How can we measure the success of beekeeping projects?

A Case Study of a Cluster of Three Diverse Poverty Relief Projects and Their Local Lead NGO in Kasese, Western Uganda

Bees Abroad presented a paper on Monday 9 September at Apimondia, the bi-annual international beekeeping conference, held in Montreal, Canada. Jane Ridler described a study which was designed to test an approach to establishing participant led outcomes for beekeeping projects.

Too many beekeeping projects are reported to have failed. Success is difficult to assess, and objective measurements can be simplistic. Success is best defined by the participants themselves.

This paper presents a methodology for establishing success criteria of poverty relief beekeeping projects which could be used as a template for projects in other localities.
Jane described a case study of a beekeeping course in Western Uganda attended by three diverse poverty relief projects, how they defined success and how measurements might be made.

The methodology used was a group interview, conducted in a discursive classroom environment and incorporated into a 2-day residential beekeeping course. There were three representatives from each of three beekeeping projects, initiated by Bees Abroad. One was a women’s group, another a youth development group and the third a group of already established beekeepers benefiting from further development. A fourth group, with more of an overview, were the representatives from our delivery partner NGO, LIDEFO. The twelve participants represented a social, gender, age and educational cross section. All discussions were conducted both in English and the local language. The groups established their aims and objectives, differing in detail, but with many similarities. They then described ways that they, or others, could assess the achievement of each criterion, or if it was impractical or immeasurable.

From the study we suggest that a combination of quantitative and qualitative measurements that are defined by and can be measured by the participants themselves would best achieve the assessment of the success of a project. Examples of the former could be numbers/condition of hives or quantity of honey/products sold. One or more would be chosen and recorded on report sheets by the local leaders or beekeepers themselves, as appropriate. The interpretive measures of success, which really matter to people- whether children can be sent to school, or health improved, can only be achieved by questioning and observation of change in living conditions. A simple survey sheet could be produced, generated at the start of the specific project, for a suitable sample of participants.

Jane said, “our projects will be more successful if they are designed with a good understanding of what the participants want”. Bees Abroad has gathered many good stories about the impact of its projects on the lives of participants as projects progress. However, it expects that finding out what participants want before projects start and designing projects accordingly will be an improvement. An essential part of the changes Bees Abroad plans to make will be to ask project participants to measure and report on their progress against the criteria they have selected.

The study found that ‘getting lots of honey’ and ‘becoming trained’ were among the first two outcomes suggested. After that came love, unity and co-operation, job opportunities, crop pollination and the environmental importance of bees. Typically, honey is sold to pay for education, medicines and household essentials.

The study was carried out over two short days in February 2019 in Kasese, Western Uganda. We thank the representatives from the Kiringa United Beekeepers, the Kinyamaseke Youth in Development, the Women Resource Centre for Community Development and the Liberty Development Foundation who gave their time to support Bees Abroad in this study.

Bees Abroad are world leaders in the practical relief of poverty through beekeeping.

The Women’s Beekeeping Project, Monze, Zambia: a report on progress

40 women in Zambia have finished their first year of learning modern beekeeping practices with Bees Abroad (BA) and it was a sweet success! Learning beekeeping can be an extremely useful skill, specifically for these women who live in Monze District, which is one of Zambia’s least developed areas with high poverty levels. The majority of the women participating in this project are subsistence farmers—living off of what they produce themselves—and many are widowed or unmarried. Since the average household is 8 dependent members, they have their work cut out for them as they try to feed their families while coping with climate challenges.

This is where beekeeping comes in!

Crop failure, an all too common sight

Crop failure, an all too common sight

The Project

Bees Abroad is working with the Sustainable Rural Development Agency (SRDA), based in Monze District, to train and support these women in adding hive products to their farm yields. Phase 1 of the project itself started with one group of 40 women split into two groups who were carefully chosen to receive training. Phase 2 trained a second group of 40 and Phase 3, subject to further funding, will train the final group of 40 women. BA helped each group set up an apiary of eight hives and equipped them with a smoker, protective gear, gum boots, and food-grade airtight containers.

