Beekeepers’ co-op making some sweet money

Magezi in one of the processing rooms (M) and left some of the products from honey to beeswax. PHOTOS BY EDGAR R. BATTE

It takes time to realise returns on investment but when it does it is worth the time and effort put in. Eliezer Magezi told Edgar R. Batte how what started as a hobby grew into a business.

After Senior Six, I turned to do what I had learnt as a boy. Beekeeping is something I grew up doing so when I could not continue in school I was sure that my source of livelihood was through processing honey.

With no money but a dream, I started mobilising community members to come together so that they could sell as a group. Like that, Bunyangabu Beekeepers Cooperative Limited (BBC) was born.
The idea was simple. There were beekeepers but they were scattered. We spoke to them about the need of coming together to process honey.

I was preaching about what I practiced. I had three hives at home and I had been beekeeping as a hobby. The commercialisation of my passion came in 1993. Along the way, I began helping more people realise the commercial gain in keeping bees.

I had heard of Foundation for Rural Development (Forud), which was mobilising farmers into groups. From it, I learnt that working together had its advantages. Then, I heard of Australian Service for Development Cooperation, which we approached and managed to get a grant to buy a structure where cooperative offices are situated.

Unity is strength
I moved around several areas mobilising bee farmers. We formed beekeeping village groups and trained them. Soon, a few groups of beekeepers formed to compete with us. We decided to be unique; we were only buying from farmers who had trained for quality control purposes. We ensured that we paid farmers promptly when they delivered their honey.

At the time, it was Shs800 for a kilo of honey. We processed honey under the trade name, Rwenzori Mountains Pure Honey. We started transporting honey for sale in Kampala. But selling honey in Kampala in the 1990s was not that profitable. We would make deliveries to supermarkets and shops but the payment was not prompt because very few people took honey and it was largely the bazungu (Whites). Buyers would tell me to check on them in two weeks and when I showed up, they would still have no money.

Client feedback
From feedback, I got to learn that the clients had an issue with our poor packaging. At the time, we were packing the honey in plastic jars. At the time, our association comprised 60 beekeepers split in 13 beekeeper groups and the earnings could not enable us improve the packaging. We were collecting half a tonne (500kg), which did not yield an equivalent amount of money. We earned Shs400,000 from it.

Our processing method was also rudimentary. We would use a net and another cloth with no holes and a bucket. When we poured the raw honey, it would sieve through the net and to the fine cloth, and what licks into the bucket would be the fine honey. This would be a three-day process.

The turning point
Our business turned around in 2001, more farmers gained confidence in our efforts to bring them together. Farmers reorganised their apiaries or bee yards and in 2003 our production capacity went up to six tonnes.

The membership grew to 120 farmers. The price went up, with a kilo of honey going for Shs1,800. We started worked on our visibility. We then wrote to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to support us raise roadside signposts. We did not have money on the account then. Different things got us spending money. WWF supported us by erecting signposts along the road, which boosted our sales as more customers started stopping by to buy our honey. We also got connections to different exhibitions.

Exploiting the power of linkages
I was happy people were dropping in for honey but business still needed a push. In November 2013, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) through Support Development of Inclusive Markets recognised our group’s efforts and linked us to Andrew & Brothers’ Supermarket in Fort Portal. We supply honey to Kyaninga Lodge through the supermarket. The linkage created has enabled us cut down on the cost we incur in transport.

In November 2013, we were supplying honey and its related products worth Shs600,000. Today, our earnings have more than quadrupled. We now supply products worth between Shs600,000 and Shs1m weekly. In a month, we generate Shs9m to Shs10m in revenue. We make profit of Shs2m per month.

Much of the earnings go into buying packaging material. These take up to Shs5m. Initially, we used to go to Kampala to buy them and we ended up spending a night which is an additional cost. There are five employees at the cooperative offices; four men and one woman and Shs1.5m goes towards catering for their salaries.

We have been saving over time and we are now planning on increasing our production capacity as well as identifying more linkages. If we get more people like Andrew & Brothers’ Supermarket then we might not be able to meet their demand. We need to look into increasing production. We need to work with more farmers and facilitate and train them to adhere to quality controls.

Quality of the products
Quality is not an issue we can neglect. We have improved our processing methods over the years. We now use trays and metallic filters. We are also looking at expanding our processing rooms. They are small and with so much honey coming in, one cannot comfortably do their job. I have been a beekeeper for 20 years now and I am looking at sharing some of the knowledge and expertise I have acquired to train bee farmers. We plan to establish a training centre at cooperative premises. BBC has recently acquired a plot of land at Shs9m.

Part of our plans is creating a tourism beekeeping niche because tourists come and they would like to see apiaries, so we need to find a good and presentable package that can interest tourism when they come around.

We can have good apiaries with an observational bench where tourists will come and sit and see how these bees are transacting in the apiaries. Tourists will also be able to hear the sound of birds since apiaries are located in deserted places. They can also visit Rubona Basket Weavers Association (Rubawa), which is an attraction for tourists, who are mesmerised by the way the women make baskets and their unique features and natural colours.

How linkages benefitted Bunyangabu beekeepers

Jackie Kuteesa is finance and administration officer with Support Development of Inclusive Markets in Tourism (Demat), the group that helped link Bunyangabu Beekeepers Cooperative Limited (BBC) to Andrew & Brothers’ Supermarket.
Demat work with the support of Uganda Tourism Board and is funded by United Nations Development Programme. It aims at growing and increasing the participation of poor and rural communities in tourism-related income-generating initiatives.

Looking for market
Kuteesa explains that Andrew & Brothers Supermarket was not transacting any business with BBC in fact they did not even know BBC existed.

BBC was looking for market for their honey products and would sell to walk-in clients and a few outlets in the communities and in Kampala. “In the beginning Kyaninga did not buy our honey because they did not know we had honey here but when we were linked to them, our market increased,” Magezi recounts. “Andrew & Brothers Supermarket was looking for a reliable honey supplier that would be consistent and provide quality supply. We organised linkage workshops through which we brought different tourism sector players together,” Kuteesa explains.

“BBC and the proprietor of Andrew & Brothers supermarket linked up. Today, BBC is supplying honey and its related products to the supermarket,” Kuteesa explains, “BBC is now considering expanding their production line, which is currently at 13 tonnes annually. Improved sales turnover for BBC translates to improved livelihood for the 340 farmers who supply BBC. Of these, 90 are women and 70 are youth.”
Larger market share for BBC products has led to improved quality of the honey products produced, because BBC is keen on quality controls and trainings.

Kuteesa says Demat are trying to link the coop to Kabarole Tours to develop the beekeeping tourism experience as well as working with them to improve skills in book keeping, pricing, marketing and packaging.

Additional reporting by Edgar R. Batte

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