Hoima Project in Uganda 2015

Roy Dyche and Geoff Redwood have recently returned from Hoima in Uganda, where they have been supporting and evaluating our project there.

One of the new groups of beekeepers in Hoima

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.

A group leader in her group’s training apiary

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.

The programme coordinator and a field officer with jars of their “Family Life” honey

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.

a modern topbar hive made from sticks and mud

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.


Launch of the Women’s Beekeeping Project, Hoima, Uganda

Launch of the Women’s Beekeeping Project, Hoima, Uganda

July 12, 2012

In Roy Dyche's words

In May 2012 Stuart Andrews, our vice-chairman, and I went out to Hoima to help launch this project, the aim of which is to introduce the 108 members of ten women’s groups in Uganda’s Hoima District to the income-generating opportunities of modern beekeeping.

I was very much looking forward to this trip. During an exploratory visit a year earlier, I’d conducted some preliminary training at a residential workshop attended by the group leaders and had been most impressed. The ladies had been tremendously enthusiastic, quick to learn and – extremely important this – great fun to be with. The small CBO, Bigasa Sustainable Development Foundation (BISUDEF), which had suggested the project to us and is now responsible for implementing it, had also impressed me. I’d saddled them with organising the workshop, getting the ladies to it from their far-flung homesteads and arranging their accommodation and feeding — no easy assignments given African realities — and I was struck by the CBO’s efficiency and attention to detail. I could see it was going to be a pleasure working with Sam Kaheesi, BISUDEF’s young director, and his people.

Project Objective 1 : Successful Honey Sales

One the project’s objectives is to make sure our members are able to sell their honey readily and at a fair price through a new buying & marketing scheme which BISUDEF will operate. So on our first morning, keen to get the venture up and running, Stuart and I set about the highly skilled and arduous task of providing BISUDEF with state-of-the-art processing and bottling apparatus. This we did by — and I hope I’m not about to overwhelm you with technicalities — drilling a hole in a food- grade bucket, screwing a tap into it and handing over the nylon strainer I’d brought out with me. Sam had already managed to buy a quantity of semi-processed honey from local beekeepers and within half-an-hour one of his staff was putting the equipment to good use.

The honey was left to settle for a few days, before the beneficiaries themselves bottled it and attached the attractive labels Sam’s team had designed. Forty-eight hours after that, jars of Family Life honey were on the shelves of local stores; and I gather that since then they have been selling like the proverbial hot cakes.

Project Objective 2: Value-Added Products Workshop

However, our main business in Hoima was a second workshop for the ten group leaders. They had performed so excellently during my earlier visit that we’d decided it should be they, rather than BISUDEF, who delivered the training to their members. So now it was a case of ‘training the trainers’.

Much of the four-day event was devoted to guiding the leaders on how best to present the basic principles of modern apiary and hive management they
themselves had learned the year before. In twos and threes they were assigned such topics as setting up an apiary and harvesting a hive. It was their job to devise a teaching strategy that would actively engage their audience and then use it to convey their information to the rest of us in a way that minimised the risk of our lapsing into catatonic insensibility. They sometimes chose to do this through role play of a (not always intentionally) hilarious kind.

We also wished to extend their own beekeeping skills by, for example, ensuring they could provide themselves with clean wax and add value to it. This took us on the by-no-means-uneventful journey from raw comb, to rendered wax, to lip balms and candles.

Workshop on Catcher Boxes

And we spent one morning on ways of getting bees into empty hives. I admit to having had an ulterior motive here. The session included the use of ‘catcher boxes’ to capture swarms and this gave me a good excuse to get the leaders making boxes for themselves. It’s always enjoyable to see African women trespassing on the male carpentry reserve, especially when they do it so well. The hives they’d improvised from sticks the previous year had been first rate, so nailing together a few bits of wood to make boxes gave them no trouble at all.

The workshop included an apiary visit, during which we left it to the ladies to open a couple of hives and explain what they were seeing. It was reassuringly obvious that they knew what they were about and were apparently quite fearless.

The group leaders are vital to the success of this project, not only because of the support they are giving their members through training and on-going advice and encouragement but because they have a key managerial role to play — most notably by distributing and controlling the inputs to their groups and by themselves monitoring how the project is faring. They are to meet regularly to review their progress towards attaining the targets and milestones that have been agreed and to recommend to BISUDEF how any difficulties they are facing might be tackled.

All this was made clear in our last session and when the ladies finally departed, they took with them not only their attendance certificates but, much more importantly, a real sense of project ownership.

It had been a happy and productive few days, punctuated by a great deal of dancing, singing and mutual leg-pulling. And there was more of the first two items the following day, when Stuart and I were driven out to meet some of the group members at their homesteads. By now I’m well used to Africa’s exuberant hospitality, but on this occasion the dances and songs of the children — some of whom cannot have been older than three — were very special.

Before we left Hoima, Sam, Stuart and I considered how Bees Abroad might continue its involvement with BISUDEF after this project notionally ends in a year’s time. One thing was very clear: if the achievements of the first twelve months — assuming there are some! — are to be sustained, our new beekeepers will require support for at least one more year. So a second phase might well take me to Hoima again next May; if it does, I really don’t think the prospect of spending more time with those delightful ladies will worry me too much.