Partnership Manager, Niki Backes, visits beekeeping communities in Uganda

Partnership Manager, Niki Backes, visits beekeeping communities in Uganda

July 6, 2024

Last month Niki spent two weeks in Uganda visiting seven beekeeping communities sometimes walking for hours through the bush to reach isolated communities.

Niki visited a mix of existing and potential new Bees Abroad supported communities in her role as Partnership Manager, a relatively new role for her. Niki is an experienced beekeeper and used her knowledge and skills to assist our local field officers, though she learned a lot about the differences and challenges of beekeeping in Uganda.

What did you learn about the communities you visited?

Every community I visited had its unique character. I discovered a newfound appreciation for the privileges I often take for granted: clean water, accessible medical care, pet companionship, and well-maintained roads. Despite the immense daily challenges these communities face, they welcomed me with happiness and kindness. Their eagerness to learn about beekeeping and their willingness to share their lives renewed my faith in humanity. The openness and mutual respect among the people left a lasting impression on me.  

 
 

Who did you work with?

Daniel Ngangasi has been our in Country partner for over 14 years in the Kasese region of Uganda. He helps distribute the equipment we provide as well as sells the honey locally that he purchases from project participants if they wish to sell to him. Daniel’s business is called LIDEFO and is certified in Uganda. It also supports a local girl’s school called Liberty College with the proceeds of their honey sales. Daniel and his wife Grace have a local sale shop in the town of Kasese where people can come and purchase the honey and a few other dry goods.

Both Bensen and Simon are our field officers overseen by Daniel. These men go to the projects once a month and provide training and support to the projects. These tasks include hive inspections, honey harvesting and swarm collection.

What are the main differences between beekeeping in Uganda and beekeeping at home?

The main difference in the beekeeping practices of the USA and Uganda is the type of hive that is used to keep the bees. In the US, the predominate way is by using box hives called Langstroth hives that you stack vertically on top of each other, when the honey is ready to be harvested these frames are scrapped open and the honey spun out. The frames then are returned to the hive to be reused.

In Uganda the people use either traditional hives which are woven and cylindrical in shape and held together by mud and dung or top bar hives. We are encouraging the beekeepers to transition into top bar hives which are wooden, and the bees work the frames horizontally. When it is time to harvest honey the combs that contain the honey are removed and they are then crushed to remove and strain the honey and the leftover beeswax can be used to create value added products such as candles, balms and creams.

The main reason the traditional hives are not ideal is that the harvesting the honey usually results in harming the hive or drastically reducing its ability for them to survive and continue to produce honey. Also, the traditional hives fall apart easily after a rain or two and the bees swarm off.

About Niki Backes

Niki Backes has been a beekeeper for 25 years. She has experience in commercial beekeeping and ran her own beekeeping business. She has traveled extensively keeping bees in Europe, South America, Australia and now Africa. She is also a cosmetic formulator focusing on the beehive’s byproducts, including beeswax, propolis, royal jelly and bee pollen. She currently manages a few hives of her own located in Southern Michigan in the United States. Niki is the Supporter Care Manager for Bees Abroad as well as a volunteer Partnership Manager for Bees Abroad in Uganda and a member of Bees Abroad’s Hive Twinning community with her hives twinned with another project in Sierra Leone, Bee Farmers on Crutches.

Beekeeper next to beehive

Buzzing on Coffee: How Beekeeping Increases Crop Yield

Buzzing on Coffee: How Beekeeping Increases Crop Yield

August 30, 2023

The fertile mountains of Rwenzori, Uganda

Beekeeping brought more than honey to this rural community. Read on to find out how Rwenzori Rural Talent got more than they bargained for…

The Rwenzori Rural Talent community is nestled within the fertile landscapes of the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda. As smallholder farmers, the members of this community dedicate their time and efforts to tending their land, making the most of the region’s productive soils. Among the crops that flourish under their care, coffee stands out as a significant agricultural product. The rich soil and favourable climate provide an ideal environment for coffee cultivation.

Recognising the need for diversification and seeking to enhance their economic prospects, the community turned to Bees Abroad for support in introducing beekeeping. 

