Swapping Beads for Bees in Songa Conservancy

Photo: Kadir Boru 

Photo: Kadir Boru 

“It is an important time to be a beekeeper in Marsabit, at this time in Kenya.” - Joyce Dafarday - a mother and beekeper from the Rendille community in Songa Conservancy. Being a woman with no formal education, Joyce has little control over, or contribution to, her family’s finances. But since joining a women’s beekeeping initiative in her home conservancy, things have started to change. Dafarday is not alone in this journey; she is joined by 61 other women from Songa Conservancy in Marsabit County, who believe that this initiative, supported by the Northern Rangelands Trust, has come at the right time to change their lives.

As more community conservancies support initiatives to diversify local economies away from pastoralism, a number of entrepreneurs, many of them women with no education, are emerging. Beekeeping, or apiculture, was the business of choice for the women of Songa. It generates a product with high market potential, is accessible within the constraints of low credit and limited land access, and has environmental benefits too. 

The women's group received training from Shama Mamo, a Research Assistant working for Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), in bee and hive management. “Bee keeping can improve a farmer’s livelihood and the income is good and demand is also high. One can also integrate bee keeping with other farming activities,” explains Mamo. The women also received bee kits which included: bee suits, gumboots, smokers, brushers and langstroth hives from African Beekeepers.

"I see a bright future after this training and I believe this project will give me money in the long run,” said Natilan Lengaina, one of the newly qualified beekeepers. “I will be able to better take care of my family. I can spend more on medical care, education and save some little money.”

Instead of repaying the cost of the beekeeping equipment financially, the beneficiaries will use a proportion of collective profits to organize community conservation projects such as tree nurseries. Their vision is that more trees will create the environment for more beehives, allowing more households to benefit from the enterprise.

The women’s group in Songa hope to start seeing financial benefits from honey in the near future, with at least 25 beehives now established. As shown by the women of BeadWORKS, empowering women through enterprise not only enables them to be financially independent, but empowers them to be agents of change in their communities and become more involved with their conservancies. 

Photo: Kadir Boru

Photo: Kadir Boru

The beehives are also protecting critical wildlife habitats. Community members are going to designate bee reserves areas, which prohibit the clearance of surrounding trees for fuel, agriculture or construction. Local pastoralists can still access this for their cattle, goats and sheep.

The women entrepreneurs are on the lookout for ways to use their beekeeping income to pursue other new business ventures too. “If the beekeeping business flourishes, we hope to expand our  business by having more hives to produce more honey and engage in other small business to support our families while we await the next harvesting season" says Marleni.