Meeting with SRDA director, Phillip Nsakilwa
Meeting with SRDA director, Phillip Nsakilwa

The goal of the project is to equip these communities with beekeeping skills to generate some income, teach them the necessary business skills to make their enterprises sustainable and profitable, and improve their environment and crop yield through pollination.

As the SRDA’s regular project visits have reported, the first phase of the project was a success! The four objectives for the groups were being achieved: each group had hives that were colonised, members that were able to work with and harvest the honey, had made honey sales which generated useful income and the income was being used wisely by each group to develop or begin new enterprises. There were challenges with the second group, who were not quite so successful, but interim training is helping to strengthen.

A well constructed apiary

Overcoming Challenges

In recent years, crop yields have fallen drastically: 38% in the last 8 years. The reason: drought. Anyone visiting Monze District would be struck by the visible effects of reduced rainfall and the resulting crop failures. Most subsistence farmers in the area grow only maize which, unfortunately, is very dependent on rainfall. For that reason it is imperative that these farmers diversify their crops and adopt new agricultural methods.

When BA’s project manager Stuart Andrews visited Zambia in May, local farmers had already started to grow other crops besides maize, such as cassava and millet, and some were also involved with other activities including beekeeping and fish farming.

Looking back on an apiary through a living fence!
Looking back on an apiary through a living fence!

Embracing crop diversification also means increased need for pollinators and BA includes how to improve crop yields through pollination in their training.

In situations of extreme poverty, honey production not only provides some income, it also increases food security. During his project visit, Stuart Andrews spoke to local clinicians and aid workers who are very concerned about food security and are extremely interested in this project, especially as its success is not directly dependent on rainfall.

Priming the top bars with melted bees wax
Priming the top bars with melted bees wax

Next steps

Funding is secured for Phase 1 and 2 and ten new top-bar hives have already been purchased and are currently being stored, waiting to go onto SRDA’s new training apiary site which will provide practical beekeeping training for groups across the Monze district. Stuart is still raising funds for Phase 3 and beyond which will hopefully include a new honey processing plant to be built on the site of SRDA’s training apiary to serve the project beneficiaries as well as other beekeepers in the area.

Ladies of the Haamupande group
Ladies of the Haamupande group

As for the project itself, work has already started on Phase 2, beginning with recruiting new groups to set up apiaries and be trained in beekeeping. Meanwhile, work is continuing with the project’s initial groups of women across the Monze District.

Here’s to the next two years of this project and the goal of developing sustainable sources of income for these impoverished communities!

A swarm of bees in an apiary
A swarm of bees in an apiary

One of the hives in the training apiary

One of the hives in the training apiaryThe site (on the left) of SRDA’s proposed new training apiary and honey processing plant

The site (on the left) of SRDA’s proposed new training apiary and honey processing plant


Under The Mango Tree – latest from our project in India

Where are the Pictures of Bees?
When I finally got around to sorting the pictures taken during my two day visit in May to some of the villages where Under the Mango Tree (UTMT – our Indian partner organization) is working, it struck me that compared to previous visits I had taken far fewer ‘bee and bee-keeping specific’ photos: Yes, there is the odd picture of a beekeeper next to a hive, or even pulling a frame – but the majority of the pictures ‘document’ that UTMT’s project has expanded far beyond ‘just’ teaching beekeeping skills: What the visit (not only as reflected in my pictures) made amply clear: UTM’s work is about creating a healthy environment for bees and humans alike, while facing increasingly high, often man made, challenges like deforestation, drought, climate weirding.

The drive from the railway station to the group of villages where UTMT has been active for years was almost apocalyptic: The forests are seriously overexploited, with only a sprinkling of almost branchless trees left standing, and with the hot season at its peak, a deepening long lasting drought, and burnt patches everywhere, the scenery looked as if a firestorm had passed through. But oddly enough, ash was concentrated in rectangles in between the blackened trunks. These tiny plots turned out to be fields prepared for planting in the monsoon: Villagers had piled dead leaves, branches and other debris onto the land they plan to cultivate as soon as the rains arrive: burning the organic matter leaves a layer of ash which acts as a fertilizer – and produces a lot of additional Greenhouse Gasses.