Why beekeeping is uniquely beneficial to farming communities ​

Bees Abroad has been supporting the Rwenzori Rural Talent project sine 2020 and during the four years of our support, beekeeping has become as a valuable addition to the income-generating activities of the community. Unlike other farming endeavours that demand extensive land and time commitments, beekeeping offers a more manageable and less labour-intensive alternative.

The community approach Bees Abroad for support in achieving their goals which include promoting economic empowerment for rural women and children, empowering local women and youth with beekeeping skills, improving health standards, and establishing innovative models of microeconomic enterprises in rural areas.

Buzzing on coffee

The Rwenzori Rural Talent community has reported some significant benefits from beekeeping. Firstly, the income generated from beekeeping has provided them with the means to invest in education, allowing families to send their children to school without being crippled by the cost. You can read about how beekeeping can help pay for school fees for children in Uganda here.  

Secondly, the community has witnessed a remarkable increase in coffee production, boasting an impressive 20% boost in yield since embarking on their beekeeping journey. While this might sound too good to be true, similar reports validate the magnitude of enhanced coffee yields. In fact, a researcher from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) has gone so far as to encourage farmers to engage in beekeeping to increase their coffee production. 

Beekeeping as a part of community diversification and resilience

Beyond the direct advantages of increased income and coffee yields, the introduction of beekeeping has fostered further diversification within the Rwenzori Rural Talent community. Members have utilised the additional income to venture into other endeavours, such as purchasing chickens, pigs and goats. Members like Eva, who’s bees and goats we reported on in lockdown. By expanding their income and food sources, they have effectively spread risk and increased their overall resilience in the face of potential challenges. 

The success of the beekeeping project in Rwenzori Rural Talent serves as an inspiring example of how a small initiative can have transformative effects on rural communities. 

Sweet Knowledge – How Honey Pays for Education

Sweet Knowledge – How Honey Pays for Education

June 28, 2023

About the Rwenzori Rural Talent community

In the lush landscapes of Uganda’s Rwenzori region lies a community called Rwenzori Rural Talent. Established as a Bees Abroad project in 2020, this community reached out for help to support its mission to empower rural women and children through economic empowerment, skill development, and improved health standards. 

Among its many endeavours, one stands out as a sweet solution to a pressing issue: using the income from honey production to cover the costs of education. In a country where access to quality education can be a financial burden for many families, Rwenzori Rural Talent has found that the income from hives covers can cover the cost of school, and quantified it. 

Financial Costs of Education in the Rwenzori Community

Education plays a crucial role in shaping the future of individuals and communities. In Uganda, education is extremely highly valued in the culture. However, financial constraints remain a significant hurdle for many families, especially in rural areas. The costs associated with school fees, uniforms, books, and other supplies can place a heavy burden on households already struggling to make ends meet. 

Financial Costs of Education in the Rwenzori Community 

In the Rwenzori community, the financial costs of education can vary depending on the level of schooling. For primary education, fees range between UGX 200,000 and 300,000 per term. Secondary education, on the other hand, can cost between UGX 500,000 and 700,000 per term, with three terms in a year. For families with limited resources, these expenses can seem insurmountable, leaving many children unable to continue their education. 

Honey as a tool to enable community aims

Rwenzori Rural Talent turned to beekeeping to generate reliable income to support their community aims. With a vision to uplift rural women and children, this community project focuses on empowering its members with beekeeping skills to promote economic empowerment, improve health standards, and establish a sustainable microeconomic enterprise. 

With the support of Bees Abroad and our local partner LIDEOF, honey production has proven to be a viable and profitable enterprise, thanks to the region’s favourable climate and abundant flora. With each colony producing approximately 10 kilograms of honey per year, the community project calculated that by maintaining five colonies, they could yield between UGX 500,000 and 750,000 annually. The income from five hives covers the cost of primary school fees for one child for one year.  

By empowering Rwenzori Rural Talent, this community project has created a sustainable source of income that addresses the financial challenges associated with education in rural areas.

Follow along and join in with your own beeswax stories in the comments on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Empowering Uganda’s ‘Road Barrier Widows’

Empowering Uganda’s ‘Road Barrier Widows’

June 28, 2023

In this blog we will delve into one of our newest projects, the inspiring journey of a registered community group in Uganda known as the ‘Road Barrier Widows’. Comprised of strong and determined women who have faced the challenges of widowhood, this group is embracing beekeeping to uplift their lives and their community. Read on to learn about the significance of registered community groups, the unique struggles faced by widows in Uganda, and how beekeeping will strengthen this group. 

