Honey Industry Offers Swaziland a Sweet Future

For 17-year-old Percy Shongwe and his two younger siblings, honey is a ticket to an education. They supply Swaziland’s Eswatini Kitchen with honey from their more than 50 beehives. Beekeeping and harvesting require only about 60 hours of work per year but give Percy and his siblings the opportunity to earn more than $7,000, easing the burden on their mother, a struggling pre-school teacher. They use the income to pay their school fees. They are also saving to install electricity in the home they share with their mother and seven other siblings.

A TechnoServe seminar gave Percy and his siblings their start in beekeeping and made them part of a community of thousands of vulnerable Swazis who receive incomes, advice and hope from Eswatini Kitchen, a producer of gourmet jams, jellies, chutneys, sauces, and honey that TechnoServe helped transform into a thriving business.
Eswatini Kitchen was established in 1991 by Manzini Youth Care, a faith-based nonprofit organization which offers opportunities for marginalized young Swazis. Eswatini Kitchen’s profits help fund the organization’s programs, which include residential care, free primary education and skills training for more than 2,000 youths.

By 2008, Eswatini Kitchen’s growth was held back by an overstretched management team and a lack of financing for long-overdue capital investment. TechnoServe began working with the firm that year and conducted a diagnostic study showing that the business was on shaky financial footing.

So TechnoServe provided a loan guarantee that enabled Eswatini Kitchen to access credit in order to buy new machinery and improve operations. New bottling and labeling equipment will help Eswatini Kitchen fill orders more quickly, reducing turnaround time and allowing the company to explore new market opportunities. Thanks to the improvements, the business was able to join Cooperation for Fair Trade in Africa (COFTA) and secure certification that gave it access to international markets.

TechnoServe has also worked with sister company Eswatini Kitchen Honey to build a honey industry in Swaziland. TechnoServe saw the potential for beekeeping to boost the country’s economy and created a comprehensive strategic plan for the industry in 2007. Swaziland is home to more than 400 rural beekeepers who collectively harvest 60 tons of raw honey annually. But Swazi beekeepers generally lack the technical knowledge to produce at their full capacity and sell most of their honey on the informal marketplace, limiting their potential income.

TechnoServe’s initial recommendations included the establishment of a National Honey Council to help create a robust and sustainable industry. The council works to promote policies and conditions that will allow the honey industry to grow. For example, the council worked with the USDA to lift export restrictions on honey from Swaziland, giving Swazi processors potential access to lucrative international markets.

Meanwhile, TechnoServe has worked to build the capabilities of local beekeepers. The organization held a beekeeping seminar that gave each of the 60 participants 16 beehives and trained them to cultivate them and collect the honey, helping to broaden Eswatini Kitchen Honey’s supply base. Many of the new beekeepers were orphans or vulnerable children such as Percy, Brian and Nompendulo.

Eswatini Kitchen Honey now buys honey from more than 200 beekeepers annually, and the business continues to work with TechnoServe to train more rural beekeepers. With TechnoServe’s assistance, Eswatini Kitchen Honey processed more than 14 tons of honey in 2009, up from about eight tons in 2008. This growth is moving Swaziland closer to becoming a premier honey source in southern Africa.