Speaking to Edith Nakato proves that farming is getting a new dimension not only in terms of technology advancement and the new crop varieties on the market but also how some traditional agriculture is favourably coping in the modern world.
Ms Nakato is a long time bee-keeper in Kyato II Village, Kayonza Sub-county, Kayunga District. The mother of six is a member of the Kayonza-Kitimbwa Bee keepers Organisation (Kabo) which was established by two women and four men on May 13, 2003. The group shared the view of developing the area through agriculture.
Ms Nakato says: “We had heard about bee keeping and some of its benefits but we did not set out to do bee keeping as a business neither was it a priority among the activities we wanted to do.
“We wanted to grow coffee, sugarcane, rice and some fruits but the idea of bees was brought by one of our members and it was embraced hence the group name.”
According to Yekosofati Bogere, founder member and chairman, it was then that the organisation’s objectives broadened from just increasing farm yields through information sharing to development and eradicating ignorance, poverty, nutrition deficiency, food security and disease control through the use of locally and naturally available tools.
Mr Bogere adds: “Some members were from Kayonza, others from Kitimbwa Sub-county but we all seemed to have a general shift from other farming activities and fixed our focus on bees which has paid off.”
Leadership and unity
The organisation has since grown to 50 members and still growing, with formal membership with the Uganda National Apiculture Development Organisation (Tunado) and the Kayunga District Farmers Assocition (Kadifa).
And according to Juliet Namatovu, Kadifa project manager, this is one of the best farmers groups in Kayunga.
Namatovu continues: “Looking at the recent harvest, they are actually doing well. They have had to learn challenging lessons. It’s the resilience, good leadership and unity that keep them together plus the desire for knowledge.”
Apart from a recent field tour to other already established bee keepers, honey producers and processors in Bushenyi District, the Kayunga group has participated in each of the annual honey week exhibitions where they have learnt from other farmers from across the country.
They share how to go about information handling and packaging, local hive making, among other things.
Hajj Jamil Balongo, Kabo vice chairperson reveals the organisation has 134 local bee hives, 178 Kenya Top bar (KTB) and 30 Lang stroth hives plus a sizeable number of catcher boxes. The hives are scattered at three demonstration sites situated at Kyato II, Nakabango and Wabuti Kitimbwa.
He says: “But also each member is encouraged to have individual hives at home or in the gardens to increase productivity of both bees and the crops. The hives are strategically placed in coffee plantation or under mango trees which give good yields. The demonstration sites are mainly for learning purposes.”
However, last season they managed to harvest 100kg of honey which was sold at a farm gate price of Shs15,000 a kilogramme doubling the volume from the previous harvests. But this could be a loss considering the number of hives where each is estimated to give at least 15kg of honey.
Hajji Balongo says, “We now have the basic honey processing equipment, harvesting attire, candle molders, spraying pumps, air tight buckets, barbed wires for the demonstration sites, smokers and all materials for making new bee hives.
He adds, “We are increasing on the number of hives, we want to reach a point when we can harvest over 10 tonnes a season because we feel its achievable then we venture into making high value products such as bee venom, propolis and royal jelly used mainly by pharmaceuticals.”
They also plan to construct a modern honey and other bees’ products collection point, which will also act as the district incubation centre for cultivating youth employment through apiculture.
A 2013 report on apiculture in Kayunga District blames this performance on the low colonisation rate (bees taking long occupy the hives) mostly due to poor weather conditions. It cites the 2010 long dry spell, which led high decolonisation rate, pests, among other things.
To mitigate these challenges, they have planted trees like Calliandra around demonstration sites, sunflower plants and some hives are strategically placed around orange orchards to prevent bees from going far off in search for food while at the same time conserving the environment.
Nevertheless, the Kayonza beekeepers has gone ahead to make hives of the KTB type, which they sell at Shs80,000 each on top of making candles out of bees wax, thanks to their partners, Self-Help Africa, which has offered to train in entrepreneurship skills along the honey value chain.