About the Road Barrier Women and the challenges they face

The ‘Road Barrier Widows’ is a group of 32 women who face several challenges that come with the loss of their husbands. Firstly, their income potential is significantly reduced, leaving them economically vulnerable. Secondly, traditional Ugandan households depend on the labour of both spouses both for childcare and to tend their smallholdings, and with the loss of their husbands, this crucial support is lost. Lastly, being a widow in Uganda carries a social stigma due to cultural beliefs and societal norms, which can further compound the challenges faced by these resilient women. 

Understanding Registered Community Groups

Registered community groups (CBOs) are official organizations formed by individuals who share common goals and objectives. These groups, recognized by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), play a crucial role in community development. They bring together people with similar experiences or interests and provide a platform for collective action. By formalizing their organization, CBOs gain credibility, access to funding, legal recognition, and opportunities for collaboration with government agencies and NGOs. Knowing this, the Road Barrier Women formed their own CBO.

Group of Women from Uganda
Uganda Valley

Empowering the Road Barrier Widows Through Beekeeping

Motivated to improve their circumstances, the ‘Road Barrier Widows’ have chosen beekeeping as one of their group activities, alongside keeping chickens and making handicrafts. The group is organised group and enterprising: they built their own top bar hives and have attempted to start beekeeping through self-teaching, but they need help to do it properly which is where Bees Abroad and our local partner, LIDEFO come in. We will support the group to learn how to keep bees properly, make quality honey which they can sell locally and fetches a much higher price than the other crops and items they produce.  

The location of the group boasts an abundance of mango trees, ample forest tree cover, and a diverse range of flowering plants, providing abundant pollen and nectar. The women grow various crops in the area too, including coffee, and keeping bees will enhance pollination supporting crop production.  

The ‘Road Barrier Widows’ embody the strength and resilience of Ugandan women, showcasing the power of unity and community support. By supporting community groups like the ‘Road Barrier Widows,’ we can empower individuals, communities and support inclusive development in Uganda. 

Follow along and join in with your own beeswax stories in the comments on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

The Elephant and The Bee

Bee Part of the Green Story - The Elephant and The Bee

April 24, 2023

Giants in the night

Our Green Story begins with The Elephant and The Bee, in villages bordering Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. A place where giants visit in the night.  

Every year around harvest time, the community fear of elephants entering their village in the dark of night, eating and trampling their way through the fields, destroying up to a year’s supply of food. Rather than attack the elephants, which can have fatal consequences for both people and elephants, these farmers want to work with bees, using these small, hard-working insects as their security guards.

Two village groups, Upendo and Mungu ni Mwema, are joining together to learn how to become beekeepers. Their goal is to work with the bees to solve the problem of elephants’ crop-raiding.

Elephants and Bees: David and Goliaths of the animal kingdom

Elephants are terrified of bees. Yes, it is rather like the story of David and the Goliath, the young boy who defeated the giant. The largest land animal is so terrified of this tiny insect that it will avoid it as much as possible. The elephant may be thick-skinned, but a bee up its’ trunk is as bad as it gets! And so, the beekeeping group is planning to build a 3km stretch of bee-hive fences. Top-bar hives (or even dummy hives… as an “elephant never forgets”) will hang every 10 meters, linked together on wires along the borders of the farms.  

When an elephant touches the wire or a hive, the bees will come to the defence and scare the elephant back the way it came. Beehive fences offer more than just a live security fence for crops. They are home to honeybees, so farmers can harvest honey and beeswax which they can sell and turn into value added products to generate cash income to pay for things like school fees and supplies and medical care. The honeybees increase pollination of crops and local fruit trees too, though this is a story for another day… 

A natural, sustainable solution

We are excited to be working with our local partner, Amigos, to facilitate this project with the Upendo and Mungu ni Mwema groups. Beekeeping training will be integrated with training in conservation agriculture as well as business and marketing training.

