“Made in South Sudan” Honey Highlights Economic Potential and Challenges for Local EnterprisesAug 4, 2017
“Due to the wild forests the bees feed on, the taste of the honey you get from South Sudan is very particular, it’s distinctive and rich. We’ve found people really like it,” said Matata Safi Khamis, Country Representative for Honey Care Africa in South Sudan, as he highlighted how the company produced the first-ever national export to Japan with their locally-sourced and bottled honey.
Explaining the comparative advantages of local honey was part of Matata’s pitch to showcase Honey Care South Sudan at the recent “Made in South Sudan” exhibition held in Juba. Matata served on the committee who worked with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, in partnership with UNDP, to organize the five-day marquee event.
“The ‘Made in South Sudan’ exhibition was a welcome, much-needed event for us. We were so happy for this opportunity for South Sudanese entrepreneurs to showcase their products,” said Matata. “People at the exhibition were shocked to find out Honey Care is made right here in South Sudan, many attendees told us they had assumed our products, like so many others, were being imported.”
More than sixty business enterprises participated in the event which was designed to spark conversation on critical issues affecting business and industry in South Sudan.
“Despite the recent challenges we have faced, there is a lot of hope and a lot of interest from the outside world and there are many investors who would like to come to South Sudan,” he said. “I personally came into contact with an investor who came from Rwanda, also in the honey business,” which led to an informative discussion on further expanding into the regional market.
Honey Care Africa focuses on partnering with farmers and communities to develop sustainable beekeeping capabilities across multiple countries in East Africa and won UNDP’s Equator Initiative Prize at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.
According to the company, Honey Care South Sudan exported 60 metric tons of honey from South Sudan to Kenya from 2014-2015. By mid-2016, when the crisis in Juba erupted, the company had exported only one harvest of 17 metric tons. Local production should have provided another harvest season later in the year but due to the insecurity it never materialized.
“This year we decided we could not do any exporting since we do not have the volume of supply necessary. We’ve had to shift our business strategy,” said Matata.
The bulk of the beekeepers supplying Honey Care South Sudan with raw honey are located in the Greater Equatoria region. Through locally-based “cluster managers”, Honey Care helps local communities form groups, train in beekeeping, and invest in necessary equipment. Honey Care provides the farmers with free buckets for the collection and transport of the honey to the main processing facility in Juba. Prior to 2016, there were four cluster managers representing Honey Care in the field, and they were working with an estimated 1,600 beekeepers across South Sudan.
“Due to the fighting in the Equatorias, most of the farmers we were working with are now either in refugee camps or remain in the villages producing but without the ability to get their honey to the market on a reliable basis,” reported Matata.
Honey Care is relying on middle man suppliers who are willing to go into remote areas to collect the individual buckets of honey and deliver them to Honey Care South Sudan. While business is surviving and pockets of local beekeepers are still producing honey, the additional costs are making profit margins slimmer.
“Doing business in South Sudan is an issue of finance. You need to have the resources, both monetary and human, to do better. Everything is expensive and meanwhile the economic situation in the country means everyone’s buying power has gone down,” said Matata.
Buying honey for most people in South Sudan is a luxury at this time, as families face up to 800 percent food price inflation according to World Bank figures. More than 5 million people in the country are chronically food insecure. These economic and humanitarian realities have lead Honey Care to try innovating on local products that are more affordable and more nutritional.
“We know most South Sudanese cannot afford to have two or three meals per day. But people still need to eat and they have to adapt with a heavy meal maybe once per day, and lighter meals in between,” explained Matata.
The team is exploring creating an “energy bar” type of product which will combine peanuts, honey, and sesame seeds, and be fortified with essential nutrients. They have tested recipes on the local market already, including a version of the “sim sim” snack. Honey Care hopes one of these options could become a popular choice for the broader South Sudanese public.
“It’s hard to create a viable product but our core interest is to make food at an affordable price point for the local market,” said Matata, maintaining Honey Care South Sudan’s commitment as a “Made in South Sudan” company to first serve and supply the local communities.
While the official theme of the “Made in South Sudan” exhibition was “Together Promoting South Sudan Business and Industrial Development”, the challenges faced by local businesses and the solutions being advocated for were echoed repeatedly by participants and organizers alike.
“If there was peace, we would have broken even a long time ago,” said Matata.
A flourishing private sector, and particularly vibrant small and medium businesses in both rural and urban areas, will be a key determinant of future prosperity in South Sudan. But prosperity will not come without sustainable peace.
“No country benefits when it’s perpetually in crisis. Any country benefits when it continuously pursues options and opportunities in the private sector,” emphasized UNDP Country Director Dr. Kamil Kamaluddeen during remarks at the exhibition.
Businesses like Honey Care South Sudan are finding ways to survive in the meantime. They’ve invested in an all-terrain truck which, once safety improves, will eliminate the need for independent suppliers and be capable of accessing all 1,600 beekeepers they were working with before, and potentially more.
“Resilience is part of us, we know it may be difficult but we are thinking big,” said Matata. “We are hoping with all necessary actors playing their part, that peace will be realized, and when that happens then what happens next is easy for us to do. We are ready to go.”