Show us the money, honey: Bees all abuzz about concrete
New concrete hives have transformed the prospects of small and emerging beekeepers across SA
Local beekeeping faces many challenges including adverse weather conditions and the rapid decline in bee numbers – which is a global concern because bees pollinate crops that are produced for human consumption. The cheap price of low-quality imported honey is also a threat to SA honey farmers.
But a new type of beehive could revitalise honey production. Traditional wooden hive structures are replaced with an innovative concrete frame; the new Beegin hive has helped a test group of beekeepers to increase their productivity. Beegin was created by Ivan Brown, currently studying for a master’s degree at the University of Johannesburg. Beegin, which started as a research project, has been featured at international design conferences.
Brown came up with the design when he entered the PPC Imaginarium Awards, a competition in SA that rewards innovation in concrete. Brown was runner-up in the industrial design category in 2015. PPC then supplemented his prize money with a seed grant to assist him with prototyping his concept. PPC has since funded Brown for the nationwide rollout of the project after a successful testing phase.
The testing process took two years, during which all 10 of the participants (five beekeepers and five urban farmers) were kept appraised of Brown’s new beekeeping technology.
For the farmers involved, the tests taught them to introduce and keep bees on their farms. Since then their honey production has increased considerably.
The insulation properties of concrete were beneficial in the testing phase of the beehive concept. “In hot and cold weather, the bees expend a great deal of energy regulating the temperature of the hive to keep the larvae alive,” says Brown. “The energy is made by consuming honey, and by insulating the bees from temperature variations the hives become more productive and efficient.”
Mike Shapland, a hobby beekeeper in Johannesburg, took part in the testing process. A long-time user of traditional wooden hives, Shapland compared the old hives with the new concrete one: “There’s a dramatic effect on productivity. The bees don’t have to work as hard. And fewer of them have to work.”
Low productivity is a barrier to production in the SA honey-making industry. SA is short several thousand tonnes of honey each year, according to commercial beekeeper Brett Falconer. Competition from cheap imports, of which 76% are Chinese, is a challenge to beekeepers looking to enter the local honey-making industry. Cheap, low-quality imports have been on the rise since 2001, putting strain on local honey producers.
Free State-based Danie Peach found that the new concrete design helped to accommodate changes in weather. “The past two to three years were very dry,” he says. “The wooden hives crack and you need to go back to the hives and repair the cracks. But with the concrete that is not the case.”
Brown’s design could boost the economy on a larger scale. Case studies show that beekeeping has empowered small businesses in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, introducing a new wave of local commercial beekeepers.
Mokgadi Mabela founded Polokwane-based business The Native Nosi in 2015 to produce local honey while creating jobs. Mabela’s honey is in high demand, and she hopes to expand her business.
Thoko Njemla began beekeeping 16 years ago in response to a job shortage in the Eastern Cape. As of early 2017, she employed five people and harvested several tonnes of honey each year.
Beekeeping could empower even more SMMEs through the new Beegin hive. Since April Beegin has sold tools and beehives to businesses and individuals across SA, hoping to see beekeepers become fully self-sufficient, and beekeeping in general become more sustainable.