This project offers a real chance for a solution to the human-elephant conflict and helps create a social and economic boost to a once war-torn and poverty-stricken community. A sustainable solution for both wildlife conservation and community welfare.

Up next: The Bee and The Bean

Our Green Story continues with The Bee and The Beans. For this story we buzz across to West Africa, to Sierra Leone and an area that is recovering from a civil war, an epidemic (Ebola), a pandemic (COVID) and is battling against food insecurity…

Bee Part of the Green Story

Want to Bee Part of the Green Story? Here are a few things you can do:

See what else is going on in the Green Story. Stay tuned by following us on social media or signing up to our newsletter. Donate to support Bees Abroad’s work enabling communities though sustainable beekeeping.

New Project in Uganda – Bees4U

New Project in Uganda
Bees4U

February 10 2023

Breathing new life into Beekeeping

We are excited to be receiving the first in-country update from Richard and Jane Ridler on a brand new project in Uganda. The project, named Bees4U, is in partnership with Amigos Worldwide and focused on training rural beekeeping groups. 

Our role is to support and enhance Amigos’ work on development with rural communities. Through training on beekeeping best practices, we hope to increase impact by supporting increased crop yields for farmers, and diversifying and increasing income sources through honey and value added products derived from the beehive.

Richard and Jane in Gulu

Last week Richard and Jane visited Gulu in the Northern Region of Uganda with our partner Amigos Uganda. As part of the planning of this project, they are exploring how best to increase the honey yield of 400 existing hives and the opportunity to add more.

One of the key focus areas during this visit was coaching the local Amigos staff in a systematic approach to assessing apiaries and advising participant farmers on what is required to improve their apiaries to maximise yield.

Richard and Jane also wanted to learn about how beekeepers typically sell their honey and began with a visit to huge central market. Soon enough, they found this honey in unmarked containers for sale next to ground nut paste.

Honey Jars for sale and salesperson wearing red
Mango Tree in Bloom

The surrounding forage

Around the apiaries Richard and Jane visited in Gulu, there were many mango trees in flower. There is amazing potential for honey from each tree. The mangos will be ripe in May and if farmers have hung hives in those trees, there will be a bumper crop of mangos! 

Top-Bar Tuesday: Uganda

Top-Bar Tuesday: Uganda

November 1st 2022

Beekeeping brings medicine to remote village in Rwenzori mountains

The Kihungu Thusube Engeru (KITE) Women Beekeepers group is first of its kind in the village of Kihungu, Uganda. Described as a group of “brave women” by their community, they aspire to do more for their village. Through training with Bees Abroad and their local partner, LIDEFO, they have gained experience in producing Value Addition products, such as healing creams for rashes and propolis tincture for stomach ulcers and coughs, using ingredients from their own beehives.

For a remote village, such as Kihungu, bringing medicine to the community has changed their lives. Not only are these products more affordable, they are natural and safe to use. Even more valuable is the time and energy saved by those who would have to travel 30km to the nearest town, Kasese, in order to buy medicine. The women of the group intend to use the additional income to invest in their beekeeping activities and to strengthen their savings.

Value-added Beeswax Product of the Week

The KITE women make this propolis tincture with the propolis harvested from their hives mixed with ethanol. Jostina Biira is the chair of the KITE group and explains what they do. “We keep it in a dark place for fourteen days where each day we shake the bottle once.” The women then sell the propolis in both the rural and urban local communities and are profiting from the sales as people with ulcers and coughs are benefiting from the available natural medicine.

Follow Bees Abroad on social media to see more beeswax products being made by our project participants on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Value-Addition Workshops for Women’s Groups

News from Kasese, Uganda

Becca, a lifetime beekeeper and conservation degree student who represented England at the International Meeting of Young Beekeepers has travelled to our projects in Uganda. She is currently in Kasese with our Women’s Cluster groups, delivering a series of value addition workshops. She is teaching how to make wax products (such as body cream, lip salves, shoe polish) which all earn extra income for the group participants and make good use of all the wax that top bar hives produce! We will hear more from Becca and her work in Kasese on her return to the UK!

We are grateful for the generosity of The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers who are supporting these and other value addition product workshops being delivered in Uganda and Ghana, providing the knowledge and basic equipment for meaningful extra income.