Mokgadi Mabela can aptly be described as being as busy as a bee. She has set her sights on growing her beekeeping business, Native Nosi (nosi is the Sesotho word for honey bee), into Africa’s biggest within 20 years.

The development stage of the Polokwane-based business she began in 2015 is over, and Mabela has moved into the first expansion phase. "I have 140 beehives and want to [own] 650 in 2018," she says.

Expansion does not come cheap, and Mabela has turned to crowdfunding to finance her ambitious plans. South Africans can invest in her business by buying a beehive through a crowdfunding campaign hosted by The People’s Fund. The minimum contribution is R1,200 — the cost of a new hive.

Mabela’s target is R1.2m. Halfway through the 90-day campaign, she has raised R161,000, enough to buy 134 hives.

"I am aiming high and even if I end up [not achieving that goal] I will be happy," she says.

The reward for those backing Mabela is a net R32.40 for every kilogram of honey harvested annually for six years from hives they have funded. The expected annual return is a solid 16%.

Selling the honey poses no problem. Demand for Mabela’s honey is so strong she is buying in 40% of her requirements.

The crowdfunding campaign is not Mabela’s first collaborative effort with The People’s Fund. She used it in 2015 to raise the capital she needed to kick-start her enterprise — which she founded to sell honey bought from other beekeepers — and was able to raise double what she had hoped to.

Mabela’s father was a full-time beekeeper and her grandfather also kept hives, so it was almost inevitable that she would end up in the same field. But it was not her first interest.

After obtaining a BA in political science from the University of Pretoria, she joined the national human settlements department in 2008. "I researched international relationships and eventually, before leaving in 2015, became an assistant director," says Mabela.

What she faces as a beekeeper is far from a comfortable office job. To ensure sufficient forage for her bees, the hives — each housing about 60,000 bees — have to be moved during the year to farms in different locations. Keeping hives in one place would cut output by up to 70%. "Moving hives is a huge undertaking and requires hiring part-time labour," says Mabela.

There is also the demanding task of harvesting honey, a process that takes place three or four times a year.

"African bees are exceptionally dangerous, particularly during the heat of the day," says Mabela. "We have to harvest in the early morning or in the evening, when they are more docile."

For Mabela, beekeeping is not just about producing honey. She is equally motivated by the crucial role pollination plays in the ecosystem.

According to the Western Cape agriculture department, 76% of the 115 leading global food crops depend on annual pollination, primarily by bees.

Already half of SA’s honey demand is met by imports, and that level is set to rise.

As things stand, beekeeping in SA is largely the preserve of ageing white males. "To ensure SA’s food security, the industry needs to attract more new young entrants," says Mabela. "They can make a good living from beekeeping."

thomass@fm.co.za

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