Roy Dyche and Geoff Redwood have recently returned from Hoima in Uganda, where they have been supporting and evaluating our project there.
The project was begun in May 2012, its aim being to help vulnerable women in Uganda’s Hoima District to provide for their large households by introducing them to modern, environmentally sustainable beekeeping as a source of much-needed income. Many of the women are widows or single mothers, and nearly all are subsistence farmers growing little more than they need to feed their families. The average household has between six and seven members, well over half of whom are children of school-going age or younger.
The implementation of the project is being handled by our local partners, the small Bigasa Sustainable Development Foundation (BISUDEF). Together with BISUDEF, we are helping women’s groups in Hoima District to undertake beekeeping or improve their existing beekeeping by training them to construct, manage and harvest Kenyan topbar hives. They have also been shown how to add value to their wax; and they are being provided with a ready market for their honey via a new buying & marketing operation run by BISUDEF.
Our members are organised in groups on a geographical basis and at the start of the third phase, which has just ended, four more groups were added to the twelve which already existed. This brought the total number of our direct beneficiaries to 170. When the rest of their households are included, over a thousand people now stand to gain from the project.
The four new group leaders (GLs) had been trained as members of earlier groups and had passed this training on to the new recruits. We had given them bicycles to make it easier for them to reach their members at their homesteads. The groups themselves had been issued with inputs similar to those earlier groups had received; for example, smokers, protective clothing, gloves and food-grade buckets in which to store their honey. After the initial training, BISUDEF’s field officers had visited all sixteen groups regularly in order to offer advice and any supplementary training that was needed.
Although by the end of the third phase there had been a pleasing increase in the number our members’ hives that were colonised with bees — 22% last year, 51% this — the amount of honey taken from them so far this season had been disappointing. The explanation was clear. Traditionally the harvesting season lasts from February, soon after the rains begin, and ends in May. This year the rains did not start till March 2015, so harvesting had been delayed by four weeks or so. We are hoping the season will redeem itself by extending into June.
BISUDEF’s buying and marketing operation had gone well during the phase. For reasons already given, the buying side of the business had been slow this season but they were now selling nearly twice as many jars of their ‘Family Life’ honey to local stores.
Despite the modest harvest so far, the morale of our members remained high and the GLs had proved as committed and conscientious as ever, as had the BISUDEF team.
During their visit, Geoff and Roy helped to launch the fourth phase, which will mark the end of Bees Abroad’s participation in the project. During this final phase, no more groups will be recruited. However we have begun to see ‘unofficial’ groups being formed, eager to replicate the project’s beekeeping model, even though the budget does not allow us to provide them with any support, other than occasional visits from the BISUDEF field officers. This is a very welcome development and we expect more such groups to be set up during the fourth phase and thereafter. Phase 4 has two main objectives:
1. Maintaining support for our beekeepers
There will be no further material inputs for our members, but because people do not acquire the knowledge and confidence to manage modern hives in just a year or two, the longer they can rely on BISUDEF’s technical support, the better. For this reason the field officers will continue their regular advisory visits for another twelve months.
We will also continue to enable group leaders to attend the monitoring meetings in Hoima town, by providing the cost of their transport to and from the town.
2. Forming a women’s beekeeping association
To help sustain the project’s considerable achievements, we aim to organise our beekeepers into an officially registered women’s beekeeping association, with the GLs constituting the core management. In this way the GLs’ esprit de corps and management skills will not be lost and the women’s beekeeping will be put on a near autonomous footing, largely independent of BISUDEF.