Nepal: Bees Keep T...

Women carrying baskets through a field of flowers in Nepal. © Simone D. McCourtie/World BankWomen carrying baskets through a field of flowers in Nepal. © Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

Nepal: Bees Keep This Small Start-Up Busy

Mahalaxmi Shrestha became a successful entrepreneur by working tirelessly to improve the quality of every jar of honey. Today, her growing business continues to expand and reach new markets.

Given its rich biodiversity, Nepal has reached less than 10% of its great potential for producing honey. As international markets begin to recognize the high-quality of the country’s honey, one expert beekeeper and trained botanist has turned her love for bees and honey into a booming agribusiness. 

For the Love of Honey

While most of us fear bees, Shrestha has always been fascinated with them. Her love for honey began while she was studying for her master’s in botany. Later, as an analyst for SNV Netherlands, she specialized in pollen and honey. Shrestha decided to quit her job, pursue her dreams, and launch her own company, The Beekeeping Shop, in 1996.

Today, The Beekeeping Shop offers a wide range of honey and honey products, which have become highly regarded for their premium quality.

Given the lack of quality control mechanisms in Nepal, the market is flooded with low-quality honey products. Shrestha's competitive advantage lies in her technical expertise and research background, which has enabled her to develop stringent in-house quality testing mechanisms leading to superior products. In 2014, Shrestha was recognized by the Ministry of Industry and awarded “Best Women Entrepreneur.”

It’s an exciting time for the Nepali honey market, which has reached less than 10% of its potential. “Our nation is rich in biodiversity and Nepali honey is now recognized internationally for its high quality. 1,650 metric tons of honey is produced annually and the potential is tremendous,” Shrestha says. “As large-scale investments are yet to be made, honey production is still a small business activity, though there is tremendous opportunity to grow.”

The Beekeeping Shop has identified Apis Mellifera, the world’s most common and most productive honey bee, as the ideal species for commercial honey production on a larger scale. Shrestha’s team also provides grass-roots level support for beekeeping. However, she realized that she was missing the marketing expertise needed to aggressively expand sales.

Getting the Buzz Out: Scaling Up Marketing and Sales

With the support of eight employees, Shrestha buys honey from 10 aggregators, who collect from over 60 farmers. She then personally administers the quality tests on each product, which are sold through 30 retailers, a few bulk buyers, and of course, their own Beekeeping Shop.

In addition to honey, Shrestha also develops beeswax creams and candles, and their shop sells beekeeping equipment. Although The Beekeeping Shop exports to Japan and Thailand, Shrestha acknowledged that her business would perform even better with professional help.

In Nepal, small agribusinesses like hers often struggle with developing broad distribution networks and large marketing campaign. These challenges were compounded by Shrestha’s own difficulty with accounting. Thus, despite growing competition, she was apprehensive about taking on new loans for expansion.  

Last year, Shrestha joined a pilot program of infoDev’s Nepal Agribusiness Innovation Center. The program provided technical training in business management, sales, and marketing. With the work plan infoDev team’s developed, Shrestha is confident that she will increase her sales by 30% over the coming year.

infoDev's support has been timely as I have been planning to grow but did not understand the finer nuances of structuring my thoughts and implementing them,” Shrestha says.

She feels she is now ready to scale her business, which will also improve the lives of the farmers and other stakeholders in her sector. As a client of the Nepal Agribusiness Center, Shrestha continues to receive support on her marketing strategy and financial projections as The Beekeeping Shop begins to scale up.

Shrestha (second from the left) regularly showcases her products at local and regional exhibitions. © The Beekeeping Shop
Shrestha (second from the left)  showcases her products at local and regional exhibitions. © The Beekeeping Shop 

More Bees, More Sales, and More Empowered Women

In recent months, the company’s sales have increased by 30% and crossed USD $65,000, enabling the team to hire four additional employees.

Looking forward, Shrestha hopes to double sales in two years, hire 10 more staff, and indirectly source from 150+ farmers. To meet these goals, Shrestha is working to improve branding, increase the distribution network, and expand into new export markets.

Beyond being an accomplished botanist and successful entrepreneur, Shrestha is also an executive member of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association, the leading women’s entrepreneur body of Nepal. Shrestha is committed to being a community leader and an advocate for women-led businesses. At The Beekeeping Shop, she has hired women for 50% of her staff, whom she provides equal pay.

In her continuous research, Shrestha is constantly trying out new flavors and products, training more farmers, improving quality analysis, providing additional beekeeping services, and investing in new equipment. She hopes to pass on her knowledge on to the many deserving women whom she comes in touch with. For Shrestha, success means not only growing her business, but also inspiring more women entrepreneurs like her. 

Building on the success and lessons learned from The Beekeeping Shop and other firms, the Nepal Agribusiness Innovation Center will support over 150 high-growth agro-processing companies over the next 18 months. The center, launched in April 2017, was made possible with support from the Nepal’s Ministry of Agricultural Development-World Bank Group Project for Agriculture Commercialization and Trade, and technical assistance provided by infoDev with funding from the governments of Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

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