Kathy Mbondo is a Kenyan entrepreneur who speaks from her own experience when she says, “The business terrain is rough and bumpy and only meant for those who can raise again when they fall.”
Ms. Mbondo was exporting flowers in 2011 when the euro crisis wiped out her business in just two months. In 2014, she tried growing traditional vegetables, but that didn’t work out either. Then, in March 2015, she realized there was a resource in her home village with a lot of untapped potential.
Ms. Mbondo comes from Makueni County in southeastern Kenya, an area that receives little rainfall and has, therefore, low crop yields. Climate change is also taking its toll on the region, and unpredictable rainfall patterns have led to shifts in planting times.
Communities in Makueni traditionally kept bees, but many farmers stopped because of poor honey prices. Ms. Mbondo realized that farmers could get better prices if she found a good market for them.
People cut down acacia trees in her village to make charcoal, which contributes to deforestation. She started by setting up beehives on the acacia trees in her parents’ farm, and urging farmers to add beehives to their own acacias. Farmers began to buy in to the idea. So far, 40 farmers have put up 120 hives.
Ms. Mbondo created the “every acacia for a hive” project to preserve the trees. She says, “I sell the economic value of the beehive to the farmers.”
She also created a company called Proactive Merit to buy the farmers’ honey.
Ms. Mbondo tells them: “When you cut down an acacia tree and convert it to charcoal, you make a maximum of four bags, which in total fetch 1000 Kenyan shillings ($10 US). When you put a single beehive on the same acacia tree, you will harvest 20 kilograms of honey each year. Each kilogram of honey sold to Proactive Merit goes for 250 Kenyan shillings, which translates to 5,000 Kenyan shillings ($50 US) per year.”
Over the past seven months, Ms. Mbondo has suspended 50 hives on her parents’ farm. Her goal for 2016 is to purchase 10 tonnes of honey from farmers, package it, and sell it. She markets the honey under the brand name Nature , and sells it at several retail outlets in Nairobi.
Proactive Merit honey is “raw.” In other words, it’s collected straight from the hive and poured into the honey jar. It is totally unheated, unpasteurized, and unprocessed. Ms. Mbondo says raw honey preserves honey’s natural vitamins, living enzymes, and other nutritional elements.
She has faced some challenges with her business, including finding capital to buy honey in bulk during the peak season. Honey is seasonal and readily available just after the rains, and the supply drops during the dry season. Another challenge is that farmers must pay 5,000 Kenyan shillings ($50) for a locally-produced beehive, an unaffordable sum for many.
In response, Ms. Mbondo plans to set up a revolving fund that will enable farmers to buy hives and pay back loans by installment.
Ms. Mbondo is confident that the “every acacia for a hive” project will preserve the acacia trees in her village because honey generates repeat income—as opposed to the one-off income generated by cutting down trees for charcoal and destroying the environment.
She has some advice for budding entrepreneurs: “Look for that one thing that you have passion for, and just work with it in a spectacular manner. As long as you have passion, passion precedes the money factor, and money will follow you.”
To read the full article on which this story is based, In Kenya, honey protects trees, sweetens climate resilience, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20160226175035-15txk/?source=fiBlogs 
Photo credit: Proactive Merit