- The world’s bee population is declining, which is bad news for food security.
- In South Africa, harmful indigenous harvesting practices and an influx of imported blended honey have also had a negative effect.
- But a familiar buzz has returned in the small town of Taung in South Africa’s northwest province.
- This is where Bee Loved Honey is headquartered, producing beehives, training rural beekeepers and bottling pure honey for both the local and export markets.
- Bee Loved Honey’s mission is to produce and distribute one million beehives by 2025, combat unemployment in rural areas, while repopulating bee colonies.
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A honey company headquartered in the small town of Taung in South Africa’s northwest province is on a mission to build and distribute a million beehives to repopulate dwindling bee colonies and empower rural communities.
The world’s bee population is declining due to intensive farming practices, land use change, mono-cropping, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO UN), current extinction rates are 100 to 1000 times higher than normal due to human influences.
This bee death threatens to increase food insecurity. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about one-third of commonly eaten foods depend on crops pollinated by honeybees.
South Africa’s rural northwest, home to towering acacia trees, has traditionally been buzzing with the sound of honeybees. The area has a rich history of native beekeeping and honey collection.
During South Africa’s strict lockdown and alcohol bans, these indigenous beekeepers in and around Taung, with an innate knowledge of honey harvesting, turned to producing mead, explains Lesego Holzapfel, founder of Bee Loved Honey.
“These native beekeepers in the village can tell you exactly where the bees are [and] where the honey is,” explains Holzapfel, adding that the knowledge passed down from generation to generation has been very valuable to the community.
“But their methods of harvesting honey are terrible for the environment.”
Without sophisticated equipment to safely harvest honey from wild beehives, these native beekeepers often resort to setting fire to the environment, with smoke-soothing bees. In the process, these fires sometimes rage out of control, destroying vegetation and bee colonies.
Lesego Holzapfel (Image supplied: Bee Loved Honey)
Bee Loved Honey uses vastly different methods of honey harvesting, with an emphasis on caring for the bees and protecting the environment. These methods are taught through training to both unemployed youth and older indigenous beekeepers in rural areas as part of Holzapfel’s mission to produce pure honey for sale, create jobs and repopulate bee colonies.
Holzapfel grew up in rural Taung and went on to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science and City College of New York. She returned to her hometown in 2012 with a vision to improve rural communities through quality education and innovative entrepreneurship. Its original goal was to transform communities through arable farming, introducing beekeeping as a secondary source of income for farmers while they waited to harvest their produce.
Beehive production at Taung factory (Image supplied: Bee Loved Honey)
But the beekeeping element grew, with Holzapfel plunging first to explore the challenges and opportunities within the South African honey industry.
“I was disappointed to learn that the number of beekeepers in the country is declining and that is partly due to the influx of mixed honey entering our borders, forcing beekeepers to leave the trade,” Holzapfel said.
“South Africa is also a net importer of honey. As a country, we only have a production capacity of 2,000 tons, [and] the country consumes over 5,000 tons, and what’s even scarier is that of the 5,000 tons they consume, most of it isn’t even real honey, it’s blended honey.”
(Image included Bee Loved Honey)
Holzapfel shifted her focus to honey in 2017 and built a factory in Taung three years later. It’s here where Bee Loved Honey produces beehives and packages pure honey for sale online and at select outlets, such as the Oranjezicht City Farm Market in Cape Town.
The beehives, which cost R1200 each, are either purchased by or sponsored by rural youth with an interest in beekeeping and small-scale farmers. Bee Loved Honey provides training and also has wholesale purchasing agreements with the rural beekeepers for the honey produced in these beehives, which is transported back to the Taung factory to be packaged and sold.
(Image included: Bee Loved Honey)
To date, Bee Loved Honey has deployed over 600 hives and collected over seven tons of honey. This brand of honey recently received FDA approval and is already kosher certified. With this, Holzapfel is keeping a close eye on the export market and aims to build a proud South African brand revered by overseas consumers for its superior taste and sustainable sourcing practices.
“We will be exporting to USA soon. The whole idea is to take high quality African product [and] by putting them on the shelves of retailers in the US to change the story about products coming from Africa,” said Holzapfel.
Lesego Holzapfel and her team (Image supplied: Bee Loved Honey)
And while exports are a focus for Holzapfel, Bee Loved Honey has a much more ambitious goal: to produce and distribute one million beehives across Africa by 2025. critical role in countering the decline of the bee population, contributing to overall food security in Africa.
“The idea is that we’re educating the next generation of African beekeepers. So these are people who would take care of our bees and then take care of the environment, because if our bees continue to decline so rapidly [that] they are [currently] if we go down, we’re in trouble, especially from a food security standpoint,” Holzapfel said.