Beekeeping, also known as apiculture, is the practice of maintaining honey bee colonies for the production of honey, beeswax, propolis, bee pollen, and royal jelly. It is an age-old tradition in many parts of Nigeria, providing sustainable income generation and commercial opportunities.
With its favourable tropical climate and vast expanses of nectar-rich forests and vegetation, Nigeria has immense potential for apiculture. However, modern commercial beekeeping is still relatively untapped, offering new entrepreneurs a chance to tap into the growing domestic and export demand for bee products.
This beginner’s guide explores everything required to start beekeeping in Nigeria, from basic prerequisites and hive technologies to tips for maximising honey production.
Overview of Beekeeping in Nigeria
History and Tradition
Beekeeping in Nigeria has a long history, with evidence of wild honey harvesting dating back to ancient times. Traditional beekeeping methods using log and clay hives still remain common, especially in rural areas. Beekeeping is an integral part of the livelihoods and cultures of several communities.
The giant honey bee, Apis mellifera adansonii, is the predominant species kept for apiculture across sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria. Stingless bee species are also raised on a smaller scale.
Economic and environmental importance
Modern apiculture provides sustainable incomes for smallholder farmers and has growing commercial potential. Nigeria currently produces an estimated 15,000–20,000 metric tonnes of raw honey annually, largely for domestic consumption. Bees also play a vital role in crop pollination and environmental conservation.
The government is actively promoting beekeeping under various agricultural initiatives and providing training support to new enterprises. This makes it an attractive emerging sector for agribusiness investment.
Despite Nigeria’s apiculture potential, the industry faces challenges like poor access to modern hives, a lack of technical skills, pest and disease problems, financial constraints, and limited value-added infrastructure post-harvest. Addressing these barriers will help achieve higher production and commercial success.
Getting Started with Beekeeping
Beekeeping does not require enormous capital investments to start. Here are the basic necessities:
- Apiary site: a suitable location for situating beehives with access to water and flowering plants
- Hives: These house the bee colonies. Wooden hives like Langstroth boxes are the most common.
- Protective clothing: full-body suits, veils, and gloves to safely handle stinging bees
- Other tools: smokers, hive tools, brushes, etc. for colony management
- Initial bees: purchased bee colonies or swarms housed in the hives
Some beekeeping skills that new entrants should acquire are:
- Technical know-how in bee colony care, hive handling, extractions, etc.
- Recognising bee diseases and taking preventive or curative actions
- Timing honey harvests for peak ripeness and yield
- Extracting honey and beeswax with proper sanitation and minimal loss
- Crop pollination management skills for maximising yields
Formal training courses, workshops, government programmes, and experienced beekeepers can provide these skills. Learning never stops in beekeeping!
Selecting an Apiary Site
Choosing a suitable apiary location is the first critical step. Key factors include:
- Shelter: protection from strong winds with natural windbreaks like vegetation or walls. Avoid flood-prone areas.
- Sunlight: The site should receive adequate morning and midday sun for colony warmth and activity. Some shaded areas are also beneficial.
- Water: Bees need a constant, clean water source like a pond or stream within 500 metres of their hives.
- Flora: Abundant and diverse bee forage sources like wildflowers, orchards, and nectar-rich crops should be available within 2–3 km of the apiary. Avoid areas with heavy pesticide usage that can contaminate hives.
- Access: convenient road access for transporting hives, equipment, and harvested honey.
- Security: Sites should be protected against potential vandalism, theft, or damage to hives.
- Slope: A gentle slope allows good drainage. Steep gradients can affect hive stability.
Hives should be positioned:
- Facing east to south-east to get morning sun
- With entrances clear of obstacles like brushes or depressions
- Protected from direct, strong winds
- Raised on stands or platforms for security and drainage
Suitable apiary sites can be found at:
- Owned or rented farms or orchards
- Leased community, private, or state forest lands
- Cooperative agreements with plantations or orchards
Urban beekeeping on terraces is also possible with careful flower planting and hive screening.
Beekeeping Equipment and Supplies
The following equipment and supplies are required for apiculture enterprises:
Key considerations when selecting beehives:
- Types: Langstroth and Kenyan Top Bar (KTB) hives are commonly used. Log and clay hives are traditional options.
- Quality: Hives should be sturdily constructed from quality wood or materials resistant to weathering.
- Size: Standard 10-20 frame Langstroth hives or equivalent KTB models allow adequately sized colonies for good honey yields.
- Expandability: Hive bodies that can be stacked vertically or added to modules enable colony expansion.
- Cost-effectiveness: Lower-cost hives like KTB can be appropriate for small-scale beekeepers. Langstroth hives have higher establishment costs but can have lower per-unit costs at commercial scales.
