Ketisha Allen - Spinning liquid gold by the drop

All Woman

HOLLAND Bamboo is world-renowned for the towering green arches that are included in its name.

But there's much more to this part of western St Elizabeth than the bamboo. Like much of the parish, the area is prime agricultural land, hosting a variety of plant and tree crops.

There's also logwood. The tree, once a source of black dye, helped to make the fortunes of the parish and to bring amenities like a railroad and electricity to towns like Black River and Santa Cruz. And where there are logwood trees, there are invariably bees.

Ketisha Allen knows this all too well, having been introduced to apiculture at an early age by her brother, as well as by the sight of a rooftop hive in her neighbourhood. At first she operated on mere curiosity, not even knowing the basics on apiculture, honey extraction and production. In time, the young farmer moved to having her own hive, but was financially strapped and thus unable to afford all the equipment necessary to expand her activity.

Nevertheless, Allen, along with her husband, kept herself informed and attended trainings offered by the Apiculture Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture.

“Through those contacts, I got a link to Food for the Poor, and they were instrumental, through their Agriculture Support Programme, in getting us more established,” she says.

“More established” meant the provision of 10 colonies of bees, protective suits and other assistance. That was in 2018. Almost three years on, Ketisha boasts 75 colonies, and she recently (January-March this year) harvested some 30 buckets of honey, with a local market value of over $1.5 million. She has established her own brand, St Bess Golden Honey Drops, and has been utilising social media (primarily YouTube) to get the word out.

Allen has also planted sweet potatoes, sweet peppers and pineapples — and these have the added benefit of being planted in proximity to the hives, offering a “sweetener”, if you will, to the expanding bee population. In this “sweet life” even her four-year-old son is getting in on the act. “I'm going to have to get him his own suit; he is so enthusiastic about it,” she said.

For her part, Food for the Poor's Marsha Burrell-Rose sums up the organisation's interest and activity: “We here are really gratified to be able, through the Agricultural Support Programme, to contribute to the improvement in quality of life that agricultural activity is affording Ketisha and her family. This kind of work is increasingly integral to our organisation, because when we improve living standards in this way, we impact the entire community and by extension, the country.”

And Allen is not stopping there. Rather, she's daring to dream big, with plans to reach at least 500 hives over the next three years. This will facilitate increased honey production not only for the domestic market, but for export, as well as the creation of honey-based consumer products and even the commercial extraction of bee pollen, a substance increasingly prized both as a dietary supplement and treatment for various ailments.

All that may be some ways in the future, but Ketisha Allen is mindful of just how far she has come as a full-fledged apiculturist/entrepreneur and, utilising the support she has received from Food for the Poor and others, she's ready to go the distance.

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