Thin plastic frame improves income for beekeepers

The African Honey Bee company in Pretoria in South Africa was specifically established to assist poor communities in setting up viable beekeepers and beekeeping businesses. The company’s founder believes that in order to keep costs down, farmers should collaborate with their neighbours in these types of projects. Carien Kruger spoke to him.

According to Guy Stubbs, founder of African Honey Bee, the thinner plastic frame costs less and lasts longer than the traditional wooden frame, resulting in improved profits for the beekeeper. The Afri-frame is a thin plastic frame that fits perfectly in existing supers.

Whereas traditional frames are 35 mm wide, the Afri-frame is only 32 mm wide and can thus accommodate 11 frames instead of the normal 10 in each super. Research has shown that the average space between honeycombs in southern African wild bee colonies is 32 mm.

Guy established African Honey Bee in 2007 with the goal of assisting individuals in poorer communities to become beekeepers.

In 2011, while trying to find out what equipment and methods would be the most suitable, he collaborated with Anton Schehle, who is well known in beekeeping circles. Armed with Anton’s advice and that of plastics developer Craig Botha, he developed the Afri-frame.

The plastic frame has a starter strip underneath the top bar which is smeared with beeswax before it is inserted in the super – a beeswax foundation is thus unnecessary. Guy points out that because the bee space is natural, the bees build directly onto the smeared starter strip.

Nixon Kalumbu, one of African Honey Bee’s beekeeping partners, cuts a honey-filled comb out of an Afri-frame.

Because the frame is the same size as the super, the distance from top to bottom for the bees to build honeycomb is shorter than building a comb on a brood box frame (which is double the size). The beekeeper can then also transport the hive without the honeycomb breaking off the frame.

Once the frame is full of honeycomb, it is tapped lightly on the side of a container and the honeycomb falls out. This ensures that old honeycomb is not re-used and the problem of wax moth is prevented.

The plastic Afri-frame is thinner than a traditional wooden frame. This allows for 11 instead of 10 frames per super. Because the “bee space” is correct, the bees build their honeycomb on the starter strip without needing a beeswax foundation.

Gravity system

Guy says that wire is not used to support the honeycomb as he doesn’t use honey extractors to get the honey out of the comb. He uses a simple gravity system of multiple filters through which the honey drips. In this way, he says, the natural flavour of the honey is maintained.


The middle part of the frame’s top bar is 8 mm narrower on both sides to give the queen bee space to move. Stubbs says that he normally uses three supers for a production-sized hive. The queen bee remains in the middle super and the honey is harvested from the sides.

The frame is designed in such a way to make it easier to keep clean, so that micro-organisms, parasites and fungi can’t take hold. The frame weighs 90 grams in comparison to a wooden frame of similar dimensions which can weigh about 200 grams.

The distance from top to bottom for the bees to build honeycomb is shorter than building a comb on a brood box frame (which is double the size).

Guy, who is based in Centurion, Pretoria, sells the frames at R11 each (K8-50) excluding shipping. The minimum quantity to export to Zambia is 1600 units, so farmers will have to buy either cooperatively or pick up smaller orders in South Africa.

African Honey Bee’s custom-made stand, with the cage and lock. Beekeepers learn how to place branches between the hives to help the bees to navigate to the same hive every time.

Enquiries: The Afri-frame can be viewed on the website, or send an SMS with the word “catalogue” and your email address to Guy Stubbs on +7282 454 1028.


Nectar for upliftment – more about Guy Stubbs

Beekeeping can offer a source of income for poorer people, says Guy Stubbs, founder of African Honey Bee.

Guy is an acclaimed photographer and describes himself as a Christian social entrepreneur. Thanks to improved pollination, beekeeping also offers the wider benefit of better harvests.

Guy reckons the potential of locally produced honey in southern Africa is very good. In South Africa, for instance, local beekeepers only produces about one third of the 3 000 tons the is consumed per year.

African Honey Bee offers a SAQA-accredited apprenticeship in the company’s methods of beekeeping and sells handbooks and equipment. In 2011, the company started a small business development centre for beekeeping in the Bosbokrand district.

Guy estimates that a beekeeper with 30 hives with healthy swarms should be able to generate an income equivalent to the minimum yearly wage for a farm worker. His advice to farmers interested in such a project for their farm workers is to partner with neighbours to achieve economies of scale.

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