Which makes one of UTMT’s latest ventures (started in the summer of 2018) so promising: a tree nursery next to the ‘old’ bee training centre: A group of 10 women are in charge of growing the tree saplings. The women learn a skill that allows them to eventually start their own nursery and generate some income, farmers will be given a (subsidised) package of saplings: 5 mango trees, 10 bamboos, 5 amla (a bitter, healthy berry producing plant), 1 gulmohar (tree with huge red flowers): This will help regrow tree cover, provide bee flora and provide a source of income. There are four mango varieties in the region: Rajapuri, Kesa, Langra, Dasseri: scions of these are grafted onto ‘desi’ (native) rootstocks (grown from seed). The trees will start to bear fruit after three years, but proper harvest begins only in year six or seven; the productive life of a mango tree is 35 years.

In a cluster of villages with even scarcer water resources UTMT has expanded into a kitchen garden project. Apart from increasing bee forage, the key aims are to help villagers grow more healthy food for themselves – while making use of waste water: the water drawn from an open well is first used to clean kitchen and eating utensils, this ‘gray water’ is collected, filtered and then used to water the vegetables. The kitchen gardens are created as close to the water source as possible. And (as this is a UTMT project) there needs to be a beehive within a 500 m range. Kakdu Kharpade showed me around her kitchen garden: the family well is about 15 meters behind the house, the washing area is right next to the well, the kitchen garden sits in between. She collects the ‘grey water’ in three big steel vessels which she then empties into a big blue plastic barrel within the kitchen garden (via a piece of cloth for filtration). Now she can fill the watering cans whenever she is ready to tend to the plants. And of course one of her bee hives is right behind the kitchen garden.

The gardens follow a specific design: two rings of beds around a centre piece. The inner of the two rings is planted with fenugreek, spinach, ladyfinger, pigeon peas, chilli, aubergine, methi; in the outer one are creepers like bottle, sponge, and bitter gourd, as well as corn: The outer ring is designed to provide shade; initially the centrepiece is planted with greens, too, but in July (Monsoon) a tree will be planted; favourites are apple, jujube, guava, lemon, papaya, white jamun, or coconut: these trees will then provide more shade, bee food, as well as more food and income for the owners.

In the shade of the veranda of the 2nd, new bee training centre, the women tell me about the kitchen gardens. Before the women were trained, most just grew aubergines, tomatoes and chillies. Now they grow a huge variety of vegetables – their diet is better. Because they are now making use of the waste water they can grow vegetables even in the dry season. Before they had to buy vegetables in the market, the amount needed for a family per day was about Rs. 20 (ca. 22 pence) – money they can now save. And surplus vegetables are sold at the farm gate or in the market.

But of course: at the heart of UTMT’s work remains the attempt to increase harvests via improved pollination. Bees Abroad has co-funded a study to measure the impact. Data is still being collected, and some farmers could not even participate because their land was too dry to grow all ‘test crops’, but anecdotal evidence indicates: plots with pollination fare better even under drought conditions than those without bees. The same goes for mangoes, whether Rajapuri (seen in harvest: green, excellent for pickling) or sweet varieties straight for consumption. Non-traditional fruit like jackfruit – an ideal tree for dry areas, as it needs very little water, benefit, too.

Bhikare Rama Urade not only has some of these trees and fruit giants, but also cashew and chilli fields. He has eight A. cerana hives – and three Trigona (stingless) colonies. Mr Urade is also the UTMT carpenter, and the demand for Trigona boxes is increasing – ‘living proof’ that the first grant by Bees Abroad is showing results.

Mr Urade says that in his opinion it is too early to judge the impact of Trigona on pollination, but what is already clear is that Trigona are even more cost effective to keep than A. cerana (and A. cerana are rather low cost/maintenance compared to the ‘European’ honey bee): a Trigona box sells for Rs. 1000, an A. cerana hive for Rs. 1200-1500.

