Researchers say the Governments efforts at reducing poverty in the country especially in the rural areas could be given a boost if apiculture or beekeeping were taken as a serious venture.
Not many people know that honey, which is the main product of beekeeping, has other by-products some of which are vital inputs in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
Besides those, beeswax, a major by-product of honey making is also used by textile industries as a major raw material, and for candles and polishes too.
Royal jelly or bee milk, a highly nutritious mixture produced by bees is used in making jelly chocolate candy and wine, lotions and tonics for therapeutic use.
That is beekeeping for you. Its flagship product, honey, as food, requires no further processing, it is very nutritious and natures substitute for refined sugar.
The Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), Eastern Portfolio, as an input into poverty reduction programmes in Ghana commissioned a study into its viability and funded a forum to discuss its findings. The idea, according to the organizers was to lay bare that industrys economic viability.
The Business Consultancy and Research Unit of the Evangelical Presbyterian University College, which did the baseline survey confirmed beekeeping was a huge area that needed exploitation.
For example, that study indicated that beeswax has over 120 industrial uses with ready markets in Ghana and abroad.
It referred to another study by Addaquay in (2006), which claimed that export orders for honey, through the Ghana Export Promotion Council (GEPC), in the range of 1,000 tonnes per annum, could not be met.
Further, about 30 tonnes of honey was imported into the country annually by supermarkets. That should not be happening when Ghana has the capacity to produce sufficient honey for the local market and for export.
Beekeeping and honey production could provide self-employment and reliable higher incomes if adequately supported to develop. Currently, a gallon of honey is selling at between GH˘30.00 and GH˘40.00 in the Volta Region.
According to experts in the industry, beekeeping is cost effective and not strenuous, requiring the use of relatively simple equipment.
Risk and transactions cost in the honey business, they say, are even more manageable compared to many other commodities, especially those coming under the category of non-traditional exports.
The study did an income analysis, which indicates that honey and its bi-products contributed to about 37 per cent of overall household income to families involved in the sector.
Combined with the low entry barriers including start-up capital, the return on investment, honey business appears quite attractive as production cost, the experts say, can be covered at a level of output of 0.96 gallons per hive.
By the studys calculation, initial investment of GH˘300.00 would buy five beehives and other accessories and the investor could break even in the second year and yield a return of about 100 per cent by the end of the fourth year.
That surely should tempt any creative businessman looking for money to want to try. But it appears the lack of knowledge about the benefits of the sector is keeping people away.
At best what people do is to go into beekeeping not as a business but as a side issue to other economic activities, particularly farming.
The business is big but numbers are low. For example, the total estimated number of beekeepers in eight districts in the Volta Region covered by the study is 800, showing an average of 100 beekeepers in each district.
Findings are that though the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) and several development organizations, including Heifer Project International, FORUM and SNV are providing support in terms of management and technical training, equipment supplies and funding to make the industry attractive, the response remains low.
Constraints identified so far for the business of beekeeping are excessive bush burning, logging, and farming activities leading to reduction in nectar producing plants.
Pests are also a problem, also indiscriminate and uninformed use of agro chemicals. Above all it appears the lack of a national policy on the sector is a huge drawback.
It takes a lot of money and man hours and many visits to officialdom if a beekeeper is seeking certification from a regulatory body to put his honey on the market.
Beekeepers need Governments programmed push in getting the relevant skills for production and marketing of honey especially.
Government should resource and build the capacity of MOFA field staff to enable them to introduce farmers to this lucrative venture.
For them to undertake the advocacy role effectively, the producer associations must be strengthened in terms of institutional capacity, human resource and information management.
Specific programmes with the ultimate goal of creating a viable and competitive honey industry must be the objective of all agencies in poverty reduction programmes.
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