Mabela is keeping the legacy of beekeeping in her family alive. She is a third-generation beekeeper who specialises in organic honey production. Mabela launched The Native Nosi in 2015 with the aim of producing local, quality pure honey, alleviating poverty through job creation and providing rural beekeepers with access to urban markets.

“In South Africa, beekeeping was historically never part of the basic academic curricula in agriculture,” she says. “Therefore, your average South African knows very little about bees and their role in the ecosystem value chain. This limited knowledge results in little interest in beekeeping and therefore leaves very few individuals to practise it and produce enough honey (and its by-products) for the country.

Understanding the bee business

Several bee species across the globe are heading towards extinction, which would have a huge impact on agriculture and food production. Mabela says we need more beekeepers to help preserve bees and produce honey.

“Ordinary citizens who have no interest in beekeeping can help by planting more trees and plants that are bee-friendly, as habitat loss is one of the factors contributing to the global bee population decline. Bees are responsible for one in every three spoons of food you eat. Without them, there won’t be any fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.”

Furthermore, it’s important for South Africans to consume honey, wax and by-products that are produced organically and locally. Imported honey products have to be irradiated in order to limit South Africans to the exposure of impurities and diseases.

“Although this process is done with good intent, it destroys all the nutrients and delicate properties for which honey is known. When you buy local, you consume natural, quality honey that has not been subjected to any processing,” explains Mabela.

A learning curve

When Mabela first launched her company, she encountered many challenges. The startup capital required to buy beehives and processing equipment was high. She tackled this by buying honey from her father and other beekeepers and selling it to raise enough money to buy beehives, increasing her production and securing her own supply.

“I also won R27 500 through a pitch competition sponsored by SAB, Standard Bank and The Hook Up Dinner, which I used to buy the equipment I needed. The challenge to grow commercially and become relevant to leading retailers is still ongoing, but we are not backing down,” she says.

The Native Nosi sells about 200kg of honey every month and Mabela is working on scaling her production up to at least 1 000kg to meet the demand. She also plans to grow her company into the biggest honey producer in South Africa within the next 10 years.

“We are here to change the game and smash stereotypes about young, black, females in business and agriculture. We are here to stay!” she concludes.

Mabela’s tip for success

“Just start. Starting is often the most difficult step. Once you start, you are able to get a lot of the fear out the way and get on with the real business.”