UTMT is also promoting other drought tolerant plants. E.g. ‘cluster beans’ – according to the family of Ambilal, another farmer, 0.5 kg seed produced 200 kg of harvest (until the water of his well ran out and the plants died) – all recorded by UTMT organized field staff – and soon to be reported on a world stage: UTMT was given one of the coveted presentation slots at the APIMONDIA (World Beekeeping Conference, Montreal, September) to report on the study.

The last stop on the return journey is next to a ‘drumstick-tree’ – a possible ‘miracle plant’ for an area which in all likelihood will have to live with drought for a long time to come: The tree leaves provide fodder; the seeds have medicinal value; powder made of the leaves can be to cow feed, which is said to result in 40% higher milk production – a land where milk and honey flows?

Let’s have a drum(stick) roll for UTMT and its work.

A Beekeeping Course for the Murambo Beekeepers

A Beekeeping Course for the Murambo Beekeepers Catherine Ridler October 2018

The four-day residential course was run by Daniel Ngangasi and Simon Byongo from LIDEFO (Liberty Development Foundation) in Kasese some 220km from the homes of the Murambo beekeepers. It was part of an ongoing development project for them. Bees Abroad have built up a close relationship with Daniel and Simon and they provided an outline of what the course should contain. Daniel and Simon produced the course programme and taught a great course which included classroom and practical beekeeping sessions. It was the first such course run by LIDEFO.

Daniel teaching

Bees Abroad paid the course fees, accommodation, food and travel for the attendees. This was effective in removing barriers for people so they were able to attend the course and resulted in a really enthusiastic group.

An individual presentation

The group consisted of four pairs of attendees from small local beekeeping groups in the Murambo district plus two individuals representing other groups and the district coordinator, Ezra Sigirenda. The aim was for them to take the knowledge acquired on this course and disseminate it amongst the other beekeepers in their local area. They were a keen group – we started the morning session 10 minutes ahead of schedule every day! They were very focused on learning and all took copious notes and photographs.


The attendees arrived on the Monday evening on the local bus after a full day’s travel. Well cooked local food was provided by the hotel. Notepads and pens were provided to all of the attendees and their first task was to write an introduction to themselves and their beekeeping experience to be presented the next morning.

Investigating an empty top bar hive

The course started with breakfast on Tuesday and moved directly on to the individual presentations. About half of the attendees were from beekeeping families. Many were using traditional basket hives, with some using Kenyan Top Bar Hives. They wanted to learn how to increase their honey production by adding more hives, managing their bees better and dealing with diseases.

Filtering Honey

Daniel spent the sessions teaching about beekeeping, such as differences between the queen, workers and drones while integrating the business information such as the amount of space needed to create an apiary and how much honey and therefore money could result from a fairly small area.

The final session of the afternoon was a small group discussion of the questions ‘what has fuelled the development of beekeeping in your community?’ and ‘how will you make changes that will promote beekeeping as a business?’

Group discussion

The practical element of the course was taught by Simon. This included how to filter honey, how to melt the wax and an introduction to Kenyan Top Bar Hives.

There was a group apiary visit and a visit to LIDEFO’s honey storage and bottling room and some hands-on bottling practice.

Apiary visit

I hope that this course has encouraged the attendees to take both small steps such as clearing vegetation around their apiaries and larger steps such as starting to set up beekeeping co-operative groups in their areas with a view towards producing commercially saleable honey.

Group with certificates at the end of the course

Success at BBKA National Honey Show

Bees Abroad Projects Win 1st, 2nd and 3rd Prizes in New Charity Class at National Honey Show

Bees Abroad are world leaders in the practical relief of poverty through beekeeping. As soon as we knew the National Honey Show was to have a new class for charities working with beekeepers we realised we could showcase the gorgeous honey produced by the beekeepers we are working with overseas. Honey from twelve projects entered for judging at the UK National Honey Show in October 2018. The winning entry was from Liberia, where we partnered with the Universal Outreach Foundation which trains communities as beekeepers “so more Liberians can have the dignity that comes with being able to provide for their families’ needs.” The 2nd prize was awarded to our entry from Kenya. This UK government funded project given an A+ evaluation by the UK assessors benefits over 1200 households. The 3rd prize was won by the entry from our local project delivery partner in Western Uganda the Liberty Development Foundation. The lead judge explained that the criteria used were aroma, taste and viscosity; he was delighted that there were so many excellent entries. Richard Ridler, Bees Abroad Chairman, said ‘these wins are a huge endorsement for the very practical help our volunteers give to people in low-income communities around the world to learn hands-on beekeeping, high-quality honey production and business skills to generate income and improve their lives’. Bees Abroad are world leaders in the practical relief of poverty through beekeeping.

