Vietnam: Keeping bees more than a honey spinner

Farmer Vo Van Kiet took to keeping bees as a way to pull himself out of poverty. He soon became so successful he was called on to share his knowledge with other war veterans. Phan Anh reports.

Returning home after completing a military mission to save Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge's genocide in 1987, Vo Van Kiet decided to bring his family out of poverty once and for all.

That thought brought him to bee farming in his poor home village in the southern province of Ben Tre.

Rising from failure

Kiet's parents left very little capital to him: only an old bicycle and a mace of gold. "Holding that gold piece in my hands, I hesitated for so long. Finally, I decided to use it as a mortgage to raise colonies of bees," he says.

So Kiet raised 30 colonies as an experiment. As he applied techniques he learned from other bee keepers in the region, his colonies started to really take off. When he harvested the first drop of honey, his family was filled with immense joy.

But then bad things started to happen. The bees died en masse; many flew away.

When he started digging into the cause of these problems, Kiet realized that he was using the wrong techniques to take care of the bees. Facing the risk of bankruptcy - all his capital was invested in the hives - Kiet determined to rebuild his enterprise from scratch.

To obtain capital, he worked as a builder. He also visited bee keepers to learn how to care for bees and prevent them from getting diseases like those which had felled his previous swarms. Gradually, he restored the bee population.

In addition to honey, Kiet also sells pollen, bee nests, and honey processing equipment.

Thanks to his diversified business, his enterprise has been successful.

"I have ventured to invest my capital in joint ventures. In addition to selling my own honey, I also work with other bee farmers making the same product. This is a major turning point in my career," Kiet says.

To expand into US and European markets required higher honey production and better quality. In 2006, Kiet decided to expand his business to the Central and Northern regions.

Kiet recalls that his trip to the North was truly a challenge for him. Some local people believed that the bees would destroy their crops, so they wanted to destroy the beekeeping facilities. "I had spent nearly 20 years as a bee keeper. How could I abandon all that? I patiently explained to the local people how bee pollination could be beneficial for crops, and how raising bees would create more jobs for them," says Kiet, who has now built more than 100 bee facilities all over the country.

In 2012, he established Vo Kiet Bee Honey Company to export Vietnamese honey.

Each year Kiet earns about VND2 billion (more than US$95,000), which has enabled him to build a spacious house in District 12 of HCM City. He also creates jobs for many children of war veterans by giving them advice on bee keeping techniques and offering financial support when they came to visit his farm.

"Five years ago, I was a normal worker, and my life conditions were so poor," says Nguyen Thanh Tam, a bee keeper in the central province of Quang Binh. "Thanks to Kiet, who taught me bee keeping techniques and offered capital to my family, we became better off. For me, he is not only a teacher of bee farming, but also an elder brother."

Kiet also participates in frequent charity activities, such as supporting victims of floods and other natural disasters and contributing money to build charity houses.

Talking about his work, Kiet says he feels responsible for helping others escape poverty as he once experienced.

"Bee keeping is easy but also hard," Kiet says. "Easy for those who are keen to learn and want to stay in the job for a long time. But it is difficult for people who do not invest in techniques. Farmers must be ingenious and diligent - like bees." — VNS

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