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How Atwine built a bee keeping farm

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A farm worker at Atwine’s store explains how to fix a modern beehive. PHOTO/ESTHER BRIDGET NAKALYA

In 2014, Pison Atwine, a bee farmer from Buhweju District started with about 20 bee hives. At the time, he was a student at Makerere University pursuing Bachelor of Agribusiness Management and had a passion to grow a business in beekeeping.

“I had a strong belief in professionalism, innovation, hard work, value addition and endurance,” says Atwine.

The beekeeper says he has used this venture to empower the young people in the community and improve the livelihood of their households.

“We have worked with about 350 youth beekeepers both female and male in Buhweju and Bushenyi and equipped them with beekeeping skills,” he says. 

In 2019, the beekeeper registered his company; Newlight Bees Uganda Limited, which has grown to about 105 bee colonies covering approximately 0.9 acres of land in Buhweju District.

Inspiration
Atwine realised a way to preserve the environment through a farming practice that thrives on natural vegetation. It was his love for nature that propelled him start a beekeeping enterprise.

He reveals, “My love for nature blended with my passion for agribusiness. I had to evaluate the different agricultural enterprises and decided on beekeeping.”

Much as bee farming entails eco-friendly practices. Atwine also recommends bee products to be of high reward to beneficiaries.

He notes, “Beekeeping has high value products and byproducts of which most of them are medicinal.”

The bee farmer also factored in the flexibility with managing an apiary. “Beekeeping requires less time, labour and running costs. Bees are the only insects which are allowed to get their food from people’s gardens without the other parties complaining.”

He adds that these structures also coexist with other farming practices for mutual benefit noting that, “They feed themselves, pollinating for the farmers and producing different bee products for the beekeeper.” 

The start
Atwine always had a dream of starting up his own business after school and so as early as his first year as an agribusiness student he was on the search. “I started brainstorming on life after University and started looking at the options in different enterprises.”

The search he shares came from a desire to be self-employed. He adds, “I wanted to be a change maker by bringing out different innovations that would affect people positively.” 

In June of 2014, he shared a bee-keeping proposal with his father. “My father agreed to give me timber which I used to make about 20 beehives. I sold the rest of the timber which earned me about Shs200,000.” He then used the money to develop the apiary. “I had identified a good site for an apiary in which I immediately placed the beehives,” says Atwine. At the site, he developed fence and also planted foliage to surround the structure. “I already had the timber, so I used some of my upkeep money for school to purchase Iron sheets and nails,” he says. By mid-August, 2014, he had his apiary setup with 20 bee colonies.

His first harvest he narrates came in a year later with about 60 kilogrammes of honey. “I took my first harvest to the university and started marketing them. I packaged each in a litre pack and sold it at Shs20,000 per litre within three months.”

The bee expert further attributes his growth to, “research which I started in 2015 on making honey wine, implementation and learning from other minds in the industry.”

Today, Atwine is an award winner for the best male youth beekeeper in South Western Uganda, 2018.

Value addition
In an attempt to complete the value chain in bee keeping, Atwine adds value to the honey making products such as honey, propolis, bee venom, beeswax, bee pollen and royal jelly among others.

To add to the list he says are by-products such as beeswax candles, body jelly, lip balm, body cream, honey wine, shoe polish and bathing soap.

Value addition entails a chain from processing, making and marketing. Atwine says he has interacted with different processors to expand his knowledge in handling apiaries. Most of his products are sold in supermarkets in Mbarara City. 

Achievements
Atwine shares his accomplishments with the most notable being the award where he emerged as the best apiary in 2018 by The Uganda National Apiculture Development Organisation (TUNADO).

“The biggest achievement that I have had is building my brand (Newlight Bees), and the journey has just begun as well as fulfilling my own dream of self-employment and creating jobs for others through having sustainable sources of income,” he says.

He also shares, “I have helped my fellow youth by training them basics of beekeeping, how to make beehives from the locally available materials and how to harvest different bee products in a clean way, how to add value to certain bee products and helping them to find a market for their bee products.”

Challenges
Like any other business, apiaries have different challenges which usually bring losses to beekeepers and even end up losing the entire enterprise. These he lists as; “Bee pests such as ants, wax moths, hive Beetles, bee hornets, varroa mites among others can bring regrettable consequences in the apiary.”

He also mentions the seasonality of the farming practice that affects bee keepers’ earnings. He also adds, “Reduced forage due to increased rate of deforestation reduces the nectar flow and hence less bee productivity.”

“Increased pesticide use which has led to the decline of the bee population, limited access to green financing. It is almost impossible for a regular beekeeper like myself to get such a grant,” says Atwine.

Products 
In an attempt to complete the value chain in bee keeping, Pison Atwine adds value to the honey making products such as honey, propolis, bee venom, beeswax, bee pollen and royal jelly among others.