Bernard Kaunda is Production Manager of Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-operative Union, Malawi. Mzuzu Coffee specialises in high altitude coffee grown in the northern highlands and the Co‑operative is managed and run by 4,000 coffee growers and staff. This interview was held in December 2009.
BfD As a coffee co-operative, why do you sell honey?
BK We went into honey because in year 2000 the Beekeepers Association of Malawi ran into problems and collapsed due to financial mis-management. This meant that beekeepers in the north of Malawi were faced with marketing difficulties. Many of the members of the Mzuzu Coffee Co-operative put pressure on the marketing department to begin selling honey alongside their coffee. In 2002 we started buying and selling honey. We bought processing equipment including filters and settling tanks from the GTZ Beekeeping Project. In our first year we purchased and sold 2.3 tonnes of honey.
BfD Was this a good decision?
BK We discovered that the demand for honey was far greater than the volume we could supply, and year after year we realised that our supplies were falling short of demand within Malawi. In 2006 we worked out a new package for our farmers and organised inputs of 10 hives, 3,000 coffee seedlings and enough seed for 0.4 ha of wheat. We recognised that income from coffee alone is not always adequate and the payment terms for coffee are difficult for poor farmers to manage: the income comes only once a year and even then, farmers are paid months after harvest. We were looking for ways that farmers could diversify their livelihoods. Increased income and spread income was important, and beekeeping meets these requirements. There also is good labour compatibility between honey and coffee and importantly, the coffee benefits as the honey bees pollinate the coffee flowers. So coffee and honey are a natural combination.
BfD Has your annual turnover from honey sales increased?
BK We have enabled farmers to acquire more hives and every year since 2006 we have had input schemes. In 2007 we bought and sold 15 tonnes, in 2008 this rose to 41.6 tonnes, and in 2009 we expect more than 50 tonnes of honey. We buy from Co-operative members and non-members, but most honey is supplied by the members. Since May 2009 we have been Fairtrade certified and this means we must keep the honey which is supplied by our members separate from the honey supplied by non-members. Only supplies from members can be sold as Fairtrade honey. We are not yet however using the Fairtrade label on the honey because we are selling only within Malawi.
BfD Are you ready to export honey?
BK We want to start exporting and have two containers of honey ready for export. We may sell one container to an Arab buyer and we hoped to sell the other container to a buyer in Germany. However, Malawi is not on the list of Third Countries from which EU countries are permitted to import honey, because Malawi has not yet submitted a Residue Monitoring Plan to the EU Commission.
BfD How does selling honey compare with selling coffee?
BK Generally coffee is the biggest earner but not for everyone, some earn more from honey. For example a farmer may earn MWK300,000 from coffee and MWK 250,000 from honey.
BfD How is honey collection and consolidation organised?
BK If we collect honey from the rural areas we pay MWK250 per kg, whereas if a beekeeper brings honey to us here at the factory in Mzuzu we pay MWK260 per kg. We collect honey twice a year (May-June and September-December) and coffee once a year. In terms of organisation the farmers run their own collection centres and they take responsibility for recording what is delivered, and by whom, and they undertake preliminary quality checks. The farmers bring the honey in their own buckets to the collection centres and tip their honey into our buckets. We have a system to enable traceability of the honey.
BfD How does Mzuzu Coffee compare with other honey businesses in Malawi?
BK We are the largest honey company in Malawi and we plan to expand. We believe that we can aim for an annual turnover of over 100 tonnes. The habits of consumers are changing and people are buying more honey as a regular food item. The main outlets for our honey within Malawi are supermarkets and grocery stores.
BfD What about beeswax?
BK We sell beeswax to a buyer in Blantyre. Beeswax is something which is still seen as a by-product, not a primary product and some beekeepers still throw it away. We rely on our extension worker who teaches the importance of beeswax, but he has a lot of work to do to train all the beekeepers.
BfD What is your biggest remaining challenge?
BK To achieve the necessary investment for further expansion: we still rely on donors for our expansion programmes. We intend to establish a revolving fund which can be accessed by beekeepers needing finance to increase their number of hives. Some beekeepers increase their hive numbers without any external finance, for example in Chakaka. Other beekeepers have 70-80 hives and have not waited for a donor to help them expand, but not all the beekeepers will do this.
BfD Bernard - thank you very much.
 Fairtrade certification is achieved when a producer-owned co-operative meets the Fairtrade Standards set by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation. For details see www.fairtrade.net
 For non-European Union (EU) countries to be eligible to export honey to the EU, they must meet certain food safety requirements concerned with monitoring residues of veterinary substances in food products.
For more information see www.ec.europa.eu/food/food/chemicalsafety/residues/index and the BfD website
 MWK148.50 = US$1.00 = €0.73