iran while main buyers of beeswax are Japan, the United States and Germany.

Till now the company has focussed on training and getting the quality at a high level, before entering the market in large quantities.

It is the company’s mission to scale up the Tanzanian honey value chain by bringing modern professional honey processing methods to beekeepers. The company plans to do so through the design and implementation of the mobile centre called Honey Buzz.

The Honey Buzz -- a mobile honey and beeswax processing and packaging centre -- is a project proposal for the design of an innovative approach to improve honey processing and transport services for remote small-scale beekeepers.

According to Jasmijn, Tanzania’s apiculture industry today is in a unique position in the world market: its honey catchment area is (almost) free of pesticide use and other chemical pollution, therefore these Tanzanian bee products are already considered organic.

She notes three main challenges of apiculture in Tanzania as:

Firstly, due to inaccessibility to markets, unreliable transport, lack of market information, inadequate joint efforts in marketing and inadequate entrepreneurship skills among beekeepers, the marketing of the bee products is always an issue.

Secondly, the quality of bee products is relatively poor because of the inadequate skills/knowledge to apply improved technologies and the use of inappropriate technology in harvesting, processing, storage and packaging.

Thirdly, poor use and little access to improved production technologies, increased loss of beekeeping areas, inadequate and ineffective extension services and inadequate statistical information to guide plans and operations cause the low production of bee products.

Her main challenge is finance to grow the company faster and being able to start export.

Jasmin Bee would like to become the main player in bees’ products sector in Tanzania and show the world it is possible to make high quality honey in Tanzanian that is organic and fairly produced.

And she advises aspiring innovators out there. “Do what you believe in, focus and be patient.” Yes patience pays.

Emmanuel Rubagumya writes for LITA, a network of journalists writing about innovation, science and research. [email protected]