Loyo Aqirino a resident of Locilang in Kotido Sub-county, has for the last three years been keeping bees as a commercial venture after training from Makerere University’s Afrisa programme. After the training, he formed a group of 30 members who have taken up apiculture alongside pastoralism.
In the same vein, another 30 member group was formed in Kacheri Sub-county, Kotido District. The Kacheri bee keepers’ association meets regularly for training and last year alone they harvested over 400kgs of honey. The group was formed about two years ago, uniting individual bee keepers in the area. Both groups are supported by the Jie Community Animal Health Workers Association (Jichawa), a local NGO.
Dr Poncianah Akumu, Jichawa programme coordinator, points out that while pastoralism makes a major contribution to food security and offers strategies for using harsh environments to a region threatened by climate change, diversification is as equally important now that the communities are relatively settled.
She says, “The answer seems to be apiculture. Karamoja has potential to produce huge amounts of honey and other bee products to complement agro pastoralism. All that is needed is to emphasise the vast socio-economic benefits of bee keeping along with herding, through deliberate training of practitioners”
According to Dr Pascal Panvuga, Kotido District’s veterinary officer, despite immense potential but rearing of bees for commercial purposes has not been practiced for a long time in Kotido and other Karamoja areas.
This is due to perceptions of their (Karimajong) archaic life which belie the fact that they have to innovate. “Most beekeepers use traditionally constructed beehives to trap swarming bees. Some beekeepers like in Kacheri collect their hives into one place for easy management and harvesting,” Panvuga adds, “However, production is still generally on smallholder level.”
Apart from the traditional technology, there are other technologies that are being promoted like the Kenya Top Bar (KTB) and Langstroth bee hives. Apiculture is now regarded as a priority sector for economic growth and exports, it is difficult to estimate current production of honey in Karamoja. Production data on bee products in Karamoja is not regularly harmonised despite a growing market with big unmet demand.
She continues, “In order to increase income via honey, new and bold ideas of ‘business unusual’ should be applied. The practice of providing new technologies without beekeepers thoroughly understanding how to manage them should be discouraged.
It is important that training is given to beekeepers to understand the rationale for the different technologies plus their cost benefit analyses. With emphasis on how to increase the colonisation rate and thereafter on management and proper harvesting techniques to produce quality products.”