The shelves in the spacious shop are stacked neatly with containers of honey. It is a symbol of unity and success. However, success is typically preceded by a journey of challenges, hard work and sometimes a change of direction.
A few years ago, a small number of beekeepers from Mwingi sub county, Kitui County formed the Mwingi Beekeepers Self Help Group with the objective of selling their honey collectively to avoid the low prices offered by brokers. The group also cast their net wider and formed the Mwingi Beekeepers Community Based Organisation by joining hands with other self help groups in the region.
Forming a Community Based Organisation did not solve the myriad of challenges the beekeepers faced. They lacked a proper business model and acumen as producers to match local market dynamics. The organisation's membership remained low due to poor customer service and delayed farmer payments due to its poor cash flow situation. Moreover, they did not have modern honey processing equipment and had no access to markets for the honey brought in by members. The brokers continued to take advantage of their position which a resulted in low prices.
"Kitui is one of the most important honey producing areas in the country. Almost every man in Kitui owns a bee hive!" David Kilonzi the chairman of Mwingi Beekeepers and Crops Cooperative Society says. The Drylands Development (DryDev) project, provided the group with business advice, mentorship and training. As a result, the CBO group decided to change into a more business oriented formation and in July 2015, they registered the Mwingi Beekeepers and Food Crops Cooperative Society. The leaders realised the needed to diversify from value addition, bulking and collective selling of honey only and needed to include other value chains like pulses and indigenous chicken. With support from the DryDev project they also were introduced to various buyers of honey and pulses. The group soon attracted new members and soon increased its membership to 1,126 farmers. “Since the beginning of this year, we have sold over two tonnes of honey already.” Kilonzi says pointing to the neatly arranged rows of containers at the retail shop outlet owned by the cooperative.
Simon Muimi, a sales representative from Mwingi Beekeepers and Crops Cooperative
Before buying honey from the members, the quality of the honey is checked in the processing laboratory to ensure they only process and pack good quality honey. The cooperative received honey processing equipment through the DryDev project which improved their efficiency especially when there are high volumes of honey for processing. After packaging, the honey is sold in the retail shop. Mwingi Beekeepers and Crops Cooperative also organises training for its members in order to improve commercial activities and promote technology change for increased honey production. ”We encourage our members to use modern hives and beekeeping equipment for better quality and production.” Kilonzi says.
The honey processing laboratory is next to the retail shop. On the door is a notice to remove shoes and wash hands before entering the laboratory. The white tiles on the walls are stainless and the equipment is neatly arranged along the wall. “We are accredited by The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). A kilogram of honey at the outlet costs 800 shillings. Most people visiting or passing by Mwingi town, visit our shop to buy the honey.” Simon Muimi the sales representative says proudly.
Now the groups is able to ay farmers on time and at an improved price of 300 shillings per kilogram for raw honey compared to 200-250 shillings per kilogram offered by brokers. The producers are now motivated to deliver to the cooperative. The cooperative is self-sustaining from the profit made after sales and payment to farmers.
David Kilonzi explaining about the honey processing equipment
David explains that they have also been introduced to various financial institutions such as Equity Bank, Cooperative Bank of Kenya, ECLOF, BIMAS MFI, and UTS SACCO during field days and training sessions. “Our members are now aware of the different products offered by these institutions and can access small loans to meet their immediate financial needs and expand their farming activities.” The cooperatives' committee and staff were also trained on financial management and as a result developed a simple financial system that has improved the management and monitoring of their business.
Inspiration to form a SACCO
“SNV also organised various exposure visits. We have been to the Meru Herbs SACCO in Tharaka and Mtito Andei SACCO in Mtito.” David Kilonzi continues. The exposure visit to Mtito Andei SACCO by the cooperative’s representative inspired the formation of the Mwingi Beekeepers SACCO which is owned by the cooperative. It aims to provide financial services to farmers and to enable them to access affordable credit facilities.
DryDev Farmer Organisations representatives during an exposure visit
Mwingi Beekeepers SACCO aims at developing financial products that will be customised to the agribusiness needs of the farmers in the region. By October 2018, the membership of the SACCO stood at 53 members with savings stamdomg at Kshs 92,000 (nearly €800). The SACCO is working with other financial institutions to enhance credit access to the members.
“Supervision of work at the premises has become easier since I am able to track the progress at a glance daily because of the records we have adopted.” David Kilonzi quips pointing to the neat stack of files.
"Through the Cooperative society, we are now enjoying market access opportunities, training, input access and extension services while our SACCO provides financial services.” David Kilonzi concludes