- The global bee population is declining, and that means bad news for food security.
- Harmful indigenous harvesting methods and an influx of imported blended honey have also had a negative impact in South Africa.
- But a familiar buzz has returned to the small town of Taung in South Africa’s North West Province.
- This is where Bee Loved Honey is headquartered, manufacturing beehives, training rural beekeepers and bottling pure honey for the local and export markets.
- Bee Loved Honey aims to produce and distribute one million hives by 2025, tackling rural unemployment while repopulating bee colonies.
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A honey company headquartered in the small town of Taung in South Africa’s North West Province is on a mission to build and distribute one million beehives to repopulate dwindling bee colonies and strengthen rural communities.
The global bee population is declining due to intensive farming practices, land use change, monocultures, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO UN), current rates of species extinction due to human impact are 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal.
These bee deaths threaten to exacerbate food insecurity. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about a third of the foods commonly eaten are based on plants pollinated by honey bees.
Home to towering acacia trees, rural North West South Africa is traditionally filled with the sound of honey bees. The area has a rich history of indigenous beekeeping and honey gathering.
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 mead production, explains Lesego Holzapfel, founder of Bee Loved Honey.
“These local beekeepers in the village can tell you exactly where the bees are [and] where the honey is,” explained Holzapfel, adding that the knowledge passed down from generation to generation is extremely valuable to the community.
“But their honey harvesting methods were terrible for the environment.”
Without sophisticated equipment to safely harvest honey from wild hives, these native beekeepers often resort to setting the area ablaze to calm the bees with smoke. These fires sometimes rage out of control, destroying vegetation and bee colonies.
Lesego crab apple (delivery picture: Bee Loved Honey)
Bee Loved Honey uses very different methods of honey harvesting, with an emphasis on caring for the bees and protecting the environment. These methods are taught in training courses to both unemployed young and older local 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 the City College of New York. She returned to her hometown in 2012 with a vision to empower rural communities through proper education and innovative entrepreneurship. Their original goal was to transform communities through farming and introducing beekeeping as a secondary source of income for farmers while they waited for their produce to be harvested.
Making Beehives at Taung Factory (Delivery Picture: Bee Loved Honey)
But the beekeeping element grew, and Holzapfel dove headlong into exploring 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, due in part to the influx of blended honey coming across our borders, forcing beekeepers to abandon the trade,” Holzapfel said.
“Also, South Africa is a net importer of honey. We as a country only have a production capacity of 2,000 tons, [and] The country is consuming more than 5,000 tons and what is more frightening is the 5,000 tons they are consuming, most of it is not even real honey, it is blended honey.
(Picture supplied Bee Loved Honey)
In 2017 Holzapfel shifted their focus to honey and three years later built a factory in Taung. Here, Bee Loved Honey manufactures beehives and packages pure honey for sale online and at select outlets such as Cape Town’s Oranjezicht City Farm Market.
The beehives, which cost R1,200 each, are either purchased or sponsored by rural youth interested in beekeeping and small farmers. Bee Loved Honey provides training and also has wholesale off-take agreements with the rural beekeepers for the honey produced in these hives, which is shipped back to its Taung factory for packaging and sale.
(Image supplied: Bee Loved Honey)
To date, Bee Loved Honey has deployed more than 600 beehives and collected more than seven tons of honey. This honey brand recently received FDA approval and is already Kosher certified. With this in mind, Holzapfel is keeping a close eye on the export market and aims to build a proud South African brand that will be recognized by consumers overseas for its excellent taste and sustainable sourcing practices.
“We will soon be exporting to the USA. The whole idea is to use high quality African products [and] putting them on retail shelves in the US to change the narrative about products coming out of Africa,” said Holzapfel.
Lesego Holzapfel and her team (Image supplied: Bee Loved Honey)
And while export is the focus for crab apples, Bee Loved Honey has a far more ambitious goal: to manufacture and distribute one million beehives across Africa by 2025. This, Holzapfel said, will not only empower rural communities and tackle unemployment, but will also play an important role in halting the decline in the bee population and contribute to overall food security in Africa.
“The idea is that we train the next generation of African beekeepers. So these are people who then take care of our bees and then take care of the environment because if our bees continue to decline so much [that] They are [currently] We are in trouble, particularly from a food security perspective,” Holzapfel said.