IT had been her ambition from childhood to be an entrepreneur, so while in school, Judith Akos Atamah, a young woman from Ho in the Volta region of Ghana, tried her hands on a few petty trading activities.
But her giant leap into the world of business came during her national service in 2013 while serving with the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission in Takoradi, Ghana’s western port city.
‘We were on the field at one of the forest reserves, where beekeeping was going on, and one of the forest guards introduced me to beekeeping as something I could try. I got trained in it and started in 2014,’ she told Xinhua.
Today, with her cluster of apiaries and other out-growers she trained, Atamah’s company JA24 Foods harvests an average of 2,000 litres of honey per month for packaging and distribution in 13 of the 16 regions of Ghana.
‘Beekeeping is very exciting, and the bees are like human beings, the way you treat them determines how they work for you. We set hives at certain times of the year, especially in the dry season when bees split, and use essential oils and honeycombs to bait the bees,’ she said.
‘When the flies are drawn into these hives and are comfortable enough in them, they stay, sleep, eat, and produce honey for harvest,’ the young entrepreneur added.
Initially, she said, with all the right conditions in place, the honey matures in eight months, but with time, this duration reduces to six months, depending on the nectar sources coupled with regular checks.
From the start, she said one needed to visit the apiary every week, ‘but when the bees become comfortable, you can even visit the apiary once in two weeks. So, you could keep bees on a part-time basis and get the same results as someone keeping it full time.’
‘Beekeeping has high prospects because there is a growing demand for organic honey, as people who watch their diets to prevent lifestyle diseases chose honey over refined sugar,’ said Atamah, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Ghana.
But again, she added that ‘people are also worried about the quality of all the honey on the market, so if you are into beekeeping and people trust the quality of your honey, then you are in good business.’
‘At JA24 Foods, our honey gained acceptance because of the quality. Our selling proposition is the consistent quality we offer to the consumer. If you bought our products today and return ten years later, you are sure to find the same quality or even better,’ she said.
‘Our honey is completely organic, with no additives. All we do after harvesting is to sieve to remove dead bees and debris before distribution to supermarkets, pharmacies, and organic food shops because the Food and Drugs Authority does not permit packaging with all the debris in it,’ she added.
‘There are simple ways to test for the quality of honey. One way is that honey does not wet surfaces. So if you drop pure honey on a piece of paper and turn the back of the paper, the back should remain dry,’ Atamah said.
Besides the vast local market for honey, she said, there was also a global market, including the European market with a high demand for Ghanaians to export honey, duty-free, quota-free under the partial Economic Partnership Agreement signed between Ghana and the European Union.
‘But since 2017, we could not even meet local demands, let alone trying to export. With all local beekeepers, the honey produced is not enough to meet the local demands, so should someone go into beekeeping to export honey, there is a huge international market for it,’ she added.
Moreover, Atamah said the start of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) with Ghana hosting the secretariat was another golden opportunity for Ghanaian beekeepers.
So far, Atamah’s JA24 Foods Company employs 16 permanent hands with six more as commission sales agents in the regions. Her employees include Henry Amewugah, her course mate in the university, now her head of sales. These are besides the employees of her out-growers.
‘It is a good job creation avenue for the youth especially, and our initiative provides jobs for many. We only hope that it grows to create more jobs and reduce unemployment in our small way, to make life better for Ghanaians,’ she stated.
‘We have recently added virgin coconut oil packaging to our business. What we need now is financing to mechanise our packaging processes and venture into large-scale agro-processing to provide organic and healthy food for consumers and create more jobs and wealth in the economy,’ she said.
‘The youth out there searching for jobs can as well venture into agriculture to help develop the agricultural value chain and create jobs for themselves,’ Atamah urged.