Often in developing countries, rural women and youth have unequal access to and control over critical resources and inputs that are required to start-up and maintain a business, such as land, savings, information sources, training, etc. As such, identifying low-cost income generating activities for women and youth has been a hallmark of MEDA’s economic development projects.

In Nigeria, MEDA is currently partnering with Cuso International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Cross River State (CRS). The project is titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) and it has just released its first phase of funding to winning applicants of its Youth Entrepreneurship Business Support Plan (YEBSP) competition. (1)

In order to participate in the YEBSP competition, youth, between the ages of 18-35, must have completed or be currently enrolled in YouLead’s entrepreneurship training program. The training program consists to two parts: a 2-week accelerated course on basic entrepreneurship skills, like accounting and marketing for example; and a 2-month practical training program at a private sector business to gain experience and a better understanding of the selected industry.

Based on extensive value chain analyses, the YouLead project selected three value chain options for youth participants in each local government authority, or district. All value chain options are in the  natural resources sector, and include  poultry rearing, catfish farming, cassava production and mushroom cultivation to name a few.

Apiculture, or bee-keeping, is another option.

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In June 2016, I was able to visit with many of the YEBSP applicants in Cross River State, and those in bee-keeping were particularly motivated, innovative and brave, to say the least.

As an income-generating activity with low start-up costs, bee-keeping fits the bill. In terms of land requirements, a small bee-hive doesn’t require much physical space. The hive just needs to be located in an area away from people and close to flowering plants. The hive itself also requires low start-up costs, with most of the materials usually available within a homestead. Of the YEBSP applicants interviewed, some already had hives in their family, while others enlisted the help of their families to construct them. Most applicants planned on placing the hive at the back of their family’s land, so as to avoid disturbances by human activity and to ensure that the bees had a reliable source of pollen.

It was interesting to learn that in this region of Nigeria, people are fearful of bees and often destroy hives that they come across. In order to prevent this from happening, the YEBSP applicants explained their creative mitigation techniques, such as appropriate signage, and building floral fences – which would protect the hive, while serving as ample pollination ground.

A difficulty in apiculture, as noted by one youth, was the collection of bees for the hive. In their technical training, the young apiculturists were taught how to attract bees to hives with wax. This wax lures bees away from their natural hives to colonize the hives constructed by the young entrepreneurs. While low cost, this tactic can take a year or more to produce a thriving bee colony. As a result, one YEBSP applicant said to me, “in your country, you can go and buy bees, but here, I have to go into the forest and collect them.”  This young woman had plans to go out into the forest, find a wild hive with her protective gear, capture bees and bring them to her hive for honey production. This daring feat is not an easy task, but one that would be sure to guarantee the quick colonization of a handmade hive.

Once the hives begin producing honey, the honeycombs can be quite heavy and require proper protective equipment to enable removal and packaging of the honey. This heavy lifting was not seen as laborious or tasking to the apiculturists, the majority of whom were female. These female apiculturists were eagerly committed to their budding beehives and when asked if they were at all frightened of the bees, they assured me they were properly trained and could handle the work. The entrepreneurs pointed out that unlike other businesses, apiculture doesn’t have to consume all of their time and energy, allowing them to supplement their income with other activities throughout the year, like agriculture or having the time to continue with schooling.

The honey value chain in Cross River State is strong, as honey is seen as a medicinal and edible substance that most families have in their homes. The price-markup can vary quite considerably, and one young male entrepreneur, Undie James Ugbe, has decided to seize this opportunity by purchasing high quality honey in bulk, building relationships with rural producers and bringing the materials to urban centres, where he could fetch higher profits. While many people do this casually in the local markets, Undie, and his business, “Undies Honey Production,” was sanitary, organized and made ready-to-order.

The know-how and determination of these young apiculturists was truly astounding. Of the 68 applicants interviewed for the YEBSP competition, one female apiculturist named Catherine Bishung and her proposed business, “Kate’s Bee Farm” garnered a perfect score, putting her ahead of all other applicants. Kate demonstrated all of the traits of an entrepreneur – she was intelligent, quick thinking, product knowledgeable and convincing. Catherine plans to market her product as a high quality, undiluted honey, targeting niche diabetic markets while properly storing her products to exploit the volatility of seasonal honey pricing.

Catherine, and all other successful YEBSP apiculturists, proved themselves to be well-researched, incredibly adaptive and passionate young entrepreneurs who will no doubt reap the sweet rewards that honey can bring to their small businesses.

(1) To read more about the successful 54 YEBSP applicants, visit YouLead’s Facebook page

Photo Source: BeeKeeping Nigeria Blogspot. “Many beekeepers never really become beekeepers.” Published on January 19, 2013.