One of the keys to our success is a strong working relationship with our beekeepers registered with our company. We require higher quality standards and adherence to organic and sustainability principles. We compensate beekeepers for this additional work by;
- Paying above market rates (on average 30% above typical farm gate price)
- Paying in full when we collect the honey and so solving cash flow issues for beekeepers
- Giving input loans and pre-financing terms (both in equipment and in cash for them to cover their expenses whilst harvesting).
We have a network of 15 field officers (FOs) who live and work in the same communities as our beekeepers. This allows us to be in contact with beekeepers at all times of the year, even outside of the harvest seasons. Our FOs are trained through an internal training program which involves an intensive two weeks training of their role, additional 2-4 weeks working in our company apiary and then working with a senior FO for a full harvest season. We recruit FOs from different educations and backgrounds, including an internship program which we run with the Tabora beekeeping college.
Our Process and System
We use a cloud database system to manage our beekeeper data. This system was designed specifically for our honey operations but can easily be adapted to other value chains. Each beekeeper and each bucket (the unit of transport for raw honey purchased) is assigned a unique QR code which is then tracked through registering transactions in an application operated by the FOs. A typical workflow registering a beekeeper to processing and batching their honey in our processing facility is as follows:
- Approximately two months before harvest, a group meeting is held with current and prospective beekeepers to discuss our quality requirements and pricing. This gives them certainty of price, so that they can plan their harvest accordingly and also reduces financial strains from market fluctuations.
- New beekeepers are registered and given an ID card with their QR code. During this process they are given initial training on how to adhere to our organic and sustainability principals.
- The beekeepers then go into the forests to make an estimate of how much honey they will harvest from their hives and prepare for the upcoming season.
- One month prior to harvest, beekeepers return with their harvest estimates as a number of 20L buckets. Our FO assign empty buckets to beekeepers by scanning the QR code on the empty buckets and saving it to the beekeeper profile. This information shows up in our database and we can see which individual buckets are with which beekeeper. Any equipment loans or pre-financing payments are also done at this time and tracked in our system.
- The beekeepers return to the forest and harvest their honey.
- Once harvest is complete the beekeepers bring back all full and empty buckets. The honey comb is then checked for quality (organoleptic, colour, and water content), weighed, and payment requests are entered into our system. All of that day’s payments are then remotely paid via m-pesa or bank transfer.
- Full buckets of honey comb are transferred to our processing facility via truck and to ensure no misplacement of products, this journey and the buckets on each truck are also tracked through the database application. Buckets are both “scanned out” from the field warehouse and then “scanned in” to our processing facility in Kigoma when they arrive.
- The honey comb is checked again for quality parameters (organoleptic, colour, water content) and then if all is up to standard, the honey is processed into a batch. This step includes the bucket being “scanned in” to a final processing batch. Our records then show all the buckets of honey which contributed to each batch, giving complete traceability through the system.
- Any honey rejected by the processing team can be traced back to the beekeeper and the FO once initially passed it as OK. This is used for training and quality management purposes.
As part of our quality assurance and organic requirements, we conduct audits in the forests for all of our beekeepers. During these audits, we also run trainings to help ensure honey quality standards are being met. This helps lower the refusal rate at purchasing which is good for the company and good for the beekeeper. Sustainability practices are also taught which assist in increasing yields from hives. We plan to expand our trainings to include basic finance lessons so that the beekeepers can keep investing in their hives, their businesses, and increase their incomes.
Our facility is based in the Kigoma Special Economic Zone. It was built to meet our requirements and includes a 500m2 warehouse as well as a 150m2 processing room. This is sufficient space for over 2,000T/annum. The equipment was imported and includes 25T of batching/homogenisation tanks, honey-wax separation, wax rendering, filtering, and multiple packaging lines. All equipment is food safe (stainless steel) and meets international standards.
One of the biggest hurdles in agri-business in Tanzania comes when navigating the exporting procedures of Tanzania and adhering to the import regulations of destination countries. Since we have been exporting now for multiple years, we have gained the expertise (through no small number of mistakes ourselves) which allow us to access the international market without errors. The majority of our product is sent out in 20’ containers, however we also do smaller volumes through airfreight as required.