Sylvia Mwangi, Founder of Baringo Asali and winner of 2017 Social Venture Challenge.

Baringo Asali Helps Locals get Sweet Earnings from Honey

When Sylvia Mwangi and Brian Ndirangu went camping near Lake Baringo in 2016, they had no idea their trip would be a stroke of luck for beekeepers in the semi-arid region. As they were being shown round by Louis Jumah, a tour guide, something caught Ms Mwangi’s eye.

“Seeing women sell raw honey by the roadside at throwaway prices was the start of the Baringo Asali project,” she said.

It was the start of a partnership between Ms Mwangi, Ndirangu and Jumah. The three wanted to help the community increase honey production. According to Ms Mwangi, the traditional beekeeping methods could not improve the locals’ economic standards.

Perfect habitat for bees

“They were using traditional hives, with harvests coming after three years.” The worst part was that the villagers used to sell their products cheaply. “A mother selling a tin of honey for less than Sh500 was far too low,” she said.

Baringo County is dry and most of the landscape is dominated by shrubs, a perfect habitat for bees. Bee keeping is, therefore, a part of the lives of residents and a major source of cash.

Even with this, a huge percentage of locals live in abject poverty, largely blamed on old and inefficient methods of honey production and harvesting.

Honey comes from…

According to Kenya National Farmers Information Service, about 80 per cent of Kenya’s honey comes from arid and semi-arid lands. The survey says 80 per cent of this honey comes from log hives, which yield far too little to boost incomes. The country produces around 4,000 metric tonnes of honey every year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

It is on this premise that Ms Mwangi and her friends helped Baringo County farmers adopt modern honey production methods. She introduced them to the Kenyan Top Bar and the Langstroth beehives, which can produce 20 to 30 kilogrammes of honey per hive. A kilogramme of honey retails at Sh600 and Sh900 in the market.

“We are all passionate about development and young people,” Ms Mwangi said.

Industrial engineering graduate

The University of Toronto graduate in industrial engineering believes her education will help bring meaningful change in Baringo County. She is a MasterCard Foundation Scholar. Among 3,500 university students in Africa or overseas, Ms Mwangi was selected because of her academic talent, social consciousness and leadership qualities.

“My degree focuses on operations research, human factors and information engineering. I hope to apply these skills to the Kenyan healthcare system, making it more accessible,” she said.

“I am using my skills and networks to help improve the living standards of the community. I want to establish better sales channels for honey,” she added.

To ensure that the community accepts the changes, the Baringo Asali team has embarked on sensitisation. It demonstrates the potential of the industry and how modern farming can improve their livelihoods.

“We provide training on modern beekeeping, the beehives and harvesting equipment,” she said.

Resolution Social Venture Challenge

A pilot programme on modern beekeeping and honey harvesting is underway in Baringo.

“We will use our networks as a team to create partnerships that will provide the community with a market for the honey that is produced. In addition to that, we will help the community develop an investment plan to develop the community,” she said.

“We hope that some of the money earned from the sale of honey will be able to help the community get piped water, as well as other commodities that they would require,” she added.

The Baringo Asali project has approached companies that make modern beehives, and discussions around costs and installations are at an advanced stage.

Baringo Asali won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge at the Mastercard Foundation Baobab Summit in Johannesburg in 2017, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth.

Ms Mwangi and her colleagues earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue the project.

“Baringo Asali will give mothers back the time they spend selling honey to travellers on the roadside and allow them to improve their standard of living,” she said.

“We hope to help the community live well given that it is marginalized and residents struggle to acquire basic living requirements such as food. We hope this project will allow them to build better, safer homes and increase school enrollment, particularly among the smaller children who normally accompany their mothers to sell the honey,” she said.

Pius Sawa is a freelance journalist based in Kenya. His stories have appeared in Reuters, Farm Radio International, and Inter Press Service. 

This story was originally published in the Daily Nation, Kenya.