Traditionally, Kenyan women have not been in the business of beekeeping. Beehives were historically kept very high in trees requiring the beekeeper to undertake a somewhat dangerous climb in order to service or retrieve the hive. Culturally, this was not considered an activity fit for Kenyan women. Now, with modern beekeeping techniques and tools, colonized hives can be managed from the ground.
For the first half of my Kiva fellowship I was placed with Honey Care Africa, an organization that gives Kiva loans to farmers for beehives and apiary materials. I attended a Honey Care “Kiva meeting” with a group of prospective Kiva borrowers, and they were an all-women farmer group.
As we were driving away from the meeting, the sales associate, Mike, was asked whether the meetings usually lasted that long. He responded, “Presenting to women’s groups takes longer. They ask more questions, like ‘What will happen if our hives are stolen’ or ‘Do you offer insurance in the event that the hives don’t produce honey.’” Mike was happy to answer all these critical questions, and Honey Care is excited to engage more women farmers for a variety of reasons.
Studies have shown that women are the ‘change’ agents of the family since women spend a greater percentage of their income on the welfare of their households than do men. As a consequence, increases in women’s incomes improve the health, nutritional and educational status of other household members, particularly children.
Joseph, Honey Care’s cluster manager in Kakamega, said that bringing women into beekeeping was important because it can assist in shifting a culture. “African men were selfish in that the best parts of a sheep went to men, honey was used by men, culturally the best things go to men, and that’s why they were kept aside. Beekeeping was traditionally predominantly for men. We need to water down that culture to increase beekeeping overall.”
Increasing beekeeping overall is a good thing for all of us. Bees are pollinators vital to our food chain. Declining numbers of bees and other pollinators have been causing growing concern in recent years, as scientists fear that decreased pollination could have major impacts on world food supplies.
Jeremiah, a Honey Care hive technician in Kitale said, “Kenyan Women spend 80% of their time in the farm, while men spend 20%, so it is necessary to promote these women because they are good managers.” Female farmers are extremely hardworking and their diligence in management and upkeep with the apiaries can lead to more honey, which benefits both the farmer and Honey Care Africa.
I had the privilege of meeting some of these pioneering female Honey Care Africa farmers. One such woman was Mary (pictured above), whose kindness was overwhelming. She welcomed me into her home, bearing gifts of chicken and chapatti, a meal she and her farmer group had organized. Mary’s children are all grown, so she manages her shamba (farm) largely on her own and was very optimistic about her hives in spite of recent drought. Within the group, the plans for the income from their honey harvests ranged from school fees and household expenses to… more hives! You can empower an entrepreneur like Mary by lending to a Kiva borrower today.