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Insecurity Stings Livelihoods Of Local Beekeepers, Honey Sellers In North West Nigeria  

Adamu Sirajo, a father of four who survived decades of armed conflict in Kachia, Kaduna State, now faces a fresh sting. Beekeepers in the region can't reach their hives due to insurgency, which threatens to crush his and other honey sellers' distribution businesses. 

Kachia, a beekeeping hotspot in Kaduna, North West Nigeria, where fear now hangs heavy in the air, is home to Adamu Sirajo, a local chemist and honey distributor who has witnessed violence tear through his life and livelihood not once but twice. The first time was in 2000, during a religious crisis that tore through the region.

The once-familiar sounds of the town were replaced by the crackle of flames and the panicked cries of fleeing residents; Adamu and his family also fled. Many lives were lost in the violence, with Human Rights Watch estimating the death toll to be close to 5000.

Scars from the crisis remained even after Adamu and his family returned to Kachia over a month later that year. 

Renewed tensions began around 2011 with the rise of Boko Haram, according to Adamu. Security checks became commonplace in Kachia, particularly around churches and mosques. Soon after, a wave of criminal activity, such as armed robberies and cattle rustling, swept through the town. With these crimes largely unchecked.

Kachia sits at a crossroads, 92 km from Kaduna City. It links to parts of Southern Kaduna, such as Kafanchan, making it a busy transit route. This location made it a target for kidnappers, Adamu explained. 

Over three years ago, when kidnapping started in the area, the targets were travellers. Ransoms demanded ranged from a few hundred thousand naira to a million naira for wealthier captives. However, the situation deteriorated. Kachia residents who were considered rich, and sometimes their relatives, also became targets. 

It is worse now, Adamu told HumAngle, regardless of your social, tribal or religious background, nobody is safe. “In fact, mosques, churches and the general public had to start crowdfunding money for ransom,” he said. 

Gangs on motorcycles wielding weapons have become a common sight, snatching people, food, and livestock in the community, Adamu said, recalling an incident during Ramadan in 2022 that claimed at least 33 lives, including his neighbour’s.

Amongst several other things, the insurgency has crippled traditional beekeeping methods. Some beekeepers earn up to ₦2 million within six months in Nigeria, according to  SENCE Agric, a Lagos-based agro consulting company, but this has dropped in Kachia due to the current insecurity. 

In the past, beekeepers placed their hives (often made from drums) under trees in the forest. Now, these areas have become dangerous terrorist hideouts, hindering beekeepers’ access. “Sometimes, the bandits even pull down the beehives when they come across them in the bush,” Mercy Iliya, a honey seller, told HumAngle.

Aerial view of a dense settlement with tin roofs along a winding road.
Kachia town in February 2020. Photo: The Governor of Kaduna State/Facebook

Fear of kidnappings has also reduced the number of hives beekeepers can maintain. Previously, some managed 300-400 hives, but now they struggle to keep even 50. The ransom demands, often exceeding their entire profit margin (around ₦13,000-14,000), have forced many beekeepers to abandon the business altogether.

Adamu’s Islamic chemist shop relies heavily on honey for his medicines. He used to buy large quantities (150-200 buckets) at affordable prices (₦8,000-₦15,000). However, the shortage has led to a dramatic price hike, with 20 litres now costing ₦42,000-₦43,000. This makes it nearly impossible for him to maintain stock and threatens his business.

“I have a popular ulcer medicine that uses honey that used to go for ₦200, but I now sell it for ₦400,” he told HumAngle.

Jacob Geofrey started selling honey in 2010 after graduating from secondary school and being unable to further his education or find employment. His business thrived until the renewed insurgency in Kachia.

“I used to go to the surrounding villages and get the honey myself, but due to the insecurity, I cannot even go directly to the villages anymore. I just get them from authentic sources here in Kachia town,” said Jacob, a resident of Gumal, a community in Kachia LGA.

The price he pays for honey has skyrocketed from ₦10,000 to ₦47,000-₦50,000 for the same quantity. He has also been forced to raise his own prices, selling a litre of honey for ₦5000 compared to his previous price of ₦1500 or ₦2000.

Even with the little profits they make, honey sellers are sometimes forced to contribute to ransoms for kidnapped loved ones. Last year, two of Mercy’s in-laws were kidnapped, and the insurgents demanded a ransom of ₦8 million. After negotiation, they settled for ₦5 million.

“Paying those ransoms affected my family financially because my husband was one of the main contributors and because I also try to help in any way I can, it really affected my business,” Mercy said. “We are constantly living in a state of anxiety for what may come next, but I have faith that God will protect us.”

The 40-year-old mother of five intends to teach her children the beekeeping trade once they finish their studies. This is one reason she desperately wants the insecurity to end.

“Sometimes, we don’t sell anything at the market, but we always return the next day,” she said. Like many other women in Kachia, Mercy dabbled in the honey business in 1998, not long after she got married and moved to ‘Kachia Urban’ from a small village called Crossing in the same local government. After their first child was born, she started a business to further support the family due to her husband’s financial situation. 

Mercy said, “The insecurity affected our business. There used to be so much abundance, but now the beekeepers can’t even access their honey.”

This reflects a wider challenge in the country’s honey production. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates Nigeria could generate over $10 million from honey trade. However, security concerns are hindering this growth, particularly in northern states like Kaduna, Niger, and Benue – areas USAID identifies as “conducive to bee-keeping”.

Honey is a seasonal food, and it is usually more expensive after the season which also contributes to the scarcity. In the rainy season, there is also the risk of water getting into some of the honey, which sometimes affects the quality, she explained.   

The honey shortage has created a breeding ground for fake and substandard honey to infiltrate the market. According to Adamu, some sellers are mixing honey with other substances to increase the quantity. 

“Many people do not know the difference between a good and mixed honey,” Adamu lamented. “Some drugs have gone out of production due to these issues. It’s not something that can be fixed in a day. I am just hoping and praying that things will ease up soon.”

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