Cover Image
close this book FOOD CHAIN No. 3 - July 1991
View the document GREETINGS!
View the document Making money from honey
View the document Small-scale annatto processing
View the document Processing of black pepper
View the document A questions OF FOOD
View the document Candied fruit production in Peru
View the document Book Lines
View the document Small-scale equipment
View the document How to make shingara
View the document Acknowledgments

Making money from honey

Credit: Traidcraft. Honey qatherers with full drum of honey.

'The beekeeper still uses his traditional bark or log hive since they cost him little or nothing and are made of freely available materials.'

In a region Tanzania that is economically depressed and where poverty is widespread, a trade in honey is providing thousands of subsistence farmers with a rare opportunity to earn a cash income. Jeremy Herklots describes the success of the Tabora Beekeepers, Co-operative Society.

The Miombo Woodlands, an area of Savannah forest covering 400,000km2 in Central Tanzania is estimated to support at least two million colonies of the common African honey bee, (Apis millifera adamsonii). For centuries the people of the region have supplemented their diet with honey robbed from colonies in hollow trees. They also use the honey for making a local form of beer called Wansuki. Honey is still taken from 'wild' colonies when the opportunity arises, but today most of it is gathered from traditional hives made from bark or a hollowed-out log. These are usually hung by wire or hooked stick from a branch in a shady part of a nectar producing tree, where they cannot be raided by predators. Many of the best forests for collecting honey are far from the villages in areas that are least suited for human settlement.

At the end of June, during the dry season when the ground is too hard to cultivate, many of the farmers leave their villages and travel up to 100 miles into the bush where they will stay two to three months working their hives. They live in groups of 5 or more in temporary 'camps', emptying their hives, separating the wax from the honey, repairing hives and making new ones.

The beekeeper still uses his traditional bark or log hive since they cost him little or nothing and are made of freely available materials. Neither have frames but consist of a long single chamber with an entrance at one end. The bark hive usually has removable ends whereas the hollowed log, which is up to 1.4 m long and bound with bark rope, splits longitudinally into two halves.

When honey is collected, one member of the party climbs the tree and transfers the weight of the hive onto the end of a rope which he has taken up with him. Meanwhile, the others have started a smokey fire to stun or confuse the bees. When the tree-climber is back on the ground, the hive is lowered down through the smoke onto the ground, where the combs are cut out with bush knives and placed in 20 litre plastic buckets for carrying back to the camp. A full bucket holds 28 kg of honey or the comb from about two hives.

At the camp honey is separated from the comb using a variety of rather basic traditional methods. One of these is to crush the comb by hand in a basket and let the honey drip through under the heat of the sun. If the honey is gathered prematurely when it was not been in the comb for very long, it has a low viscosity (and higher natural water content) and separates from the comb very easily.

The only effective marketing organization assisting such producers is the Tabora Beekeepers Co-operative Society (TBCS). The society was formed in 1962 with less than 100 members, each of whom was expected to have a minimum of 100 hives and purchase a share of Tsh100 (about £5) in the organization. Since then, the Society has opened up 36 local branches and membership has grown to more than 6000.

At its headquarters at Kipalapala, the Society has its own filtering and packaging plant, (which can handle up to 1000 tonnes of honey per year), transport depot, store and other buildings.

When the members in the bush camps have collected at least six tons of honey, they arrange for transport to be sent from Kipalapala to collect the honey. Before leaving Kipalapala the truck is loaded with empty 20 litre buckets. When empty, these heavy duty buckets fit convenientlt inside each other. When full, with the clip-on lid in place, they stack on top of each other, the base of one fitting exactly into the recess of the lid of the bucket underneath. These buckets are the standard unit of measure of the TBCS as they have been found to be the most convenient container in which to transport the honey over the rough bush roads. Each member is given a receipt for the number of full buckets of honey he has sold to the society at a price which had been established at the Society's AGM at the start of the season. The driver has to ensure that the grand total tallies with the amount off-loaded at Kipalapala. Where possible, the vehicle follows a route through the bush, which allows the driver to drop off empty buckets on the outward journey and pick up full ones on the return journey to the road.

