Entrepreneurs often have some kind of big revelation before they decide to embark on new ventures. For Mmabatho Portia Morudi, that moment came when she attended a bee farming course in 2012.
The training was orchestrated by her grandfather, Dr Sam Motsuenyane, an avid farmer and businessman. Morudi was shocked to discover that South Africa’s bee-keeping industry was not only dwindling, but also has a honey shortage.
“The disconnect and the mere fact that Africa has so much natural resources, and yet we are one of the lowest producers of honey prompted me to start bee farming,” the 37-year-old tells Food For Mzansi.
Beekeeping Statistics of South Africa says the number of professional beekeepers in the country is declining. Many leave the business in search of other opportunities, and others are simply pushed out by drought.
Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist of Agbiz, also noted that there had been an upsurge of “natural honey” imports into South Africa, which increased from 476 tonnes in 2001 to 4206 tonnes in 2017.
Morudi’s decision to help save the bee industry inspired her to assist subsistence farmers who had been producing honey in her birth town in Winterveld in the north of Pretoria at that time. She also set out to increase the footprint of black, especially female, farmers in the industry.
“I had to do training because bee farming is not one of those of professions that you can venture into without a sense of direction. There is obviously the risk factor to it, and you need to know how to make it viable,” she says.
Funding was also an obstacle she had to overcome. Fortunately, because beekeeping promises positive environmental and social impact, she managed to attract donors and funders.
“They came to our support through different means. Some were financial, and others made sure that we got our branding covered,” she says.
Later that year Morudi was able to kick-start her Iliju Bee Farm in Winterveld, using the traditional method to catch bees. She had to place beehives near trees or flowers so they could discover the hives and make it their home.
“If there wasn’t enough forage, we planted forage in the form of (bee-)friendly flowers,” she adds.
Morudi’s ambition extended beyond just saving the endangered bee species. She also wanted to assist local economic development and food security challenges. That’s why she started The Village Market SA.
“The Village Market SA is an emporium of village produce and products. Our offering ranges from raw honey, preserves and veggie crates delivered to homes. We set up bee farms in rural communities to assist farmers with bee pollination, which improves their crops and yields and once their produce is ready, we buy it and beautifully package it in wooden crates and deliver to homes, wellness centres and companies.”
Morudi supplies her raw honey to 20 pharmacies and corporates across the country. They also have a bottling facility in Winterveld where people can purchase their honey. She shares that corporates particularly love her honey because it has a story of community behind it.
“We are trying to increase the bee populations since bees are dying out. We usually go out into villages and train people about sustainable beekeeping and conservation,” she says.
An example of this is a project at the border of Mozambique and South Africa where there is a focus on human-elephant conflict. Morudi found a community there that was struggling with elephants. The elephants would rake and trample the crops and damage their hives, so she set up bee centres in these communities to help the beekeepers.
“People are usually attracted to the story and that’s why corporate companies would then buy the honey,” she says.
Starting a beekeeping business is challenging
Morudi explains that starting her business and trying to expand the bee heritage in the country was not easy.
“The fact that there weren’t many bee farmers around brought out a lot of scepticism and we didn’t have enough land at the time, so we relied on community members and people to allow us to create beehives on their farms.
“Being in a community that knows bees for stinging and nothing else was hard because we had to convince them to allow us to create a hive on their land. You can imagine how hard that must have been.”
But since then she has experienced a multitude of breakthroughs. Her most memorable one seeing the volumes of honey increasing.
“We used to produce one bucket of honey and now we are producing 8.5 tons. We are now able to go to certain retail stores and see the brand come alive,” she says.
In the future Morudi wants to teach more communities about bee farming and she is currently entering in a partnership with Elephants, Rhinos & People that aims to turn Africa into a one big bee sanctuary.