Female farmer works tirelessly to supply SA’s honey demand

Female farmer works tirelessly to supply SA’s honey demand

Most of the honey sold in South Africa is imported, but 31-year-old Mokgadi Mabela is working to change that. The young, black female farmer and entrepreneur chats to us about her beekeeping business.

Mokgadi Mabela

Mokgadi Mabela is a third-generation beekeeper who learned beekeeping from her father. She is busy as a bee supplying South Africans and local businesses with her organic raw honey.

While honey has many benefits (it contains antibiotics, good enzymes and is anti-bacterial), most honey in SA is imported.

Mokgadi warns that imported honey is not always best. "It’s as good as syrup or sugar, but local honey has all the nutrients. We are best suited to be consuming local honey,” the 31-year-old says.

Imported honey products need to be irradiated, which Mokgadi says can kill all the benefits.
“This process destroys all the nutrients and delicate properties for which honey is known. When you buy local, you consume natural, quality honey that has not been subjected to any processing,” she says.

Because of its sweetness, Mokgadi says honey is a great substitute for sugar.
“I use it for everything, instead of sugar or syrup. It’s healthier and a better substitute. I put honey in tea, I use it for cooking butternut etc.”

Despite all its benefits, Mokgadi says honey “contains glucose and has to be eaten in moderation”.

While she runs a successful business, beekeeping was not always part of her plans.

“After completing high school, I went on to study BA in political science and international relations from the University of Pretoria. My plan was never to go into beekeeping. The plan was to get a job and prosper,” says the 31-year-old entrepreneur.

Things took a different turn when Mokgadi got married, had a child and couldn’t keep up with her job demands and helping her father’s beekeeping business.

“There were also other factors that were happening in my life. I had just gotten married and had a baby. Everything was happening at the same time. I couldn’t keep up. My colleagues on the other hand learnt I have nice honey and started buying from me. The demand kept growing and I was asking for too much honey from dad,” she says.

Mokgadi was also the “middle man” for her father’s business, delivering honey to his clients.

“After seeing how the demand was growing, my dad advised me to start my own beehive. He said he would help me manage it and teach me all I needed to learn about the business.”

Mokgadi then quit her secure job to focus on starting her own business.

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However, even with guidance and support from her dad, Mokgadi’s business still faced a lot of challenges.

“Farming for bees depends on the rain. No rain, no bees, no honey,” she says. This was one of the challenges she faced. She also had to raise her own capital and had to rely on social media to help market her brand.

“Unless you are already established, it is hard to get funding. We started everything from scratch, and that hinders the pace at which you grow. We had to use the little resources we had. We didn’t have money to hire accountants and bookkeepers. We have also been using social media to market ourselves. We don’t have a budget for PR and sales reps. We have depended on media coverage we got,” says Mokgadi.

Despite the challenges, she says her business has been well received by customers. “We have a nice customer base,” says the proud businesswoman from Limpopo.

Mokgadi says beekeeping can be a “lonely industry” as there are not many black people in the business.
“Over and above beekeeping being a taboo because people don’t understand it… There are not a lot of blacks and especially black females who are beekeepers. I only know two black men and two black females in the industry,” she says.

Mokgadi says all one needs to run a successful beekeeping business is dedication and education.

“Go to school. Attend to a beekeeping beginners’ course. Find a mentor after you have done your course. Show initiative and interest. Start on your own beehive or two. This will help you learn how bees behave, store pollen, lay eggs, produce honey etc. Be dedicated to your craft,” advises Mokgadi.

When it comes to buying store bought honey, Mokgadi says it’s important to look out for honey that is not pasteurized or irradiated.

“You should make sure the food label says it’s pure raw honey, or raw honey. If it’s not pure raw honey and not a South African product, stay away from it,” warns Mokgadi.

She also advised consumers to check the packaging, paying special attention to the country of origin and not just where the honey was packaged. This, Mokgadi says, is because it can be packaged in South Africa, but still come from another country.

If you are not sure where to find raw pure honey, she says it is usually sold in health stores.

“We have normal pure honey in smaller shops like chemists. The chain stores have a few bottles. The problem is that they want honey throughout the year, that’s why they depend on imported goods because we don’t have enough.”

Mokgadi is, however, now working on solving this problem to help ensure local demand is met.

She currently has over 400 beehives but plans on increasing the number to 5000 within the next 10 years.

Native Nosi’s natural raw honey can be bought online at https://nativenosi.co.za A bottle ranges from R50.00 – R300.00 and can be delivered countrywide. Mokgadi also supplies health stores and restaurants around the country. 

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