Comoros: Producing more and better honey thanks to modern techniques

| August 14, 2017

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Hodache Hassane always wears his white protective suit during the honey harvest. He also wears a mask to protect his face from bee attacks. Holding a fresh honeycomb, he says, “The harvest has been good. I’ll earn a lot of money.”

The 30-year-old beekeeper lives in Tsinimoichongo, a village located in the southwest of Comoros, 37 kilometres from the capital, Moroni.

Local honey is a popular and expensive product. But beekeeping is a little-known business in the Union of Comoros, attracting few young people. In addition, many traditional beekeeping practices waste the efforts of the bees and the keeper. But Mr. Hassane has improved his practices to increase his honey harvest.
In 2015, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Peace Corps led a beekeeping project in Comoros. Experts with the project say if beekeeping is done well, it can be a profitable business that creates jobs for men and women.

Three years ago, Mr. Hassane decided to conquer his fears and leave his job as a mason to start beekeeping.

At the beginning he bought six hives. He says, “I collected 10 liters of honey per year from each hive. I sell a litre for 12 500 KMF [$30 US]. For the six hives, I earned 750,000 KMF [$1,790 US].”

This income allowed Mr. Hassane to pay his daughter’s school fees as well as his daily expenses.

Initially Mr. Hassane used traditional techniques commonly practiced by beekeepers in Moroni. However these methods removed all the honeycombs, leaving none for the bees. The beekeeper also lit a fire to scare away or kill the bees before collecting the honey. Mr. Hassane was highly exposed to bee stings and threw away many charred honeycombs, wasting much of the harvest, while also threatening the survival of the colony.

Mr. Hassane has since abandoned these practices in favour of other honey extraction techniques, and his production has improved. He trained for a few weeks in techniques such as hive construction, fumigation, security, protective clothing, and harvesting.

Now Mr. Hassane uses a tool called a smoker that sends a burst of smoke into the hive, giving the young beekeeper time to collect the honey. He also uses a hive tool and spaces his hives a metre apart.

Instead of using his hands to press the honey, Mr. Hassane uses an extractor, which reduces waste.

The honey is high-quality and is produced in good quantity. Mr. Hassane explains that, “This is not the case when using traditional practices that destroy the colony. Also, there’s no longer a smokey taste in the honey.”

Mr. Hassane’s production has increased from 10 to 15 litres per year per hive. His income also increased from 750,000 KMF ($1,790 US) to 1,125,000 KMF ($2,680 US) per year.

Hakimdine Abdallah is another beekeeper in the same region. He has 20 hives. Mr. Abdallah also noted an improvement in production after he changed his harvesting techniques. He says: “Adopting modern practices has allowed me to produce a lot more quality honey. What I was doing before to collect honey was killing the bees with the fire I was using.”

Mr. Abdallah’s honey production has increased by 10% and he plans to forge partnerships to export his honey.

Mr. Hassane is several steps ahead when it comes to exporting. He has improved his whole production line to prepare his product for foreign markets. He uses a decanter to remove impurities. Instead of using recycled bottles that encourage fermentation, he uses specially-made containers. This has allowed him to sell his products to new clients including local and foreign supermarkets.

Mr. Hassane now has 40 beehives and an annual income of 5,000,000 KMF ($12,000 US).

Both beekeepers want to train young people to take up the trade. They want to make honey more available at better prices, and ensure the best beekeeping techniques are passed on.