Real help

The real success of a project is not clear until it has been concluded. We put that statement to the test when we visited “Cabesi” four years after the end of the project. What did the Biovision commitment achieve in West Pokot?

Peter Lüthi, Communication

“Cabesi” stands for camels, bees and silk: The aim of this long-term project had been to introduce camels as pack animals and for milk in semi-arid West Pokot County in Kenya. In addition, the project sought to introduce modern beekeeping and produce pure honey. It also wanted to encourage the manufacture of wild silk from local silkworms. Between 2004 and 2014, the project disseminated the required knowledge and practical skills to local people. A further focus was the development of production chains and marketing structures. During the project, a total of six honey collection centres were set up with storage areas and honey extractors, together with a marketplace for the processing, packing and sale of products. The overall objective was to provide the semi-nomads in West Pokot with opportunities to develop new sources of income and improve their lives.

  • August 2007: Opening of the honey collection centre in Lomut (West Pokot, Kenya) with the Lomut traditional dancers and the local partners of Biovision in the Cabesi project.
  • Honey collection centres in Lomut, Kenya in October 2018. After two difficult years with drought or too much rain, this year should be a record year for both honey and beeswax.
  • Former project assistants Mercy Kiyapyap and Paul Losute are now successfully running the “Cabesi Marketplace” on their own.

Highs and lows

Development projects go through various phases and evaluations can vary considerably depending upon when they are done. For example, in an article in the Biovision Newsletter in 2009, Mercy Kiyapyap, the Cabesi project assistant gave a sober assessment: “To date, the Pokot have not accepted the camels as pack animals. In their culture, it is taboo to use female camels to transport goods. In some cases, trained stallions were slaughtered or sold and trained animals were also allowed to roam and became semi wild”. Biovision had to accept the failure and abandon the camel part of the project. Similarly, after the production of wild silk failed to get off the ground, it could have been concluded that when the project ended in 2014 it had failed. Far from it! “Cabesi” failed to really take off until later and then it was thanks to the remaining second component.

What is left is what matters!

Beekeeping is currently enjoying a veritable boom in West Pokot. During 2018, some 1,600 beekeepers have supplied produce to the collection centres of the Cabesi Marketplace. It is estimated that by the end of this season the beekeepers will have supplied 75 tonnes of honey and 2.5 tonnes of beeswax. The previous record was 99.7 tonnes of honey in 2014. This was followed by a reduction in yields as a result of drought or too much rain. Currently, Cabesi pays the beekeepers a stable price of 200 Kenyan shillings (CHF 2) per kilogram honey or 400 KES per kilogram beeswax (CHF 4). This means that the Marketplace will have paid the “Cabesi” beekeepers a total of 16,000,000 KES (CHF 157,500) by the end of December 2018. To which must be added the payments to a further 3,000 beekeepers who do not sell their products via the collection centres to the Marketplace. Cabesi offers all suppliers security and stable prices.

Pioneer of change

“The project provided the initial spark and opened up the honey market in West Pokot,” says Mercy Kiyapyap, who, after the handover of the project to an independent local cooperative became the co-manager of the Cabesi Marketplace. Paul Losute, the other comanager of Cabesi adds with pride “Before the start of the project, the honey from West Pokot was mixed with beeswax and contaminated with dead bees. It had practically no value. Today, we produce the best quality honey in Kenya and are a model for Kenya as a whole”. Last summer, the government identified beekeeping, alongside poultry farming and the production of goat’s meat, as one of the main pillars of economic development in West Pokot County. The relevant Ministry for Livestock choose “Cabesi” as one of its main partners in the implementation of a bee programme.

Learning from mistakes

One of the factors crucial to the success of the project and its handover to the community was the painstaking development of a trustworthy local organisation and the commitment shown by the reliable and responsible management to both the Marketplace and the honey trade as a whole. However, even the setbacks became opportunities in the end and they are now being used in other projects. For example, the lessons from the failure to introduce camels were extremely useful to Biovision in a subsequent project in Isiolo County in Kenya. There, these robust animals were successfully re-introduced in 2010 in cooperation with the Borana semi-nomads. The Borana gave up keeping camels about 80 years ago when they turned to the more lucrative cattle trade. The number of camels in Isiolo County is increasing significantly and as part of the Biovision project, wellfunctioning structures have been developed for the collection, processing, transport and sale of camel milk.