People in the county of Baringo in Kenya’s Rift Valley traditionally lived with the constant mooing of cows and bleating of goats. But over the past year, silence has reigned over much of this dry land dotted with cacti and shrubs.
As climate change brings worsening drought, herders travel further and compete more fiercely for water and grazing. While men wander in search of pasture and water, the women and children left behind are vulnerable to livestock raids, leaving them with no source of income.
Christine Lewatachum lives in Kailer village. She says, “We don’t know when [the men] will return, as cattle raiders may attack them on the way.”
But a much smaller kind of animal is helping some women in the region create a new, steady source of income. Since 2009, they have been managing beehives.
The beehives help the women produce honey, soap, beauty creams, candles, cough syrup, and other products that they sell to people from neighbouring villages.
The women have been harvesting honey for some time, but the business is particularly valuable now that droughts are growing more frequent and severe in the region.
Solomon Kerieny is an animal production officer with Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture. He says a longer dry season and erratic rainfall have severely affected earnings from livestock, making families more vulnerable.
Mr. Kerieny explains, “When houses lose livestock, they lose their livelihood…. Women need to embrace alternative sources of income like beekeeping so they can withstand weather shocks like these.”
Mrs. Lewatachum co-founded a women’s group in 2000. At first, the group specialized in buying and raising dairy goats to help make the women less dependent on their husbands’ income. But in 2005, cattle raiders stole most of the women’s herd. Mrs. Lewatachum recalls, “It was too much…. We sold the few remaining goats and had to find a new solution.”
She says the women’s group chose to keep bees rather than livestock to avoid the raids. She adds, “Raiders are less interested in bees as they don’t consider them as valuable as livestock.”
In 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture and various charities donated five beehives to the women, and trained them to make products derived from honey.
While cattle raids continue, the beehives have so far been undisturbed.
Every three months, the group harvests and sells about 22 kilograms of unprocessed honey for 4,000 Kenyan shillings (about $38 US). They also sell 100-gram pots of skin cream for 200 shillings ($2 US), and pieces of honey soap for between 20 and 30 shillings (20-30 cents).
The women also make less common products from honey or honeycomb. Mrs. Lewatachum explains: “The arthritis and asthma syrup as well as the snake venom antidote are particularly popular. Residents often get bitten by snakes lurking in shrubs when fetching water or searching for grazing spots.”
The women pool their profits in a fund from which members can take out loans with a 1% interest rate. This has allowed them to expand their operation to 14 beehives and to buy almost a hectare of land in the village, where they plan to set up a honey processing plant.
Mrs. Lewatachum explains the women’s plans, “We will use it (the plant) to increase our production so we can sell products in the rest of the country and offer jobs to women and girls.”
This story was adapted from an article titled “Amid drought and conflict, Kenyan women try new livestock: bees” published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. To read the original article, please see: http://news.trust.org/item/20170802004734-2o8y9/
Photo: Josephine Lemangi explains what pure honey should look like. Credit: Moraa Obiria / Thomson Reuters Foundation