By Solomon Ayado
It is common in Nigeria for civil servants to retire from public service and take to farming for sustenance. For 68-year-old Jonathan Ibya, delving into bee farming appealed as an honourable and lucrative means of livelihood. SOLOMON AYADO reports that the S3xagenarian wants government to fund the venture, to enhance agriculture and attract foreign investors
“I cannot retire and just return to the village to fold my hands and watch my family wallow in hunger and financial difficulties. That is why I have engaged bee keeping or farming so that I can acquire finance and fend for my family. But governments at all levels must encourage this venture by funding it properly so that we can harvest more honey and it can attract foreign investors into investing in our country.”
These were the appealing words of a S3xagenarian bee farmer, Mr Jonathan Ibya who retired from the Benue State civil service for over a decade but refused to idle on the streets and or take up begging as a source of livelihood. Although he is earning a living from the risky venture, he is optimistic that proper attention has not been given to the investment by government authorities to enhance rapid development of the agricultural sector.
For now, he has kept more than 20 beehives and is deriving honey from the combs and he is maintaining a large farm of Moringa and Sunflowers which he uses to keep the bees. But what makes the job more difficult is lack of adequate finance to procure modern bee farming equipment, partner with foreign investors and export the honey for better financial gains.
The encounter of this educated bee farmer with LEADERSHIP Weekend was like a blessing in disguise. It was on the day of the commissioning of the River Amile-Ichol, Nyiev Tiev in Kwande local government area of Benue State and the elderly man had managed his way to the place, to raise his voice and compel the authorities to discover a serious agricultural investment that is otherwise neglected.
It takes more than two hours riding in the bushes, meandering mountains and crossing over shallow streams to arrive at Amile-Ichol community. The entire area is a core agrarian environment that is naturally endowed with acres of fertile farming land begging for who to cultivate them. But the community has suffered lack of bridge across the river Amile, just as they have no electricity and portable water supply since creation of the place.
Although people living in the hinterland of Ichol community are already faced with challenges of the dastardly attacks of herdsmen, at least they still go to their farms. They are also suffering lack of access roads. It is surprising that a trip from Jato-Aka to Adikpo town, the headquarters of Kwande LGA through Ichol which ordinarily should take less than an hour takes over three hours due to the deplorable road and the stress of paddling canoe across the river.
But the agony was recently pushed to the backyard when a gigantic bridge, constructed by the present council chairman of Kwande local government, Mr Bem Tseen in early July, 2014 completed the project and Governor Gabriel Suswam went to commission it.
Because of the fact that the place is interior and the fear of unforeseen attacks by suspected herdsmen, the people massively thronged the river bank to witness the event hence they have suffered lack of basic amenities for too long. It will be recalled that seven persons, including men and women had, in 2013 perished when a canoe capsized in the river. The deceased victims were moving to attend the burial of their relations in another part of the local government.
It was in the mammoth crowd that came to witness the commissioning of the river Amile bridge that our reporter spotted the old man. He was dressed in a sparkling white protective jacket, hand gloves with a black rain boot to match. He held his pumping machine, a Moringa and sunflower plants as he tried to weave his way into the arena.
When the elderly Ibya stood beside people and insisted they shift their ways for him to gain access, little did he know this reporter was among them and the scenario created serious apprehension because one, the people were weary of herdsmen attack and two, he looked uniquely different in his protective attire.
“My name is Jonathan Ibya, I am a bee keeper or farmer as you may want it. I am a retired civil servant and I had worked at Government College, Katsina-Ala as a librarian before I finally bowed out. I am well educated and also travelled far and wide. I am retired but not tired.
“As you can see by my dressing, I am a bee keeper and I harvest honey which I later sell to fend for my family. This is the smoking pump (raising up the pump), this is Moringa flower, this one is Sun flower and I plant them in large quantities, they are all medicinal. Because the bees are attracted to the flowers and always hover around them, they feed on nectar from the flowers. Then I make the beehive where after the bees have consumed the flowers’ nectar, they retire into the hive. Thereafter, I pump the smoke, which has the fragrance of the flowers and this renders the bees docile enough for me to access the honey combs to extract the honey.” Ibya stated.
Ibya who said he has been in the bee keeping business for more than ten years, said “It is a business in which I liaise with foreign partners in the United States and Canada while in Nigeria here I partner with Christian empowerment at Mkar in Gboko and for that I am with the University of Mkar in the library department. You know we do research and I have friends from all parts of the world who visit and induct me.”
Continuing, the retired librarian said, “I have about 20 beehives and each hive contains four boxes, you separate the queen from the workers, a queen bee can lay and produce between 50,000 to 500,000 eggs in its life span of five years. I harvest up to 200 grams of pure honey and if it is not adulterated the bees don’t die inside.
“I need financial support from government so that we can plant more boxes and cultivate more farms. I can just require about N500,000 so that I can buy more boxes and also reach out to people who are interested in it. This can also boost foreign investment. It is a very good business for the aged. One thing that is posing a greater challenge to bee farming is financial support from government and donor agencies. The keeping of bees is delicate and tedious and would require support of all and sundry.”
At the moment, the question many people are asking is, can government at all levels encourage the bee keeping business to boost agriculture and attract foreign investors? Only time shall tell.