Solongo village in Vihiga County hosts small tea plantations, with every homestead seemingly striving to get a piece of the money from the cash crop.
A few kilometres from Keveye High School, we find Margaret Sabwa, who has dared to be different by keeping bees.
She leads the Seeds of Gold team to a slopy forested land where her family has set up an apiary, which consists of 250 beehives of the Kenya Top Bar and Langstroth makes.
Surrounding the apiary is a forest of eucalyptus trees from where the bees get pollen. The farm borders a river that provides plenty of water for the bees.
“I like honey, mainly because I am diabetic and use it to sweeten my tea. It is part of the reason I went into beekeeping," says Sabwa, who started the venture in 2011.
She recounts that her father used to have two traditional beehives, from where her love for bees started.
With a capital of Sh100,000 from her savings, Margaret invested in beekeeping.
She bought 30 Kenya Top Bar hives at Sh2,500 each, with the rest of the money going to labour and other incidental costs.
“With favourable climatic conditions and the natural forest environment in the homestead, beekeeping is a stress-free venture because the insects need little management. We just make sure the hives are clean,” she says.
Over the years, the farmer has mastered the skills of keeping bees by reading online platforms and learning from colleagues.
Margaret, who has four employees who help her run the apiary, says to attract bees into an empty hive, one should put in beeswax. A small cake of beeswax rubbed against the inner walls of the hive will attract bees into the hives.
“We harvest our honey three times a year. A single beehive produces 10 to 12kg of honey, enabling us to collect up to 600kg every quarter,” she says.
The honey is packed in 500g plastic containers and sold locally at Sh250. The farmer has teamed up with her two siblings and three friends from the neighbourhood in the business.
They market their honey through social media platforms, though they sell most of it locally. The honey is branded Rasifa, which stands for Rachel Simon Family.
The demand for honey has been on the rise with the changing lifestyles, diseases and people generally switching more to natural products.
The retired secretary is now pushing for villagers to embrace beekeeping as a source of income, besides tea farming.
“We are working on a partnership with a certain NGO to provide women and youth with hives that are affordable and easy to maintain. I believe this system will eliminate poverty in our society,” she says.
Last month, the county government of Vihiga provided Margaret and her partners with a honey-processing machine worth Sh150,000.
In the next five years, the team plans to recruit more farmers into the business so that they can form a cooperative society.
“With more people on board, our plan is to produce huge volumes of honey that we can then sell across the country,” says Sabwa, acknowledging that starting an apiary can be labour-intensive.
Maseno University’s Department of Agriculture Head Matthew Dida advises farmers who want to venture into beekeeping to consider the location.
“The place must have adequate flowers to provide the bees with nectar and pollen. There should also be a source of water for the insects,” says Prof Dida.
He says an apiary should be sited away from high populated area. “The African wild bees can be dangerous if provoked. Therefore, they should be kept from the places where they cannot attack humans and animals,” he says.