THE SWEET TASTE OF SUC­CESS

SOUTH AFRICA IS HOME TO TWO IN­DIGE­NOUS BEE SPECIES – THE AFRICAN AND THE CAPE BEE – AND PRO­DUCES ENOUGH HONEY TO SUP­PLY LO­CAL DE­MAND. BUT MORE THAN HALF OF ALL HONEY SOLD IN THE COUN­TRY IS IM­PORTED. MOKGADI MABELA IS WORK­ING TO CHANGE THAT.

In Flight Magazine - - TOTALLY TASTY - { TEXT: SU­LAIMAN PHILIP / WWW.BRANDSOUTHAFRICA.COM

Na­tive Nosi is a lo­cal honey brand. It sells raw honey har­vested by small-scale ru­ral farm­ers. This is what makes her honey bet­ter than most brands you find on su­per­mar­ket shelves, says owner Mokgadi Mabela. “I can tell you ex­actly where the honey in ev­ery pot comes from. With other hon­eys, some other pro­cessed hon­eys, you can’t re­ally tell its ori­gins. It once was honey but all the good en­zymes that make it honey have been re­moved.”

Mabela bubbles like a child show­ing off her favourite toy when she talks about honey, her en­thu­si­asm ev­i­dent in ev­ery word that tum­bles from her mouth as she talks non-stop. Na­tive Nosi sells about 200 kg of honey ev­ery month but she is work­ing on scal­ing that up to at least 1,000 kg be­cause she of­ten can­not meet de­mand.

For now, Na­tive Nosi honey can be bought di­rectly from Mabela or tasted at restau­rants around Gaut­eng. “Word of mouth has been the biggest rea­son for our growth. Some­one will have some honey at a friend’s house and get our num­ber. This is how we’ve grown – this per­son wants some and then the next per­son wants some. I don’t ad­ver­tise for­mally and al­ready I am over­whelmed.”

Her in­abil­ity to meet de­mand is prompt­ing Na­tive Nosi to grow or­gan­i­cally. She started by buy­ing honey from her fa­ther, Peter Mabela, a bee­keeper, and sell­ing that to friends and col­leagues. As de­mand grew he tapped into his net­work of farm­ers .“Even­tu­ally I started buy­ing my own bee­hives and would set them up where my fa­ther had his. I al­ways seem to be chas­ing quan­tity. Peo­ple like my honey be­cause it’s au­then­tic. Peo­ple want to know where their food comes from and how their food is pro­duced and I can tell them that.”

She had, she ad­mits, much to learn about the busi­ness of honey and the en­ter­prise of bee­keep­ing. Dif­fer­ent hon­eys be­have dif­fer­ently, she be­gins. “Some honey bubbles and you need to leave it to rest for a while af­ter you har­vest. Sun­flower honey crys­tallises quicker and has a beau­ti­ful colour. Then you get avo honey. It’s so dark – deep black – but it’s beau­ti­ful.The flavour is lovely and it doesn’t crys­tallise.”

Mabela’s favourite is Na­tive Nosi’s blend of hon­eys har­vested from bee­hives in sun­flower fields and avo or­chards. She says it is a beau­ti­fully coloured honey that’s not overly sweet. Learn­ing to mix those to­gether, learn­ing the art of bee­keep­ing, how to set up hives, and build­ing a net­work of sup­pli­ers has taken her time.

She makes all her own honey and buys raw honey from small farm­ers in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in Lim­popo, Gaut­eng and Mpumalanga. They are of­ten ex­ploited be­cause they do not have ac­cess to mar­kets, she says. Her an­noy­ance is hard to hide as

she ex­plains that buy­ers would of­fer farm­ers “R20 a kilo­gram, know­ing they can sell it for R50 a kilo”.

“Th­ese are small farm­ers in ru­ral ar­eas who do not have ac­cess to mar­kets. They are all sub­sis­tence farm­ers who use bees to pol­li­nate their crops. Honey is a by-prod­uct. They don’t have ac­cess to a mar­ket for their honey so they sell it cheap be­cause it’s not their pri­or­ity. I am try­ing to change that. Giv­ing them a mar­ket and a fair price.”

THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN COM­PANY

Na­tive Nosi ex­ists be­cause Mabela was look­ing for an au­then­tic prod­uct.The beauty of her busi­ness, she laughs, is that they don’t even work hard. “The bees do all the work.We sim­ply take what the bees make and give it to clients.”

Mabela is still learn­ing from her dad, Peter. She is the third gen­er­a­tion of her fam­ily to work with bees. Her grand­fa­ther was the first. “He was a teacher, but he al­ways wanted to be a farmer. But his fa­ther was adamant that he was go­ing to be a teacher.”

Af­ter re­turn­ing from World War II, her grand­fa­ther used his sav­ings to buy land and be­gan farm­ing. He kept live­stock and planted sea­sonal crops. “He had a few bee­hives be­cause he un­der­stood the role they played in pol­li­nat­ing his crops.”

Her fa­ther fol­lowed his fa­ther into agri­cul­ture, this time con­cen­trat­ing on bee­keep­ing. Mabela never felt that she would fol­low in his foot­steps. Af­ter high school, she left home to study po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Uni­ver­sity of Pre­to­ria.

Asked if she, a farmer’s daugh­ter, had ever con­sid­ered go­ing into the fam­ily busi­ness, she an­swers with­out hes­i­tat­ing. “No. Never. We weren’t re­ally ex­posed to my fa­ther’s op­er­a­tions. I’d never stud­ied it, I was never re­ally part of his work. At that point farm­ing was in­tim­i­dat­ing to con­tem­plate.And farm­ing is not cool.”

Mabela pauses for a thought be­fore adding: “En­trepreneur­ship is also in­tim­i­dat­ing.” So why did she start Na­tive Nosi? About six years ago her fa­ther fell ill and for the first time Mabela se­ri­ously con­sid­ered fol­low­ing his path.

“My fa­ther was ill, very ill, and my mother called me. She said no-one had any idea where his bee­hives were or what was go­ing on with his busi­ness. We were both think­ing that should he die, it would be a cry­ing shame that we would not be able to trace his legacy. That’s when I se­ri­ously be­gan think­ing about the honey busi­ness.”

As he re­cu­per­ated, Mabela be­gan talk­ing to her fa­ther about learn­ing the busi­ness and maybe, one day, tak­ing over from him. She grins as she re­calls that her fa­ther did not take her se­ri­ously at first. “You would have to climb Mount Kil­i­man­jaro to get a com­pli­ment out of my fa­ther. But I know he’s very proud. I see it in his sense of ur­gency to help me or when he in­vites me to do hive in­spec­tions. He is do­ing a han­dover in a way.”

| IMAGES © OP­TIX PHO­TOG­RA­PHY (@OPTIXLEGACY) AND VINMEISTER (@VNMSTR) }

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