- Suppliers: Reliable bee equipment manufacturers and dealers in Nigeria include BeeMaid Honey, Norcatt Beekeeping Supplies, and Oasho Bee Farms. Imported supplies are also available.
Essential protective gear:
- Bee suits: white suits that are thick enough so bees cannot sting through. Ventilated suits are suitable for hot climates.
- Veils and hats: mesh should be fine enough to keep bees out. Hat veils provide face and neck protection.
- Gloves: durable leather or rubber gloves with long sleeves to prevent stings.
- Boots or shoes: Closed shoes with socks tucked in prevent bee access.
Tools and supplies
Other key items include:
- Smoker: for calming bees during inspections and honey harvesting
- Hive tool: a metal tool for prying apart frames, boxes, etc.
- Uncapping knife: to shave wax caps from honeycomb before extraction
- Bee brushes and brood brushes: for gentle brushing to move bees or clean cells
- Honey extractors can be manual or electric-powered.
- Bottling buckets, jars, lids, and labels for honey harvesting and storage
- Feeders: for providing supplementary sugar syrups to colonies
- Queen excluders: Keep the queen confined while allowing worker bees movement.
- Pollen traps: for collecting bee pollen
Getting Bees for Your Hive
Here are methods for acquiring starter bees for your apiary:
Buying established colonies
The most direct approach is to purchase already-colonised hives from other beekeepers. Although it involves higher upfront costs, you benefit from bypassing the early stages of acquiring and growing your own bee colonies.
Locate beekeepers in your area with strong, disease-free colonies for sale. Have the hives inspected carefully before purchase. Transport colonies with care to avoid stress or absconding.
During the swarming season, scout for swarms around your location and capture them by coaxing or gently brushing the queen and bees into a ventilated box. Once transported to your apiary, they can be transferred into prepared hives. Care must be taken while catching swarms to avoid losing the queen.
Bait hives to attract swarms.
Uncolonized “bait” hives can be set up with bee pheromone lures to attract stray swarms looking for a new home. Once the swarm occupies the bait hive, it can be transferred to proper beekeeping equipment. Position bait hives 5–15 feet high near suitable forage.
Buying Packaged Bees and Queens
Many beekeeping suppliers sell caged “packages” of worker bees with a newly mated queen. These are installed in prepared hives. Ensure the purchased bees are disease-free with active, productive queens.
Best Practices for Hive Management
Follow these key good management practices for successful beekeeping:
Hives should be inspected every 7–10 days during the active season and every 2-3 weeks in the cooler months. This allows monitoring of space, food stores, brood rearing, swarming signs, and diseases.
Providing Adequate Space
As colonies grow, additional boxes or supers must be added above the brood chamber for bees to store honey and accommodate population growth. Congested colonies are more prone to swarming.
Swarming results in the loss of bees and honey production. It can be minimised by ensuring adequate living space, replacing old queens, creating nucleus colonies, and clipping queens’ wings.
Feed colonies sugar syrup supplements during dearth periods to maintain comb building and brood rearing. Pollen substitutes also help during pollen scarcity. Feeding is vital for colony health and honey yields.
Combating Hive Pests and Diseases
Threats like varroa mites, wax moths, and fungal diseases must be controlled through hive sanitation, good ventilation, timely treatments, and the destruction of severely infected colonies. Seek expert help for diagnosing and controlling serious pest or disease outbreaks.
Maintaining detailed records of colonies’ honey production, swarming, feeding, treatments given, and other parameters is key for selection and management decisions. Records aid planning, profitability, and future expansion.
Selecting and requesting
Requeen colonies with young, high-performing queens at least annually to maintain strong brood rearing, disease resistance, and honey yields. Cull poor queens and divide strong colonies to create new hives.
Maximising Honey Production
Targeting peak honey production requires optimal colony management.
Provide adequate hive space.
Congested colonies limit honey storage and encourage swarming. Allow 40–60 litres of cavity space per colony for a good honey yield. This can be achieved through brood chamber expansions, honey supers, and frequent inspections.
Take measures to prevent swarming.
Swarm prevention techniques like requeening, brood breaks, clipping queen wings, and creating nucleus hives are critical during peak nectar flows.
Situate Hives Near Good Forage
Positioning hives within diverse pollen and nectar sources and rotating site locations with seasonal flower blooms help sustain high colony populations and activity.
Supplement Feed During Dearth Periods
Feeding bees corn, sorghum, or sugar syrup supplements 2-3 weeks before major nectar flows boost colony strength and comb building to take advantage of flows.
Extract Honey at Optimal Ripeness
Harvesting honey when combs are 80–90% sealed ensures proper ripeness and flavour profile. Overripened honey can crystallise or ferment in combs.
Leave adequate food reserves.
Around 10–20 kg of ripened honey should be left in the brood chamber over lean seasons to sustain queen egg-laying and colony strength.
