Highlight 2004: Bee-keeping as a chance for orphans

An orphanage in Kenya needs funding and so has been looking at new sources of income. It has opted for beekeeping. The work by Biovision goes even further and extends to preventive health care and a sound professional future for the boys and girls.

It is break time at the Mully Children Family Home (MCF), where children are attending a workshop on beekeeping. Bernard Muasya Kiio, one of 35 members of the bee club, finds a shady spot near the river to talk to us. “I was nine years old when my father died. My mother and my six siblings were left. She was pregnant and quite sick. It grew worse and worse.” Bernard lowers his eyes and searches for words: “I left school then and I and my siblings went on the street”. He stops. He continues in a barely audible way, from which only the odd words, like ‘drugs’ and ‘police’ can be understood. Finally his voice fails him, he hides his face behind his hands.

Bernard is one of 550 orphans who have found shelter in the MCF home, Ndalani, 120 km north of Nairobi. Most of the boys and girls are like Bernard, down and out children, who have survived in the most appalling circumstances, living in gangs and earning money by drugs, prostitution and stealing.

Honey As An All Round Prophylactic

Charles Mully, a business man from Nairobi, founded the orphanage next to the big house at Ndalani which has a large farm. In addition, Mully has built a centre for 120 young women, and one for 85 children in Eldoret. Searching for a way to provide an income for the orphanage, he hit on the idea of MCF producing honey to sell. This plan was much welcomed by Brigitte Nyambo, the Biovision coordinator in Nairobi. She saw its main value in terms of health promotion, but also as the basis for an economically viable future. The Biovision coordinator says: “When they leave the home as young adults, they will have a training in modern beekeeping, which will give them a chance for their future”.

  • Using fire to smoke out bees can have disastrous effects.
  • The orphans are trained in beekeeping.
  • Orphans in the Mully Children’s Family Home.
  • Using smoke instead of fire to expel the bees and so access the honey
  • Traditional beehives hanging from trees.
  • Training in the use of modern beekeeping equipment.
  • One of the orphans working with the modern hives.

Starting the Project

A craftsman at MCF was trained to build modern beehives, and a teacher from the Agriculture and Biology Department at MCF was trained in modern beekeeping. Together with Biovision he developed teaching materials and tried them out with his students. Posters and cartoons were developed and printed for distribution throughout Kenya. When break time at the Beekeeping Club is over, the members get busy again with the care of their bees. Bernard Muasya Kiio has regained his composure. Proudly he demonstrates how modern beehives are put together. Bernard would very much like to become a doctor, however even as a professional bee keeper he will still be able to earn his living.

Gently Modernised

The traditional beehive in Africa is a hollowed out trunk, where the bees build their honeycombs. The honey from these combs contains little honey but a lot of wax and dead grubs all mixed together. To harvest the honey, the bees are traditionally chased away by smoke. This often kills the bees and starts bush fires. The honey also tastes of smoke.

Biovision promotes a gentler way of beekeeping and better honey production. Local craftsmen build wooden hives called ‘Langstroth Hives’. These contain wooden frames with wire netting stretched over them. The bees build their combs on the frames. To harvest the honey the frames are taken out and spun in a centrifuge. They can then be reinserted into the hives. The bees are not disturbed, the income from the honey is considerably increased, and the quality of the honey is improved.