There is always this misconception that low cost beehives do not produce good quality honey. This is not true. Honey from low cost beehives can be as good as those harvested from Kenya top bars or Langstroths. It is the lack of knowledge on when to harvest the honey, what to harvest in a hive.
Most traditional bee farmer will not hesitate to grab whatever they find in the hive during the flow season. Even before the honey ripens, they would had taken them out. Lack of knowledge had led to the harvesting of poor quality honey.
Below is a clip of one of our farmers inspecting his beehive. The honey inside this hive was not ready for harvesting.
Many bee farmers in Uganda are lacking the skills in hive management. Many were taught to simply place the hives out into the woods, wait for it to be colonized and hopefully when the honey season starts, go and harvest the honey. At times they would discover that the hives are empty. They will just wait for the next colony to come. African bees are quick in absconding and a mismanaged hive is one of the reason.
In one of our topics, we teach farmers the importance of hive management and to rectify any discrepancies. If the hive is not in good condition, eg wet or too many openings due to wood warping, they need to change the hive.
In this video below, you can see one of the lessons in hive management.
The year started with a group of very dedicated beekeepers wanting to come to learn more. It was a total paradigm shift for them compared to the way they kept their bees back in the villages. We had captured a day during the training. This was how they felt about the whole course.
A Very Happy New Year! We are glad to present our latest BEST Basic Beekeeping Course Prospectus.
You can download a PDF copy of the prospectus below.
The annual bazaar event held by the International Women Organization was not as vibrant as last year. I was kind of disappointed with the turnout. Somehow we still managed to break-even.
With the 31% inflation in Uganda, I would not expect many to spend much too.
Anyhow, the show must go on.
We had just concluded another session of beekeeping course at Kajjansi beekeeping centre, entebbe. The quality of the participants are getting better. I was really impressed with this batch of students. It was no longer a,”teacher speaks, student listens” kind of classes anymore. There were so much interaction between the trainer and the students. The feedback on how to improve and finetune the program was constructive and interesting. This shows the evolution of what are needed in order to be competent in one’s progress.
Christmas is round the corner and it’s that time of the year where people are looking for Christmas gifts. This year we intend to increase our beeswax candles range. We will be introducing more moulds and the designs are more towards African themes.
Out in the market there are not much candle moulds catering for African themes. We decided to produce our own moulds.
I had an amazing time when I visited Azman, a bee farmer in Bangi, Kuala Lumpur. We started communicating some time last year this time and he knew I was heading to Malaysia this time of the year. He told me I must come visit his apiary and share with me his enthusiasm.
I was really impressed with his achievement and his apiary is the first that I came across that uses Africa beekeeping method, the Kenyan Top Bar hive system. I would not be surprised he is the first in this part of the world that applied top bar beekeeping.
This visit meant a lot to me because on this feasibility study, I wanted and needed to know how api cerana will react to top bar hive method of beekeeping. In Uganda, African honeybees do very well with KTB and I am very familiar with the method. I felt like I was back in Uganda when I approached Azman’s apiary. On top of that, I feel that top bar beekeeping is more economical for the local folks. They do not need to acquire expensive langstroth and to buy European bees to start this enterprise. By the way, the cost of 1 langstroth, comes with bees, cost RM1,800 (US$625). That package provides only the brood box, base board and cover. It does not include the queen-excluder and super. I don’t think many local villagers can afford that kind of money to start the business.
I was greeted by a large plantation of star fruit and I am confident that his bees would have no issues on nectar and pollen source. I saw the bees buzzing happily around the flowers only stopping for a moment when there were about to enter the flowers.
This was his first attempt in keeping bees and I can say that he was already doing it well although there were some pointers that he needed to look into. He had teamed up with his friend, Haniz and both are equally passionate about keeping bees.
They started only with one colony. By the time I visited them two days ago, they already had colonized 6 hives. The development of their apiary had set a good example for all. For a start, they did not spend money on buying bees or expensive equipment. They collected used wooden crates and palettes. With no prior experience and based on their own judgment, recycled these planks and palettes into smaller version of the top bar hives. Everything was going through trails and errors. Somehow the bees still found their way to these hives.
When Azman did his first hive, he wanted to see the activities within. He created a glass window on the side of the hive. This had became his observation hive. Very often he would simply open up the side panel to see these lovely ladies working hard.
Api cerana somehow has a bit of her distant cousins (api mellifera scutellata) behaviour. They can be aggressive at times if not handled properly. Azman and Haniz would have to spend more time with them to learn more about their behaviour and to overcome them.
