Liquid pot of gold, Yemen's honey trade

Published on 13 December 2012 in Business
Ashraf Al-Muraqab (author)

Ashraf Al-Muraqab

Yemen is gaining a global reputation for the diversity of its honey products‭.  ‬Sidr is typically the most expensive variety but it also considered the best quality‭.

Yemen is gaining a global reputation for the diversity of its honey products‭. ‬Sidr is typically the most expensive variety but it also considered the best quality‭.

Due to low start-up costs and a high processing rate, honey production in Yemen is rapidly becoming one of the fastest ways to make money.

Abdulmalik Al-Nour, a university graduate, said, “Beekeeping has become a quick ways to tackle the poverty and unemployment problems that I encountered after I graduated in 2008. Now all I have to do is work for three months as a beekeeper, and I produce enough honey to easily sell it in markets.”

Al-Nour, who has been working as a beekeeper for four years and has four shops selling his produce, said that Yemeni honey is possibly the most famous products in the world. Business is going so well he is now the principle breadwinner for his family.

“This business is guaranteed and profitable. It doesn’t require large amounts of capital. All that is needed is a beehive bought from a farmer. We care for the beehive until it is rich with honey. The honey is then taken out and sold in the local Yemeni market.”

Al-Nour is not the only one who has overcome unemployment though the honey trade.  A number of women are entering the rewarding business as well.

Najwa Mohammed, a mother in her fifties, resorted to beekeeping in order to eke out a living for herself and her seven children.

“The honey I have been producing has helped to provide me with the majority of my income for years. I deal with celebrated honey traders who compete to buy the honey I offer because of its quality,” she said.  

According to Mohammed Bashuaeb, a Yemeni honey trader, Yemeni honey is noted for its high quality due to the type of bees used as well as the variety of pastures. The diversity of hot and cold areas where it is produced, gives Yemeni honey a unique and highly-prized flavor.

He said beekeepers in Yemen do not remove the royal jelly from the beehives like beekeepers in other countries, which makes the honey rich in nutritional value.

To foster business development, many banks and organizations such as the United Nations Development Fund have launch programs to support Yemeni beekeepers.

Al-Nour said there are many types of Yemeni honey, the most important of which is Al-Jardani. One kilogram of this honey is sold for up to $100. However, prices vary with one kilogram of Al-Sidr honey selling for $60 and other types being sold for as little as $25.

He called on the government to care more about Yemen's burgeoning honey industry by increasing marketing activities and supporting beekeepers with training courses to improve the production process. Al-Nour said that the honey business can contribute to decreasing unemployment and increasing the country's national income.

In 2003, the Yemeni government approved honey as one of the strategic products in the country aimed at increasing exports.  

For his part, Rashad Al-Bahrami, an owner of a honey center, said, "Though there are different types of Yemeni honey, they are all very good quality. Sidr is the most expensive kind of honey in Yemen and the best in quality. It has a great value in curing many kinds of diseases such as coughing, anemia, asthma, stomach and colon ulcers. People resort to this kind of honey as a medicine because it is free of any artificial additives."

Moqbel Shubaita, another owner of a honey center said that natural honey can be recognized by its smell, color and taste. Each type has different taste. Sidr is very sweet and therefore known as the fruit of honey. Al-Sal is another type of honey and is known for its slightly spicy taste, similar to black pepper. It makes the body warm so it’s used to heal chest ailments.

Speaking about honey's medicinal qualities, Shubaita said that each type of honey is used to treat certain types of diseases. Al-Silm, for example, is known as the diabetics' honey, as it contains a high proportion of fructose, which does not cause high blood sugar and also activates the pancreas to produce insulin.

 The Ministry of Agriculture’s official statistics indicate that Yemen’s production of honey during the three past years has increased to 5,000 tons a year and an annual revenue of YR13 billion ($80 million).

 According to information given by the ministry, the number of bee cells in Yemen is now more than 1,280,000.   Honey production between 2010 and 2011 increased by 15,697 kilograms.


Honey marketing

Sidr production starts in mid-September and goes through the beginning of November. Al-Nour said that beekeepers collect honey using the traditional way by keeping the honeycomb inside a glass container and then putting it in sunlight for 12 hours so that the honey can escape and be captured.

The statistics of the Agriculture Ministry pointed out that Gulf markets import the great quantities of Yemeni honey at 500 tons each year. This is estimated to produce $13 million and experts say the market is ripe for expansion.

Doctor Mohammed Al-Qoa’ari, an economics expert and head of the New Media Center, said that these statistics could be higher due to a lack of established exporting methods and the market's dependence on foreigners to bring honey abroad.

He added that the amount of Yemeni honey produced is still under the required level to become a substantial source of income for the country. However, he said honey is one of the cash crops that could become a major revenue source in Yemen.