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Kenyan Honey Project Helps Raise Income

Honey once played an important role in the economy and culture of the Pokot people of northwestern Kenya. Now, a self-help group is working with the Pokot to revive beekeeping and candle-making as a source of income for thousands of people in the region. The organization, called Cabesi, also runs a fledgling tourist village that aims to expose visitors to Pokot culture. Cathy Majtenyi visited the Cabesi projects and has this report.

Beekeeper Joseph Kichomo brings his bucket of honeycombs to the Lomut collection center, one of five such centers in the area.

Members of the local group running this particular collection center inspect and weigh the honeycombs. Kichomo is paid for his harvest, which he says can be tricky to gather because of the threat of bee stings. But he says he has found a way to brush the bees away.

"You harvest when it is night, when it is dark. You remove all your clothes and go there with your collecting material and the smoke. So in case he lands on you, it will be easy for you to remove (the bee)."

Kichomo is one of more than 2,000 Pokot beekeepers who sell their honeycombs to Cabesi, a self-help group that began four years ago with supervision and support from outside agencies.

Cabesi produces anywhere from 10 to 15 tons of honey a year - extra income for the Pokot people who rely primarily on animals for their livelihoods

Illiteracy is high here, and the Pokot districts are among the poorest in Kenya, so honey production was the natural choice for an alternative income-generating project.

Mercy Kiyapyap, an assistant project manager at Cabesi, explains that honey played an important role in Pokot life.

"It (honey production) is kind of a way of survival for some people during drought and other hardship seasons in the area. It had different importance that time. People were making beer out of it, people were making ceremonies, people were taking it for marriage and so many other things."

Quality control is an intricate part of Cabesi's operations. At the collection centers, group members filter out impurities in the honey. At the main warehouse, the honey is further refined, then packaged and sold.

David Kendagor is one happy customer: "I think this is really good. It tastes so natural, and I think it is from the types of flowers that the nectar comes from. It is really nice."

With bees' wax extracted from the leftover honeycombs, Cabesi makes a wide range of candles.

Back in Lomut, the group also runs a small tourist facility called Pokot Village-Lomut, with bedrooms fashioned as traditional huts.

Seven Pokot families live within the compound.

The idea is for visitors and the Pokot to interact with one another and learn about each others' cultures. Mercy Kiyapyap says another purpose is to dispel the notion that the Pokot are a violent people. The Pokot and their Turkana neighbors periodically engage in cattle rustling and raids.

"By the end, we believe that the world can understand us correctly, not from the papers and reports. Our name has been spoiled. I think this village is playing a big role to show our real nature, to show our real culture," said Kiyapyap.

The group plans to market the tourist village to attract more international visitors.