Azman had always wondered how do we handle African honeybees without protective gear. I told him it would be much easier because api cerana or asian bees are not as aggressive as the African cousins. He was pleased when he saw the real thing after having seen my blog during our training program where most of the participants were trained to handle the African honeybees bare hands.
My third destination was Malaysia’s Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority or FAMA in Kuala Nerang, Kedah. FAMA is a marketing agency established by the Government under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry. As the Government’s marketing arm for agricultural products, FAMA is responsible for various marketing activities. Amongst its responsibilities are to set targets and product standards, monitor performance, as well as develop marketing strategies for Malaysian agricultural products. Their job role can be summarised into the following;
Market control and extension, Strategies, Development of national food terminal, Marketing contract, Entrepreneur development, Export manuals, Development of marketing infrastructure, Market information and Branding and promotion.
The setup was very professional and their marketing concept for Malaysia’s most popular honey, “Tualang honey” was very successful. I was really impressed with their presentation in the beginning. After a long discussion and exhange of ideas, my views changed.
There was a video presentation at their sales department. Eco-tourism was being promoted at the sales centre. It showed the beauty of Malaysia rain forest and the mesmerizing journey one can embark on to see the untouched virgin forest. You pay MYR400 to join the eco tour.
One of the main attraction were the sighting of the largest honeybees in the world, Apis Dorsata. You can see them colonizing on the tallest tree, the Tualang tree. You can even see these majestic colony from the ground. You get to see the harvesting of their honey during the night. Now here comes the sad part. In the video, I saw the destruction and killing of these incredible insect. These honey hunters climbed the tall trees to get to them. Once they were within range, they would use fire and smoke to chase and kill them in order to get to their honey. During the collection, many bees perished.
Being a bee keeper and a bee lover, I felt the pain when I saw the destruction during the harvesting process. Well I guess there is always this case where the market demand, supply have to be met.
Due to the demand created by the market force, these honey were harvested as soon as the bees place them into the combs, even though when they were still unripe. Api Dorsata are very aggressive when comes to protecting their nest. The only way these local folks knew were to destroy them in order to get to their honey.
The meeting ended with a tour to their honey processing plant. I left the place with a nice gift produced by FAMA.
Before my feasibility study officially starts next Monday, my hands were already itching, not from bee stings, but getting ready for my hands on with the beekeeping industry in Malaysia.
I realized that this place belongs to Mr Ong, who has another tourist attraction located at Malacca. Somehow the set up was similar but on a smaller scale.
There were two sales ladies manning the shop. They were basically there to answer simple questions about honey and to introduce the different kinds of honey available for sale. Other than that, you would not be able to get in depth questions being answered.
I was surprised to get this information from one of them. She mentioned that only hornets and wasps venom can kill, not honeybees. She even assured me that honeybees venom are not poisonous and has healing properties. Well, I felt that this information was very misleading. She was right and wrong at the same time. All of us react differently to bee venom. Some can take a few thousand stings but others can be killed with only one sting. Some react violently to the venom and can go into anaphylactic shock which can lead to death if not attend to immediately. There are some medical benefit being investigated regarding honeybee venom in relation to apitherapy. Some Therapists use honeybee venom to relieve people who have arthritis. But that does not mean the honeybee venom can be applied to everybody.
Many people in Asia I came across, often believe what these sales ladies say. They would simply take their words for it without probing further. I asked a few more questions and then decided to stop because I knew it would be pointless for me to pursue further.
They had a row of beehives on display. Only 2 hives were occupied, one with an Italian species while the other colony is a species commonly found in Malaysia. They are called “Trigonas”. These bees are also called “stingless bees”.
This place do have a great varieties of honey and its by products. Its educational approach was somehow comprehensive enough for laymen. Anyway, many would not know what sort of questions to ask. Overall presentation was good. But somehow, I felt that the sale ladies should upgrade themselves with better and correct knowledge in order to provide more in depth information for the customer to understand. I felt there is too much emphasis on trying to sell the product.
Little knowledge is dangerous.
Finally after one and half month of melting, molding and working round the clock, these candles are ready to leave home to attend a wedding banquet in Canada.
Not long ago, farmers were not aware of the by products from honey farming. They used to throw honey combs away after extracting the honey out of it. Today, not only they knew that beeswax are so useful in various aspect, it is also another form of income generating component. With proper education and guidance, they now understood the value of beeswax.
