Honey and coffee — an interview with Bernard Kaunda
Bernard Kaunda is Production Manager of Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-operative Union, Malawi. Mzuzu Coffee specialises in high altitude coffee, grown in the northern highlands. The Co-operative is run by 4,000 coffee growers and staff. This interview was held in December 2009.
BfD: As a coffee co-operative, why do you sell honey?
BK: We went into honey because in year 2000, the Beekeepers Association of Malawi ran into problems and collapsed due to financial mismanagement. This meant that beekeepers in the north of Malawi were faced with marketing difficulties. Members of theMzuzu Coffee Co-operative put pressure on our marketing department to begin selling their honey alongside their coffee.
Therefore in 2002 we started buying and selling honey. We bought filters and settling tanks from the GTZ Beekeeping Project, and in our first year we purchased and sold 2.3 tonnes of honey.
BfD: Was this a good decision?
BK: We discovered that demand for honey was far greater than the volume we could supply, and every year our supplies were falling short of demand within Malawi. In 2006 we worked out a new package for our farmers. We organised inputs of 10 hives, 3,000 coffee seedlings and enough seed for 0.4 ha of wheat. We recognised that income just from coffee is not always adequate, and the payment terms for coffee are difficult for poor farmers to manage: the income comes only once a year and even then, farmers are paid months after harvest. We were looking for ways that farmers could diversify their livelihoods. Increased income, and income spread over the year are important, and beekeeping meets these requirements. There also is good labour compatibility between honey and coffee, and importantly, the coffee benefits from pollination by honey bees. Coffee and honey are a great, natural combination!
BfD: Has your annual turnover from honey sales increased?
BK: We have enabled farmers to acquire more hives, and every year since 2006 we have run input schemes. In 2007, we bought and sold 15 tonnes, in 2008 this rose to 41.6 tonnes, and in 2009, we expect more than 50 tonnes of honey. We buy from Co-operative members and non-members, although the members supply most honey. Since May 2009 we have been Fairtrade’ certified. This means that we must keep the honey supplied by our members separate from honey supplied by non-members, as only supplies from members can be sold as Fairtrade honey. However, we are not yet using the Fairtrade label on the honey as we selling only within Malawi.
BfD: Are you ready to export honey?
BK: We plan to start exporting and have two containers of honey ready for export. We may sell one container to an Arab buyer and we hoped to sell the second container to a buyer in Germany. However, Malawi is not on the list of Third Countries from which EU countries are permitted to import honey, because Malawi has not yet submitted a Residue Monitoring Plan to the EU Commission.
BfD: How does selling honey compare with selling coffee?
BK: Generally, coffee is the biggest earner but not for everyone, some earn more from honey. For example a farmer may earn MWK300,000 (US$2,020; €1,475) from coffee and MWK250,000 (US$1,683; €1,230) from honey.
BfD: How is honey collection and consolidation organised?
BK: If we collect honey from the rural areas we pay MWK250 (US$1.68; €1.23) per kg, whereas if a beekeeper brings honey to us here at the factory in Mzuzu we pay MWK260 (US$1.75; €1.29) per kg. We collect honey twice a year (May-June and September-December) and coffee once a year. The farmers run their own collection centres and they take responsibility for recording what is delivered, and by whom, and they undertake preliminary quality checks. The farmers bring the honey in their own buckets to the collection centres and tip their honey into our buckets. We have a system to enable traceability of the honey.
BfD: How does Mzuzu Coffee compare with other honey businesses in Malawi?
BK: We are the largest honey company in Malawi and we plan to expand. We are aiming for an annual turnover of 100 tonnes. The habits of consumers are changing and people are buying more honey as a regular food item. The main outlets for our honey within Malawi are supermarkets and grocery stores.
BfD: What about beeswax?
BK: We sell beeswax to a buyer in Blantyre. Beeswax is still seen as a by-product, and some beekeepers throw it away. We rely on our extension worker who teaches the importance of beeswax - he has a lot of work to do!
BfD: What is your biggest remaining challenge?
BK: To achieve the necessary investment for further expansion: we still rely on donors for our expansion programmes. We intend to establish a revolving fund that can be accessed by beekeepers needing finance to increase their hive numbers. Some beekeepers increase their hive numbers without external finance, for example in Chakaka. Other beekeepers have 70-80 hives and have not waited for a donor to help them expand, but not all beekeepers will do this.
BfD: Bernard - thank you very much.
(1) Producer-owned co-operatives must meet Fairtrade Standards set by the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International to achieve Fairtrade certification
For details see www fairtrade.net
(2) For non-European Union (EU) countries to be eligible to export honey to the EU, they must meet certain food safety requirements concerned with monitoring residues of veterinary substances in food products.
For more information see www.ec.europa.eu/food/food/chemicalsafety/residues/index and the BfD website