Creating a new livelihood in West Ghana

The Bia Biosphere Reserve in west Ghana covers some 7,770 hectares and is where the country’s major forest animals are found including the forest elephant and the endangered bongo. It’s been closed to people to preserve one of the few remaining areas of precious virgin forest. This has forced local the community who depended on the forest to find new ways to make a living. Those selected include growing palm oil and mushrooms, snail farming and beekeeping.

Learn more about the  Bia Biosphere project here

Kenyan partner wins First Prize

News from the National Show held in Nanyuki Town, Kenya. Congratulations go to Joseph Gitonga and the team on this very well-deserved prize. The show promoted innovation and technology in agriculture and trade. The Bees Abroad project related well across the themes of pollination, food security and income achieving a very successful result.

Bees Abroad Kenya wins 1st Prize at Show

Richard & Jane Ridler visit Uganda

On arrival in Uganda, we met Shaun from, a social enterprise working with local beekeepers to make and sell a fabulous range of value added products. We were given honey with our winter tea and bees appeared immediately!

On Friday we travelled North from Kigali to Kasese. Just outside Kasese we crossed the equator and passed ahead of elephants. Daniel, Grace and their family were thrilled to see us again and the football was a big hit. We are very fortunate to have these wonderful folks leading our work at LIDEFO.

We took our trainee project manager Venetia to see a model apiary and then to visit the honey collection and processing centres.  Despite severe drought last year, since our visit to LIDEFO in 2014, great progress has been made. The team are making 100 hives for a local land owner who they will also train. A good example of a group developing its own income after our initial support has ended.

Below is a photo of Grace’s Shop and the LIDEFO Honey Purchasing Centre. We shared ideas about new ways to deliver projects. We agreed to experiment with recording key data, asking chosen families to record our impact on their life style and linking further project stages to success in earlier stages. We explored ideas for making honey based sweets, bee tourism and maintaining the loyalty of new beekeepers to LIDEFO.

This photo shows where beekeepers in the area take their honey. Once LIDEFO have purchased the honey, they process pack and sell it to retailers.

On Sunday we travelled to Ibanda Parish to audit our Noah’s widows project. First we joined the morning church service and I was unexpectedly asked to address the congregation. Various senior church officials had come especially to meet us. They thanked us and Bees Abroad at every possible opportunity. We were shown some honey they collected in an alter wine bottle!

After the service we visited the apiary and discussed progress with the widows. We concluded that the project is progressing well but that the drought of last year had slowed things down. We were pleased that hand cream was being made and earning a little extra income for the widows.

In the evening, we assembled a tasting panel for our test batch of honey toffee we helped LIDEFO to make.

On Monday we spent the day assessing our project for the Abughama self help group. There are three apiaries in three villages. At one of the apiaries we were given honey comb to taste from a hive only installed four months ago. We put astonishing result down to the perfect conditions for beekeeping. We visited six apiaries but most interesting was meeting the beekeepers, their families and local dignitaries.

You will see below a water feeder for bees doubles up as drip tray for the tasing up and a watering point for the chickens!

We are now en-route to Rwenzori Women’s Resource Centre for Community Development. We went close to the border with DR Congo and right on the equator to meet with two very different groups who have asked for support from Bees Abroad.

Today we met the management of the Rwenzori Women’s Resource Centre for Community Development. First we had to work out why so many men were present. Our challenge is to structure a project which empowers the women in society where the position is so different to ours.

