Honey is ten times more expensive than oil and demand for this natural product is increasing not only in Africa itself but globally.
Priced at between $8-$10 (Ksh800-Ksh 1000), one kilo of honey in Kenya costs 10 times what a litre of petrol does ($ 1.2 or Ksh120). And in the Arab market, a jar of honey can fetch almost double this amount ($20-$30).
It is a price tag that has honey producers all over the world salivating. While Kenya is not one of the largest exporters of honey globally, it is a trade that is being closely watched as Kenyan producers strategise on how to pioneer their entry into this lucrative honey market. Ethiopia is the largest producer of honey in Africa, and according to USAID, produces approximately 45,300t annually. Tanzania is the second largest (8,000t, and Kenya ranks third in the region, followed by Uganda and then Rwanda, with just 4,000t a year.
African honey has a unique flavour profile, which makes it comparable to some of the premium honey in the markets.
The UAE is the most important market for us. It’s the largest with the greatest purchasing power. Price sensitivity is low, and there is an appreciation of premium products.
Domestic or International?
In Kenya the demand for honey is really high. Packers or producers don’t want to get involved in export because of the logistics involved. They prefer to sell locally or in the region because there is a readily available market.
Demand for honey in Kenya is so high, that the country is unable to satisfy itself and is forced to import from neighbouring Tanzania.
So with a ready and easily accessible local market that offers good prices, Kenyan honey producers are unwilling to undergo the bureaucratic rigours of export, which involve higher transport costs and quality testing.
There are no commercial producers of honey; they are all smallholder traditional bee keepers, which exacerbates the ability to meet the large demands of markets like the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Honey is a very special item to Muslims. It’s a high-value commodity; it’s in the Quran. The Arab market wants a container a month, that’s 20t a month. We can’t even supply our own market.
Africa, does not export significant amounts to the US market, and in 2013 the US only imported 3,000 kilograms of honey from Kenya for $15,000, according to the US department of Agriculture.
The money is in the honey, that is where the future of the business lies. Indeed fast increases in the price of honey combined with flagging global volumes spell a promising outlook for producers who can scale up their volumes.
The only question is how they will do this, and whether Kenya will eventually emerge at the forefront of trade in the golden liquid.