Beekeeper's sweet taste of success

2015-07-02 14:44
(Heribert Proepper, AP)

(Heribert Proepper, AP)

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Stellenbosch - Six years ago Loyiso Mbete from Kayamandi in Stellenbosch saw a market gap and struck a deal to buy 80 beehives from a local farm, GroundUp reports. Now the 35-year-old part-time construction contractor runs a thriving beekeeping business with more than 320 hives on several farms across the Western Cape winelands.

After purchasing the 80 hives from Timberlea Farm in 2009, he approached the Department of Agriculture for assistance. Their help saw him attend a beekeeping course and graduate with a Diploma in Management from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in 2013. He then received about R680 000 from the department to grow his business.

“While attending the beekeeping course I realised what a huge gap in the market there was and saw an opportunity to make what I had bigger. At first I didn't know what to do. I really learnt from doing my own research and visiting different beekeepers to learn from them,” he says.

Mbete currently lives on Timberlea Farm in Stellenbosch with his wife Zinzi and their 3-year-old daughter. The rows of hives are hidden in the vineyards and at this time of year - winter - the bees are asleep.

(Photo by Barbara Maregele, GroundUp)

Organic honey

He visits his hives at least weekly and has employed three Kayamandi men who help with their maintenance and in harvesting the honey.

“Bees are not like cattle that need to be monitored regularly. The only thing we really look out for is theft, fires, vandalism and diseases.

“I don't feed my bees. I let them eat from nature so they can produce organic honey.

“We harvest the hives before winter kicks in. August is the main pollination season and we usually move the bees closer to Worcester and Bredasdorp around September where there will be more canola,” he said.

Once harvested, Mbete says the organic honey was bottled and packed in Paarden Island. His variations, including fynbos and canola, were currently sold at the Timberlea Farm stores and has recently been added to the Wellness Warehouse's list of health food products. In a speech earlier this month, Stellenbosch Mayor Conrad Sidego said he was “extremely proud of this project and the willingness shown by Loyiso.”

According to recent research by the Cape Agency for Sustainable Integrated Development in Rural Areas, demand for honey outstrips supply and South Africa had a honey shortage. The research found the shortfall came from Chinese imports, banned in Europe for quality concerns.

Expanding the bee business

Mbete plans to expand his business to benefit women in the community.

“Eventually we will use the wax to make other products. What I like about beekeeping is there's no waste, because everything is useful. My goal is to get to 1200 beehives by the end of the year.

"The next stage is to develop other black beekeepers in the community. I want to take a group of women and give each about 100 hives to maintain. I will buy the honey from them, bottle it and sell it. That way, they make a living and my business can expand, possibly into the export industry. I will hopefully have it going by next year,” he said.

He said there was a need to educate people in the community about the importance of bees and honey production.

“In Stellenbosch particularly, bees play a significant role in pollination. I grew up in the Transkei, seeing bees in the field. We would try and provoke them and they would sting us. We really had no idea how much harm we were actually doing.”

“It's important that when people take honey, they leave some for the bees.”

Read more on:    cape town  |  agriculture  |  animals
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