Zambia’s Untapped Honey Market

Zambia abounds with a vast forest cover of about 60% of its total land area, dominated by miombo woodlands and major bee tree species, providing nectar and pollen for honey production.

Beekeeping is a largely rural-based occupation that provides viable economic potential, sustaining the livelihood of many communities within the country’s frontiers.

Zambia’s honey industry comprises an estimated 20,000 beekeepers with a marketable supply of about 2,500 tonnes of honey per annum, a tiny fraction of its production potential.

“Zambia’s full potential is estimated to be 20,000 tonnes, potentially generating more than EUR 5 million in export revenue. Zambian organic honey maintains a niche market in Europe,” SNV Netherlands Development Organisation has stated, which has been a major supporter of the sector over the years.

According to the Zambia Honey Partnership Platform (ZHPP), the country is one of the top honey exporters on the continent, exporting about 1,000 tonnes of quality honey per year.

“The price of bulk honey on the international export market ranges between $1,500 to $6,000 per tonne, making the potential earnings from honey a significant contributor to the Zambian economy. Much of the apiculture sector remains untapped,” ZHPP states.

Several issues impede the sector’s growth, affecting production and competitiveness on the international horizon.

ZHPP identifies these bottlenecks as, among other things, “unavailability of affordable finance for local honey exporters, lack of technical know-how on quality standards maintenance, high cost of organic certification and limited value addition, resulting in reduced export earnings from raw honey.”

It is against this backdrop that the Zambia Honey Partnership (ZHP) – later to become the Zambia Honey Partnership Platform (ZHPP) – emerged in 1998 as a coordination framework to provide a rational approach by both public institutions and private sector actors involved in promoting social and economic growth of the honey sector. The Partnership has increasingly become recognised as a truly representative sector association, with the government and donors consistently channelling their sector interventions through the ZHPP.

A recent boost for the honey sector was the Trade and Institutional Capacity Building in the Apiculture Sector (TICBAS) project, supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB). Implemented by SNV Zambia, the $428,000 initiative improved sanitary and phytosanitary standards for the beekeeping sector and provided training for participants in the value chain.

“The aim was to train people and start exploring the commercial opportunities for table honey. This objective was achieved with at least one business, Zambezi Gold Honey, exporting table honey to the South African market for the first time through the Checkers national retail chain,” the bank said in its Project Completion Report.

The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), through the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, identified various weaknesses in the sector, namely:

•    Inappropriate production technology used

•    Low productivity and poor quality of produce

•    The weak organisation of beekeepers

•    Lack of commercial orientation to beekeeping

•    Lack of high-grade processing facilities

•    Imports of cheap bee products

•    Absence of market information

•    Non-availability of appropriate financing mechanisms

•    Lack of coordination of donor-funded interventions

•    Lack of coherent sector strategy and follow up activities

The government has implemented various trade-related initiatives, which have also supported the apiculture sector as an export-oriented product. These interventions have included government-to-government negotiations to remove trade barriers on goods and services, including bee products within the sub-region.

Further, through the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA), the government has facilitated market linkages within the apiculture value chain by promoting many players to various forums and trade fairs both within and outside the region aimed at export trade promotion.

The way forward

•    Market access, trade and investment: There has been plenty of focus on producers, with little emphasis on corresponding linkages to markets, resulting in weak market access for producers. To add to this, unfavourable policies within the region and on the international horizon, such as trade and non-tariff barriers, hamper entry into specific markets and stifle competitiveness. There is an urgent need for organised and efficient marketing along the value chain, from production to the final consumer, if rural producers are thrust into the mainstream economy.

•    Smallholder capacity-building for improved production and productivity: Extension services in beekeeping, which are highly limited and almost non-existent, should be accelerated to keep beekeepers abreast with information on market availability, pricing, technology and hygiene requirements.

•    Gender and Beekeeping: Traditionally, beekeeping has been primarily dominated by men due to its inherent physically demanding tasks – for instance, climbing trees and walking long distances, taking them away from their regular domestic duties. Consequently, women’s full participation in the industry has been curtailed. Therefore, it is incumbent on players in the sector to ensure that the use of acceptable modern hives is enhanced.

•    Quality and standards: Ensuring consistency of Zambian bee products is paramount to achieving a more significant market share globally.

It is heartening to note that the demand for Zambian bee products continues to rise on the international market.

There is a growing demand worldwide for organic products, a market which Zambian honey producers can tap into. As such, there have been increased calls for more investment in the beekeeping sector and increased calls for honey producers to attain official organic certifications to increase production and farmers’ incomes.

Future Prospects

According to a Total Transformation Agribusiness market study of the honey industry in Southern Africa, the region has vast potential, which remains under-exploited. Except for Zambia, all countries in the region are net bee product importers. The existence of regional economic communities (COMESA, SADC and EAC) presents a challenging environment to foster regional trade and provide thousands of small-scale bee farmers and other producers with access to better and broader markets.

There is immense scope for bee products in the European Union on the international front. Demand from the region is poised to increase in the medium to long-term due to lifestyle changes made by an increasingly health-conscious population. The global market also offers considerable opportunities for other bee products such as beeswax, propolis, pollen, royal jelly and bee venom. 

Once sustainable trade structures and mechanisms have been energised, Zambia’s sweet success in honey matters will be assured.

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