Nelly Bassily | April 14, 2008
When it comes to selling food products, first impressions can be everything. Honey in a leaky, plastic bottle won’t garner much interest, and will sell for a low price. But the same honey, packaged in a glass jar with a nice label, can attract customers and earn profits.Beekeeping is a traditional practice in many parts of the world. It is also widely promoted as a way for rural people to earn a living with minimal impact on the environment. But a successful operation requires both bee sense and business sense.
Janet Lowore is a consultant for the British NGO Bees for Development. She recently worked with members of the Mbaweme Women’s Cooperative Society in Mzuzu, Malawi, teaching them to turn their bee products into better incomes. The course focused on value addition and product diversification.
Ms. Lowore explained that packaging can be the most important way to add value to a product. For example, attractively presented table honey is now in high demand among Malawian supermarkets and tourist shops.
A pretty package is particularly important for the tourist market. Visitors often want to take home authentic “made in Malawi” gifts. A pair of beeswax candles can fit the bill – especially if they are dressed up with dried flowers or perhaps some attractive fabric.
The women’s cooperative learned that they must add a profit margin for every value addition, whether it is a good-quality label or a bit of fabric.
Ms. Lowore also taught the women about some lesser-known bee products. For example, bees use a substance called propolis to seal small gaps in their hives. A wise beekeeper can use this to make products such as propolis tincture, which treats gums and sore throats.
This training was part of an initiative by the Malawian government to empower women. The government recognizes that women entrepreneurs have poor access to the capital and training they need to operate profitable businesses.
The Mbaweme Women’s Cooperative Society was previously supported with supplies and training to begin beekeeping. With the market savvy they learned from Ms. Lowore, their bee business may be busier than ever. By the end of their training, the group was already receiving orders for their newest product, hand-dipped beeswax candles. The cooperative plans to pass on their knowledge of value addition and product diversification to other women’s groups.