Maruzi Bee Keepers’ Association: Empowering Rural Women Farmers Through Modern Honey Bee Keeping Practices

Speech by Rose Akaki at Commission on Status of Women WFO/GFAR’s Parallel Event, “Empowering Rural Women Through Agricultural Innovation”
12 March 2014
United Nations, New York

MARUZI BEE KEEPERS’ ASSOCIATION: EMPOWERING RURAL WOMEN FARMERS THROUGH MODERN HONEY BEE KEEPING PRACTICES


Uganda is a blessed country. It has a climate and vegetation that supports bee keeping. All farmers have to do is to invest a little time and effort in the activity and get the reward.
Beekeeping has been carried out for many generations in Uganda. It plays a crucial role in the livelihoods of the rural population in the following ways:
•    It is an income generating activity;
•     Honey and other honey bee products have medicinal value;
•    It supports agricultural activities such as facilitating critical processes of cross pollination leading to improved crop yields.
 However, beekeeping has been largely traditional and subsistence in nature. Every family in a village has a bee colony which is harvested once a year for home consumption but when there is a little excess, it is sold in the local market to earn some money for basic necessities.
In August 2012, a family friend and I shared the idea of organising a women’s group to engage in improved bee keeping practices. Our major reasons for doing this were to address four of the many challenges rural women farmers face, namely;
•    Access to and ownership of land. We saw that bee keeping does not require a lot of land. One can hang a number of beehives within a small piece of land and get good harvest. For instance, I have 60 hives within a quarter of an acre in my farm and out of these, 45 have colonies which are nearly ready for harvest in the last week of March. Secondly the bees and the crops can co-exist and complement each other. In the process of picking nectar, the crops also get pollinated. In the long run the farmer harvests the crops and the honey bee products which she can use to improve on the family livelihood.
•    Women have limited access to credit. However, one does not need a lot of money to practice bee keeping. You need to have the some bee hives and tools for harvesting. These do not cost so much. Besides, a tool like the smoker could be shared within the community.
•    There is always a problem with extension and advisory services in agriculture in my country.
We convinced the wife of the district entomologist to join the group. With her in the group, we were sure we would have the technical support when needed.
•    Women have always had difficulties accessing market for their products. If they must sell the go to the nearest market within the neighbourhood and where the products do not fetch much. I had already earmarked GO Honey; a cottage industry my family set up to process, pack and sell honey bee products. We felt that GO Honey would be able to absorb all the harvests from the women group at the right market price.
With these in mind, through our local council leaders, we held a sensitisation meeting on improved methods of honey bee keeping on 15th August 2012. On the same day, an association called Maruzi Bee Keepers’ Association was formed. That very day 95 members consisting of men and women registered for membership although our target was women. But with the men in the group we felt it would make us build synergies for better results. 


Trainings
Before we could embark on the process of modern bee keeping, we had to organise trainings and a farm visit for members.
The members were trained in the following areas:
•    Benefits of modern honey bee keeping;
•    Hive types and preparation;
•    Hive baiting and baiting materials;
•    Management of bee colonies;
•    Honey comb harvesting,, extraction , post harvest handling and storage;
•    Pests and disease handling;
•    Importance of bees’ pollination for agriculture and food security.
We took members to an on the farm visit of an  established bee keeper’s farm where they had observations on spacing of the hives, provision of water points especially during dry season, how to  care for the colonies so that they do not migrate and how to harvest the various bee products without destroying the bees.
 The production of honey bee products had been low in this community due to overdependence on the traditional rather than the modern Kenya Top Bar and Langstroth hives. Honey production was mainly through the traditional hollow logs, baskets, grass and bark hives. The cost of a Kenya Top Bar or Langstroth hive is about Uganda shillings 50,000 (US $ 20). This amount is considered high for the rural woman.  However, a shift from the traditional beekeeping to improved bee keeping practices making it a profitable enterprise put a smile on the women’s faces.
We encouraged each member to have at least three Langsroth type of beehives for a start.  In March 2013 they had their first harvest. On average, a hive was able to yield about 30 kilograms of honey in combs. The farm gate price for a kilogram of honey with comb goes for Uganda shillings 6,500 (about $2.80). This means that a farmer with three bee hives earned Uganda shillings 585,000 ($ 162.5) in a season. As honey is harvested twice a year, if a farmer has three hives, such a farmer can earn Uganda shillings1170,000 ($487). A farmer with more hives is definitely going to earn more than a million shillings a year. This became a big boost to a rural woman farmer who  lived on less than a dollar a day. The farmers were connected to Go Honey which organised collection centres during harvest periods. To ensure good quality honey, GO honey loaned to the farmers: smokers, air tight buckets and the dressing gear for harvesting. These were to be gradually deducted from the products they supply to Go Honey. Records taken from the collection centres in December 2013 showed that the farmers had supplied Go Honey a total of 6,581kilograms of honey in combs.
Go Honey instructed the farmers to harvest and pack honey in white and brown combs separately.
During our 1st Annual General meeting which was held in December 2013, the women said this venture is a  poor rural woman’s saviour. We all know that a woman touches on many lives and when a woman flourishes the nation does too.

The association has now expanded from just a village community and covers two sub- counties with membership of over three hundred.

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