At Kipalapala the honey is kept in the 20 litre buckets, since they do not have any bulk storage tanks, until it is needed for filtering. The processing equipment is simple but effective. There is a stainless steel receiving tank on a raised platform into which the buckets of raw honey are tipped. This is warmed by a thermostatically controlled water jacket set at 30°C.

From this tank the honey flows by gravity to an electrically operated pump which forces it through a pair of filters fitted in parallel with independent isolating valves. The filter outlet pipes feed into a row of three stainless steel settling tanks, each holding about a tonne of honey, which can be selected by opening the appropriate valve.

From the settling tanks, the honey is drawn off as required, by gravity, into a small ready-use batch tank. Cans and jars for the home market, and 300 kg drums for export, are filled through a quick-action valve at the base of this tank. The filter units are supposed to have a number of layers of disposable circular filter 'paper'. However the TBCS staff have found that fine stainless steel or brass mesh is much more satisfactory since they don't hate to heat the honey so much and filter paper has to be imported.

Tabora Honey was exhibited at a trade fair in Japan in 1970 attracting buyers from several European countries, and resulting in the export in 1972/73 (a record year) of 300 tonnes of honey to Holland and 12 tonnes to England. This trade collapsed after 1979 when all exports had to be made through a parastatal organization whose costs were so high that there was insufficient margin left from the export price to pay the beekeepers: many of them reverted to selling locally wherever they could.

My involvement with the TBCS began in 1987 when working for the Overseas Development Unit of Traidcraft Exchange, the parent charity behind the Alternative Trading Comparny, TRAIDCRAFT PLC.

Our objective was to help revitalize the TBCS and restore the place of its honey in the export market. Factors which had made this possible were changes in legislation allowing TBCS to take control of its own export marketing and enabling them to retain 50 per cent of their export earnings. If necessary this could be used to pay for any imported items essential for the enterprise.

The two most serious problems facing the co-operative were the dire shortage of buckets and the very poor state of their vehicles. The Traidcraft Exchange project gave special emphasis to these items.

Another factor that had to be resolved concerned the quality of the honey in the light of current EEC standards, all sorts of regulations had been brought in since TBCS last exported honey to Europe, which have been framed to protect the European producers. Of particular relevance is the permitted level of hydroxy-methyl-furfural (hmf). This compound is produced naturally in honey from the breakdown of sugars. The European standard lays down a maximum hmf of 40 ppm (until recently 80 ppm hmf was acceptable in the UK). Unfortunately the hmf level increases the longer the honey is stored, or is in transit, and the higher the temperature during storage. This means that a delay at a railway siding or at the docks in Dar es Salaam could result in the rejection of a whole consignment on arrival at a European port, which is what happened to a consignment of Zambian honey a year or so ago. Since some doubt had been expressed by certain government officials about the quality of the processing at Kipalapala, I collected various samples of honey at an early stage of the project and had them analysed by the public analyst in Newcastle upon Tyne (see Table 1).


'Each member is given a receipt for the number of full buckets of honey he has sold to the society at a price which had been established the Society's AGM at the start of the season.'

Credit: Traidcraft.

Smoking the log hive.

The samples were as follows

1. Taken straight from a fresh comb at Kisalusalu bush camp.

2. Unprocessed honey 'as received' at the Kipalapala plant.

3. Taken from a production batch of 1 kg tins for the home market.

4. Taken from 5 drums of the 88/89 export consignment to TRAIDCRAFT plc. (Included here for comparison).

The results were most satisfying since they showed conclusively that the warming and filtering at Kipalapala had had no detrimental effect on the quality of the honey.

Table 2, showing exports - the first for 10 years - provides evidence that the intervention by Traidcraft Exchange has achieved its objective.

Behind these statistics lies a very human story. In a region that is economically depressed and where poverty is the norm, this trade provides thousands of subsistence farmers with a rare opportunity to earn a cash income without needing capital and without competing with other rural activities for scarce resources such as agricultural land or water.

At the processing stage the impute are few and simple. Since many of its members 'employ' at least 6 helpers, TICS alone has the potential, in my estimation, to benefit at least 50,000 villagers and their families. African honey represents only about 4 per cent of the world trade in honey, therefore the possibilities for expansion are enormous.

'Another factor that had to be resolved concerned the quality of the honey in the light of current EEC standards.'

Credit: Traideraft. Honey camp Judith new hives anl bark rope.