To bee or not to bee: How Yatta Beekeepers are using honey for good
Could you imagine a world without coffee, without fruits or vegetables? This would be our reality if bees ever disappeared. According to FAO: “pollinators (including bees) affect 35% of global agricultural land, supporting the production of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide.” For that, over history, humans have kept and maintained Honeybee colonies on their farms for better crop growth and pure honey production – an activity which started 9000 years ago, and is named Apiculture.
Located in Kenya, Joanie Kinyanjui, the Founder of Yatta Beekeepers is an entrepreneur who harnessed honeybees to enhance the quality of thousands of lives in her community. Together with her team, Joanie passes her Apiculture knowledge to women and young farmers in rural communities in Kenya, to provide economic support. At their own educational center in Juja, they provide the farmers with training, expert support and innovative solutions in beekeeping.
In this article, she talks to us about her journey with entrepreneurship and the be(e)nefits of beekeeping!
What was your main motivation to start your business?
Monkeys were the trigger! Originally, I’m a farmer. My main challenge was preserving my crops from monkeys and wild animals. They used to hide up in the trees surrounding my farm, then sneak in and steal from the crops. I didn’t know what to do to keep them away. Cutting the surrounding trees was not an option at all. So I researched what can scare them off, and it was the bees.
Hence, I headed to one of the bee hives suppliers in our country and purchased the beehives but they didn’t tell me how to set them up. After doing lots of research, our team succeeded and did it right. We got motivated when we realized how such a simple venture can impact our crop quality by fostering biodiversity on the farm.
After our first honey harvest the local farmers reached out to us asking: “Where did you get the equipment from? And how does it work?” And here it all began; we now deliver high-quality honey to customers as well as supply our neighborhood farmers with tools and training on the best beekeeping practices. Over the years, we have trained thousands of farmers to join us and together we have gained considerable beekeeping experience.
What was the first milestone you achieved?
Our first important milestone was in 2018, when we legally registered our business and enrolled several farmers as contracted honey producers. Currently, we have around 2,500 contracted farmers in our network that covers the whole country. At least in every village we have a farmer.
What was the main effect of the pandemic on your business? And what steps did you take to adapt your business model?
We really felt the impact of travel restrictions that happened with the lockdown. We were hindered from efficiently reaching out to farmers and assisting them in collecting honey across the country. On the other hand, the demand increased where a lot of customers were reaching out asking for more honey and it was hard to meet their needs on time.
We leveraged on the available transport services to enable our farmers to ship honey to our offices using the essential services certifications. So the farmers sent us their goods through couriers because the couriers were the only ones who were allowed to move across the country.
Meanwhile, we found the announcement of enpact’s Empowering Entrepreneurship Initiative (EEI) posted to a shared WhatsApp group with young friends who also have agricultural businesses. It was really great to find such an opportunity that empowers companies and helps them become resilient. So I quickly applied since we needed to hold on to our employees, pay them and also hire more to cover the increasing demand.
We also needed to buy more equipment for the workshops, because with the onset of the pandemic we needed to improve our efficiency. In addition, as a growing team in hard times, we needed mentorship to know how to deal with the crisis.
How do you perceive the current state of the industry in Kenya?
The beekeeping industry is on the rise in Kenya. Demand for honey is continuously increasing and the consumers have established a need for pure honey for medicinal and health purposes. There is hope for a better business environment now that we have the vaccines. Further, various agencies including government and NGOs like enpact are supporting enterprises to ensure their resilience and survival during and after the pandemic.
But at the same time, with the third wave, although there are not as many restrictions or lockdowns, the disease is much worse. So we have to be careful when holding trainings and having farmers onsite; we have to maintain all COVID-protocols and make sure we’re doing the right thing. And since the customer demand for honey is on the rise, we are also working to introduce more farmers to the beekeeping industry.
How does your outlook about the future of your business differ between now and in February 2020?
When we started our beekeeping practices, we never knew that we would become a company. So we started by training the farmers and now we supply the equipment and the services like harvesting and processing and reaching data. So our core value has always been empowering the farmers to be able to produce the honey and sell it on their own. That is really our joy.
Now, we maintain this through our educational center in Juja, where our farmers receive beekeeping training, expert support and innovative solutions in beekeeping. We wouldn’t be able to continue without establishing this center.
What advice would you share with young entrepreneurs wanting to start a business amidst the current crisis?
Young entrepreneurs should seek innovative ways of solving the problems affecting society today. Currently, a number of businesses have been able to thrive by providing a sustainable solution for the needs in the community. To all the entrepreneurs out there my message is:
“If you have a passion or a dream, just envision it and follow it. Wake up everyday and do a little bit more to reach your goal. You cannot do everything at one time but every step you take will help you get there. One day you will be there!”
If you’d like to get involved, check out Yatta Beekeepers on Facebook to learn more and join their beekeeping trainings every month at their training center in Juja.