By Brian Ssenoga
In Bigolo village, about 20 km from Kamwenge town, apiculture (bee keeping) is an extensive exercise, with almost every family boasting a number of hives in their back yards. For some, the bee keeping practice is a cross generational thing while others are learning to keep bees using mostly traditional methods.
Apiculture plays a major role in the livelihoods of these rural communities for its crop pollination services, medicinal value, as well as lucrative income-generating activity but also for brewing “Enturire” a local beer, craved by many in the area.
However, this trend is slowly but steadily changing as community members are increasingly taking up beekeeping as a commercial enterprise despite the traditional tools still being used. Thanks to the Kamwenge Bee Keepers Cooperative Society (KABECOS).
Founded by 18 local bee keepers in early 2004, Kabecos was registered the following year with 33 members and currently boasts 759 members half of which are women.
“There was ready market for honey in Kamwenge especially among the local brewers. They use honey to make Enturire. At the time bee keepers were producing honey mainly for home consumption,” explains George Tunanukye, KABECOS executive director.
He observes that at the time of starting the cooperative, apiculture was seen as one of the dead areas, “and for the old tired farmers with rudimentary skills. Most of us were producing honey for their home consumption, selling a little surplus but also used to throw away a lot of other useful hive products such as wax and propolis.
He adds, “Either we didn’t know the value attached or we couldn’t find the market. Today, everything is primarily for sale, although we encourage the locals to remain with some to use as a table meal, and for medicinal purposes. But it’s mostly for sale, the demand is always high, the prices are good and volumes keep increasing as per the season”
At the start of the project George Rukatanga (65) had only 80 hives, currently he boasts of 200 bee hives in total, about 160 already colonized. The hives are in themselves a spectacle to behold, designed differently from the conventional method of hoisting the boxes in tree canopies.
At Rukatanga’s, the hives are set slightly low on the rocks or tree stumps on the ground and, this is for two reasons; the first is to ease the process of setting up the hives and harvesting since it does not involve the burdensome and risky task of climbing onto trees. This is especially important since almost half of the cooperative’s members are women and elderly.
“Besides, climbing trees is traditionally viewed as taboo for women. Those that hung their hives in trees are usually looking to attract straybees swarming overhead from as far as possible” says Birungi Phiona
Following a series of trainings most members make the hives themselves using locally available materials by cutting tree trunks and hollowing them, molding using clay, then sealing off the ends with dung, only leaving small holes through which the bees can enter.
“Other materials include mud mixed with cow dung, reeds or bamboo even broken pots. Anything can make a hive,” Michael Kamanzi a member of the cooperative explains, “When the hives are dry and ready to use, with the use of lemon grass I kindle a fire that burns to produce smoke at the holes, and it attracts the bees. That is in case I don’t have the bees wax for baiting,”
Though harvest depends on seasons, with more yields expected during the dry season when there is plenty of food for the bees. Last year the cooperative collected 17 tonnes of honey.
Mr Kamanzi adds, “We are likely to surpass it this year, because we have already knocked the 15 tonnes mark even before the main season.”
However, this stands to show there is even more potential for Uganda than the claimed 500,000 metric tonnes a year.
“The sector needs to be quantified. You know those (500,000 tones) are just estimations, imagine what Kamwenge alone is producing, just a handful of farmers how about if it is just half of the population in the district, then take it to the scale of Uganda, the results can be incredible” Tunanukye cheeps in.
Last year, the Department of Entomology, Ministry of Agriculture reported a rise in the volumes of honey produced across the country.
In 2014/2015, it was 12,500 tonnes up from 5,000 tonnes almost a decade earlier in 2005/2006. It is against the estimated exponential production potential of 500,000 metric tonnes per year.
According to sources who preferred anonymity the district is planning to integrate Bee keeping in the basic health and nutrition program since it is already stated in the operation wealth creation.