Traceability on a honey bee farm
Knowing where your food comes from has become more important for consumers lately due to the growing consciousness about, and need for, sustainable farming practices. Traceability is a very important aspect within the supply chain that allows a company to track the origin of a product from the beginning to the end consumer.
Fedgroup’s Impact Farming has partnered with The Global Honey Exchange (GHE) to offer people the opportunity to own beehives on commercial farms through the groundbreaking Fedgroup App. GHE is a management company that manages beehives, the landowners/farmers and the beekeepers.
Brian Bouwer, CEO of Global Honey Exchange (GHE) explains the importance of tracking food origins:
“Traceability is not just important in terms of which country the honey comes from, it is also important which area or forest it comes from within that country. This adds tremendous value to the honey product. In the current market internationally traceability from the beginning to the end is almost non-existent.”
Increasingly consumers are rejecting imported irradiated honey, which is blended, in favour of local honey that is traceable. Consumers want to know what they are eating. For health benefits, research indicates that eating local raw honey is better for combatting allergies to pollen.
Currently there is not much control on traceability, particularly when honey is imported. Bouwer notes that you may know initially where honey has been produced at origin but when it gets to the buyer, and honey from different origins is mixed together, you lose traceability. He says that consumers do not have much guarantees at the moment from the supply chain process, however, “from GHE, our focus is pure, raw, quality, locally produced honey that can be traced to the origin.”
“Currently South Africa is able to produce around 2 000 tonnes of honey but the demand is closer to 8 000 tonnes, meaning three quarters of honey in this country is imported. We haven’t kept up with demand for honey for a number of reasons. Firstly, we went through a period of sustained drought which meant smaller honey farmers struggled. The benefit of GHE is that we are connected and now have the scale to move hives around if foraging is poor. Secondly, the demand for honey has grown exponentially in recent years – in part because of health concerns as there is increasing attention on the dangers of sugar. Don’t forget with the recent introduction of sugar tax, honey is becoming kilo for kilo on a par with sugar, making it more affordable in the eyes of the consumer. The risk with imported honey is you don’t actually know how much of the honey is actually honey. It might be syrup or water or any additive that bulks its volume. That is why it is so important that we support local honey farmers and increase production. Fedgroup’s Impact Farming allows farmers to expand their production faster by selling hives to investors who own the assets.”
“Through the Fedgroup platform, GHE has about six beekeepers who will manage close to 10 000 beehives countrywide,” explainsBouwer.
The group currently has 1 668 active beehives with swarms and another 1 332 in the Eastern Cape and 1 000 beehives in the north that are being swarmed to be ready for honey production by the end of November 2018.
GHE is in in the process of manufacturing 4 500 beehives and aim to ensure there are 8 500 active hives by the end of January 2019.
Background on GHE
GHE is a South African start-up company founded in early 2017. It is an exchange that works between farmers producing honey and those manufacturing honey-related products.
“The company intends to produce honey commercially and source from organic suppliers,” said Bouwer.
With more honey produced through Fedgroup’s Impact Farming, GHE will be able to export to areas of growing demand and will identify the most lucrative markets .GHE will create a truly South African brand with three variants to supply: retail (bottles), hospitality (drums) and restaurant industry (sachets).
Operation and setup
You can place around two to six hives per hectare of land, creating colonies of up to 50 hives or more, depending on how much good forage there is on the farmland and in surrounding areas. This is because bees fly out about eight kilometers from the hive to collect pollen to produce honey.
“Good forage would be for example citrus, blue gum, fynbos, sunflower, wild blossom, macadamias and other plants,” says Bouwer.
The typical life of a human-made hive is around 10 years, depending on maintenance, and swarms can be anything between 10 000 and 70 000 bees. A queen bee lays up to 2 000 eggs per day and the life of a queen is two years while the life of a worker (female) bee is six weeks.
“They literally work themselves to death and the queen bee is killed after two years because she becomes lazy and a new queen is nominated by the worker bees.”
For every 100 worker bees, there is one male drone in a hive.
Bouwer continues that in a beehive the honey is stored by the worker bees on a wooden structure in the hive known as a frame.
In summer or spring when the hive is mostly filled, the frames are removed from the hive on site and honey is removed from the frames into buckets.
Bouwer says that they do not process the honey, noting that in his opinion “processed honey is not real honey.”