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Kenya Farmer Keeps Home Abuzz With Activity

A population explosion in Kenya is leaving little land for farming. This has led to a search for new methods of producing more food with limited resources. In Western Kenya, at least one farmer has a novel idea – raising bees inside his own home. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Shem Suchia has the buzz from Evakale village in Kamamega town in western Kenya near Lake Victoria.

At first glance, 47-year-old John Muhanda looks like any ordinary farmer in the vast Kakamega Forest in western Kenya. On his one acre of land he grows vegetables and has one milk cow.

But some of his neighbors find him odd and say he might be practicing witchcraft. Muhanda says, “Up to now, I have 41 bee hives -- of which two are inside the house, while the rest are scattered outside my compound.”

The bees are working hard in Muhanda’s home. In the center of a dimly lit room with mud walls and one window, a single hive is placed on top of the dining table. A pane of glass covers one side of the hive so Muhanda can monitor the swarm.

The buzzing gets louder near the bedroom, where there’s a hive hooked to the headrest of the bed.

But Muhanda is not disturbed. He says bees are social creatures – at least when not disturbed – and that's why it's easy for him and his family of five to co-exist with them. In fact, he says the insects are used to the smells of the family, and it’s rare that anyone is bitten. The same cannot be said of anyone wearing strong perfume or of strangers who move about abruptly.

Muhanda says “What I normally do is just to go the direction they come from. When they fly in and out they pass by you. They feel your smell; hence they cannot riot or bite.”

However, there have been some adjustments. The bees are not happy if they’re not let out at 4 am…. They cause a noisy storm inside the house, he says, until the doors and windows are opened and they can get to water and foliage.

But that’s tolerable -- Muhanda and the family use the honey in their tea, porridges, even medicine. They also sell it.

Some in the area remain suspicious. But others are coming around – including 19 farmers who’ve joined a sort of “support group” for bee lovers. Muhanda says, “It is a good job if many people in the area can be educated. They can earn a lot of income.”

They, too, are raising indoor bees, which Muhanda says are more productive than those raised outside. He says each of his indoor hives produce 40 kilograms of nectar, almost double the amount of his outdoor ones. If he had his way, he said he’d have all 44 hives indoors.

The sale of honey harvested from the bees brings in much more than the sale of traditional foods. He used to earn about 15 dollars in a three-month season from vegetables, but the bees bring in well over $100 in the same period.

Local extension agents are also showing interest and like to point out the beehive project in an effort to promote the technique.

But some are still not sold on the idea, especially first-time visitors. Muhanda says they’re easy to spot – they express extreme caution when passing by.