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COMESA has instituted a policy framework that will open up opportunities for honey production to become a commercial enterprise across the region and hence yield economic, social and environmental benefits.

Currently COMESA contributes less than five percent of global honey production which is estimated to be 1.7 million tonnes annually. The region produces about 82,000 tonnes annually with Ethiopia contributing 45,000 tonnes; Kenya, Egypt and Madagascar follow with 12,000 tonnes, 5,100 tonnes and 4,400 tonnes respectively. Ethiopia also leads the African continent followed by Tanzania, Angola and the Central African Republic.

It is estimated that less than three percent of the honey produced in COMESA enters the international markets partly because of food quality standard requirements in the developed countries.

Under the COMESA regional livestock policy framework 2015, the Secretariat is embarking on strategic measures to exploit the opportunity in overall livestock development. These include attracting public and private investments along the different livestock values chains, enhancing value addition, health standards, innovative technologies and market access.

“Globally, the honey market is well established and highly competitive and is being significantly influenced by food quality standards,” Dr Yoseph Mamo, COMESA’s Livestock Programme Coordinator said. “The future of honey in international trade is, therefore, tied to the development of good quality organic honey for exports.”

To compete in this market, Dr Mamo added that exporters need to offer consistent supplies of large volumes at competitive prices. He identifies the region’s export opportunity as the supply of organic honeys in the niche markets, where they can fetch a premium price for their produce. In his report entitled The Honey Industry in COMESA: Opportunities and Challenges, Dr Mamo identifies the prevalence of diverse agro-ecological conditions in the region as very conducive for industrial honey production.

“There are plenty of marginal lands, which are considered as lands unable to support permanent or intensive agriculture without significant investment in land. These can be harnessed for honey production,” he observes.

Cognizant of the suitable agro-ecological zones and potential for intensification, he says, honey bee production is one of the significant resources that COMESA countries have for livelihood and economic growth.

The report notes that critical challenges that affect effective participation in honey bee production and trade need to be overcome. These include limited technical capacity to implement modern honey bee production, lack of laboratory facilities and operational capacity and poorly defined roles of private and public sector in planning and implementation. Other challenges are lack of market support systems, enforcement of quality standards; poor access to financial service sectors, inefficient cross-border trade facilities and weak organizational capacity of small-scale operators.

The report recommends significant investments especially in honey production and trade including the establishment of intra-regional honey bee product supply chains to sustain supplies, improve trade efficiencies and enhance the quality of products.

“It is also important to put in place effective and harmonized regulatory framework and enforcement of standard management measures in collaboration with Member States and all concerned stakeholders,” Dr Mamo recommends.

He also notes that there has been lack of information on the sub-sector and this poses a challenge in demonstrating the true potential of the industry and in accurately assessing and increasing the visibility of the impact of public and private sector interventions.

“The beekeeping industry in COMESA is coming out of the shadows and attracting public and private sector support and is one of the areas where investments can be encouraged,” Dr Mamo concludes.