Many parts of Baringo County are known to be dry and cannot support any meaningful agricultural activities, making the region reliant on food aid during protracted drought.
The fortunes of the region have, however, been gradually changing thanks in part to production of honey, that is said to be one of the best in the country.
The county now generates more than 10,000 tonnes of honey annually, and this is expected to rise as more people embrace the venture.
What is interesting is that women are on the driving seat of this venture. Women are found selling the product in many stopovers along the Kabarnet-Marigat-Nakuru roads which they supplement with sale of fruits which is another major revenue earner for the region.
One of the groups which has been very successful in the sale of honey is the Kapkuikui Livestock Improvement Self-Help Group in Baringo South sub-county.
Formed 15 years ago, the group now has more than 1,000 beehives, producing an average of 20kg each. This adds up to about 10 tonnes annually as harvesting is done twice per season.
The group also buys honey from the community at Sh165 a kilo, which they combine with what they produce and sell to Baraka Agricultural College in Molo at Sh185 a kilo.
Last season, the group generated Sh1.8 million after selling 9.8 tonnes of honey. The earnings were distributed to members depending on the amount they had delivered.
So lucrative is the venture that some members go home with more than Sh200,000 a season.
“We are now able to cater for our families’ needs, including taking our children to school. Local youth have also ventured into the enterprise and some of them own between 20 and 40 hives, which have kept them from vices like drug and alcohol abuse,” says the group chairman, Simon Chesang.
The County Government of Baringo gave the group Sh2 million this financial year to set up a honey processing plant.
“This will enable us to do value addition for our honey and enable us to fetch more returns,” says the group’s treasurer Samuel Kasitet.
On completion, the honey processing plant will enable the group to fetch about Sh500 a kilo, which will be a significant improvement from sale of crude honey which sells at Sh185 a kilo. This means the group’s earnings will shoot up significantly to Sh4.9 billion a season, up from Sh1.8 million currently.
Plans are at an advanced stage for the group to supply their processed honey to major supermarkets in the country.
“We’ve complied with all the requirements, including registering our company — Kapkuikui Bee Keepers Company. The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has also given us certification,” Mr Chesang told Enterprise.
Apart from selling honey, the group, which has four collection centres, generates money from products such as wax, which is packaged in three forms. A one kilo pack fetches Sh600, 300gm sells at Sh250 and 500gm goes for Sh300.
The group also makes candles, with the smallest selling at Sh30, medium Sh60 and the biggest Sh200. They also make skin lotions, which go for Sh60 a bottle.
Mr Chesang, however, says drought is a major challenge to the enterprise as it means shortage of water for the bees. To address the problem of bees abandoning hives during the dry season, the group is setting up a bee apiary near a water source.
The Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) is also setting up a bee keeping equipment production centre in Kabarnet, at a cost of Sh17 million. The centre which will serve West Pokot, Baringo, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Turkana, Trans-zoia, Uasin Gishu and Samburu counties will see the production of beehives increase in the region from the current 5,000 to 10,000 annually.
Baringo Governor Stanley Kiptis says beekeepers will also be trained on honey processing which will increase the processed honey from the current 100 tonnes out of 700 tonnes produced annually in the North Rift.
KVDA in conjunction with governors from arid counties are in the process of mapping out resources in the area in a bid to establish how they can be exploited for the benefit of the locals.
“Kerio Valley sits on very important resources and we want to come up with a common plan in a bid to alleviate poverty and improve the economic welfare of the people,” says Mr Kiptis.
Apart from honey production, the governor says Kerio Valley region is also rich in livestock with Baringo County alone having an estimated two million goats and one million cows.
“Baringo honey cannot be rivaled in any part of the country. We want to turn around the sector by refining and re-organising it. We will set up collection points and we want to profile our honey to get its rightful place,” he says.
“If fully exploited the sector can go a long way in alleviating effects of perennial droughts.”
He calls on beekeepers in the county to form cooperative societies to develop honey value-chain and avoid being exploited by middlemen.
The Kenya Honey Council chairman Kithuma Nzainga says Kenya has no capacity to export honey products due to low production.