Expand colony numbers.
Splitting robust colonies helps increase total apiary honey yields. Integrated queen rearing or purchasing productive queen cells allows rapid colony multiplication.
Harvesting Honey and Other Bee Products
Here are guidelines for harvesting different bee products:
- Choose frames with 75%+ capped cells. Unripe honey ferments easily.
- Use escapes, bee blowers, or bee brushes to remove bees from frames. Do not apply repellents.
- Uncap cells using heated uncapping knives. Slice off the wax caps cleanly.
- Place frames in extractors to spin out honey with centrifugal force.
- Filter the extracted honey using mesh screens and bottling buckets. Let honey settle for 1-2 days before bottling.
- Reserve cappings after honey extraction. I also melted down old burr combs and used brood frames to obtain wax.
- Melt wax carefully using solar melters or double boilers. Filter melted wax to remove impurities.
- Pour the cooled wax into moulds or blocks. Ensure the highest purity for premium pricing.
- Use specialised pollen traps at hive entrances, which dislodge pollen pellets from returning bee legs into a collection basket.
- Collect pollen every 2-3 days during peak flowering, and dehydrate using solar dryers or food dehydrators before storage.
- Store the bright-coloured pollen in airtight containers in a freezer to maximise nutrition and shelf life.
- Propolis is the resinous material bees use for sealing cracks in hives. It has medicinal value.
- Insert plastic collection grids inside hive bodies for bees to deposit propolis on. Chill the grids to make propolis brittle before scraping it off.
- Keep the collected propolis in a cool, dark place. Use ethanol to extract concentrated liquid propolis tincture.
Equipment Maintenance and Hive Hygiene
Proper equipment maintenance and hygiene prevent diseases and contamination.
- Clean used hive tools, smokers, uncapping knives, etc. before and after inspections using bleach dips and dry heat sterilisation.
- Frequently scorch the interior walls of used hives using torch flames to remove potential spores or chemicals.
- Replace old brood combs every 3–4 years with wax foundations to limit disease transfers.
- Keep apiary work areas clean. Remove piles of old combs or debris, which can harbour pests.
- Sterilise and dry all beekeeping suits, gloves, and accessories after use. Isolate contaminated gear.
- Ensure honey extraction equipment is thoroughly washed, sterilised, and dried between batches.
Post-harvest handling and value addition
- Let honey settle 1-2 weeks post-extraction for air bubbles and impurities to rise. Skim off foam.
- If crystallisation occurs, gently warm honey for liquefaction. Avoid overheating.
- Filter using fine mesh if required. Bottle in clean, food-grade containers.
Labelling and branding
- Adhere to national standards and regulations for honey labelling and quality.
- Create a unique brand name and label design reflecting the source and origin.
- Include details like type (e.g., clover honey), volume, weight, expiration date, nutritional information, etc.
Packaging and storage
- Use food-grade plastic or glass containers. Avoid metallic containers.
- Optimal storage is around 21°C in a dark, dry place. Refrigeration causes excess crystallisation.
- Shelf life can range from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the conditions. Track batch details.
- Further value can be added through creamed honey, chunk honey, flavoured honey, beeswax candles, propolis tinctures, etc.
- Pollen and bee venom also have niche commercial potential. Market research is advised.
- Invest in attractive jar designs and consumer packaging to increase sales margins.
Business Model and Profitability
Initial investments for basic equipment and several hives typically range from ₦150,000–₦500,000, depending on scale. Operating costs are relatively low.
Each hive can produce 25–40 kg of surplus honey annually. Other revenue streams are beeswax, propolis, and nucleus colonies. Profit margins can exceed 50% with good management and yields.
- Sale of extracted raw honey in bulk or bottled, based on colour, variety, production method, and quality
- Beeswax is sold to the cosmetics, pharmaceutical, and candle industries.
- Propolis: tapping into medicinal demand
- Nucleus colonies: sell to other beekeepers for expansion.
- Pollen and bee venom: niche commercialization possible
- Local beekeeper cooperatives and associations
- Organic food stores, supermarkets, and gourmet outlets
- Pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies
- Exporters targeting international markets
- Online sales and distribution channels
- Hospitality sectors like hotels and restaurants
Support and incentives
- Government and NGO programmes provide training subsidies, equipment loans, and apiary grants.
- Bulk purchase programmes by exporters and processors help realise scale.
- Participate in apiculture associations and cooperatives for know-how sharing and aggregating bee products.
Nigeria’s strong apiculture potential, coupled with rising market prospects, makes beekeeping an attractive emerging enterprise. This guide covers the key aspects new entrants must learn, from basic equipment and site selection to honey harvesting, value addition, and business viability. While requiring dedication and hard work, beekeeping can be intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding. The “liquid gold” rewards are well worth the occasional sting!