In the afternoon we met the Kiringa United Beekeepers Association. They all had some experience of beekeeping but had not received any training. Their principal request was for knowledge to help improve the yields of their apiaries. We had some fascinating conversations which underlined just how lucky we are as UK beekeepers. We visited an apiary in the most beautiful location but with some strange box shaped hives and one new Langstroth.

Above you will see Venetia taking cotton from a mop head, platting strands together to make a wick.

In the foothills of Rwenzori mountains the people have a different concept of time and distance. Daytime is divided into four. With the exception of the well educated, hours and minutes are not understood. Distance is measured by the number of valleys in the mountains between places. They are quite unable to tell distance by measurement in Kilometres. Short distances are measured by marking sticks. This makes for some interesting conversations!

Jack fruit, Dutura, planted for bee foliage and the bees love the Avocado flowers.

Today we heard the call of a Honey Guide Bird (indicator indicator). This bird guides predators, including humans to hives of bees with its distinctive call. When the predator breaks into the hive it feeds on the debris left by the predator, it can even digest wax.

We left Kasese and stayed in the Queen Elizabeth National Park on our way to Buhoma

On Friday we drove for six hours in dirt roads. Fortunately, there was very little traffic although this truck travelling from the Congo was intimidating!

We arrived at our Bwindi Batwa project and received a very warm welcome. We stayed in rooms attached to the local hospital and discovered that honey is being used to treat patients. We stayed in this accommodation adjacent to the mushroom growing shed on the right.

On Saturday we left Venetia in Buhoma to inspect the hives and join in allocating goats to the Batwa. Venetia is an expert in goats and bees!

When we arrived at Murambo, we met Ezra our leader at the Murambo Beekeeper’s project. Ezra had planned wall to wall visits of member’s apiaries. Our small involvement with this group has already lead to a four-fold increase in membership, so we need to work out how to cope with this increased capacity. Most members use log hives because there are plenty of trees, or they use hives constructed from wattle and daub as shown in the picture.

We visited a group who use mainly traditional hives. One had three in an exclosure in his garden.

This video shows a traditional smoker being used which is very effective. The bees were very calm and well behaved.

We visited a porridge shop. Porridge is a mildly alcoholic drink made by fermenting a mixture of lie grade honey with water and sorghum flour. The photos show the price list – little too much of it is drunk in this area.

We met one of our groups in Church which had wattle and daub walls and corrugated iron roof. One beekeeper described drone congregations and we were able to explain to the group what they are.

The next day we crossed at Rwanda, at Kamwezi a remote spot on a dirt road. No other traffic crossed for the whole hour we were there. We called into the Umutara school for deaf children.  At this school we run a beekeeping project that integrates into the school curriculum. We found they had already made a start without us! This picture shows two students with the traditional hives talking in Rwandan sign language. The school has accommodation available for a project manager, we just need to find one!

We enjoyed local honey served to sweeten our tea which tasted very smokey, a common problem here. We met a group of beekeepers who applied to Bees Abroad for help. We gave them an introductory training course and spent time exploring why their yields from traditional hives are low. The conclusion was that we should try to set up a training apiary to see how the use of Kenyan Top Hives would improve the situation.

On Thursday we braved Katonga, at Rwandan favourite breakfast. It’s a yummy combination of boiled potato, savoury bananas and lumps of beef in tomato sauce.

On our second day of teaching we collected acacia, mango, daisy, hibiscus and begonia flowers and grasses to give a visual aid to help explain about nectar and pollen collection. We discovered there is no word for pollen in Rwanda. We said good by to the Kigudugu beekeepers at lunch time and drove to Kigali where we saw the first Mzungu for several days.

Today we travelled from Kigali to Kilimanjaro on a very small Rwandanair plane. After a long drive we arrived at our lodge where we discovered they kept a few bees. We bought a jar of honey to take to the Ulster Beekeepers Conference for tasting.

During the weekend we took a couple of days rest from beekeeping. We spent a day at Lake Manuara National Park bird spotting and game viewing. We visited the Ngorogoro crater and the Olduvai gorge.

We found a fence with bee hives hanging from it designed to keep elephants out of a vegetable garden. Elephants are very scared of bees and similar fences are widely used. The design of the fence was not strong and several hives were not colonised.