To top it all, burning beeswax candles are more environmental friendly than burning paraffin based candles. Petroleum based candle gives off toxic fumes.
The finished product looks good and the process looks simple but behind the scene, the hardship of one has to go through, many will not understand. Working with Ugandans are like producing these candles. You have to mold each and individual with time and patience, one at a time.
During my visit to Colin’s apiary over the weekend, I chanced upon a very passionate beekeeper. He has been keeping bees for more than 25 years. I was very impressed with his setup and he has a small workshop that produces all his hives. Colin had been passing his place a number of time but didn’t get a chance to stop. Since I was there, might as well make an effort to stop to see what is interesting.
Mr. Wumale wasn’t at his apiary when we drove up to his home. He was at church. He was a brilliant marketing person I should say. He had his phone number painted on one of his wooden door and that was where we managed to contact him.
His enthusiasm was contagious. He sounded like a hugh man over the phone but when he arrived, my perception of him changed. What was in front of me was a bouncy, petite guy with a big voice. I am quite certain his heart is as big as his voice. I managed to obtain a short interview with him and about his passion.
Mr. Wamule start beekeeping more than 25 years ago and his intention was to harvest honey and brood for his own family consumption. Brood mixed with porridge was a delicacy back then. His constant interaction with bees took him further than his homeland. He made an effort to wanting to learn more. During the earlier years, beekeeping in Kenya was more advance so he took off to Nairobi to understand more about beekeeping. He wanted to develop his passion into a business. He came back equipped with knowledge and vision of how to modernized his way of keeping bees.
I was impressed with his thirst for knowledge and the creativity of developing a system that suited him well.
Walking through his apiary, you could see that he had combined the beekeeping method of top bar hive and langstroth. Being curious, I asked him why? He told me that after he had returned from Kenya, he decided to capitalize on both system. What is suitable for him and what is not. He felt that both system has it advantages and disadvantages. Having the top bar horizontal management, he does not have to exert himself when comes to harvesting. A super filled with honey can be very heavy for someone his size to lift.
He liked the idea of the framed langstroth and especially the separation of the brood chamber from the honey chamber. So in his workshop, he came up with his own prototype, a langstroth that looked like a top bar hive or should I say, a top bar hive that looked like a langstroth.
His quest for modernization was due to his passion and love for bees. He admitted that previously, due to lack of knowledge, he used to hunt for the honey and brood. He felt that this wasn’t the way to go in terms of sustainability. On top of that the destruction bees made him felt guilty. Then the wonderful phrase came out from him, “I love bees and I do not want to harm them”.
You can see the twinkling in his eyes when he talks about how his system had reduced so much death within the hives during harvesting. You can sense his joy when he touched on his new way of harvesting his honey, with the introduction of the queen excluder and the bee escape. That was the best lesson he had learnt during his trip to Kenya. Many modern beekeepers might not find his discovery interesting, but for someone who had little or no resources, able to make an effort to progress is something highly commendable.
Mr. Wamule was so ever willing to share. He brought us to an empty hive and explained how it works. Although it seems there are still rooms for improvement but the creativity does deserved an applause.
Now that all his children had grown up and left to start their new life. He can enjoy his passion with a lighter burden on his shoulder. I guessed Mr. Wamule is one of the rare few in Uganda that will put honeybees first before money.
*If you love your job, you don’t have to work a single day in your life – Confucius.
It was a very successful start for our B.E.S.T. program conducted at our new training centre at Kajjansi. We had yet to name this new centre. Although the setup was not as comprehensive as the one at Timothy Centre, but somehow all the unforeseen happenings made the lessons exciting. One participant accidentally broke a comb and we had to repair in order not to let the brood perished. Another participant was not sensitive to the reaction to one of the colony that he continued to aggrevate them. They had seen how these ladies can be so aggressive when come to defending their nest.
All in all, a thumbs up for the group.
Feedbacks from our first batch of students for Kajjansi!
1. The trainer was very calm, knowledgable and had many years experience with African bees. This created confidence in the students.
2. The training facilities were very comfortable and appropriate. Very easy to get to. it’s convenient.
3. Because it was a small class, I felt that it was well contained and well attended to.
4. Because of the training methods, I felt safe.
5. I enjoyed myself (interaction encouraged)
6) Tea & Coffee (very nice touch)
7. I like the duration of the class. Not too long and not too short. Just right.
8. Most of all, I like that everyday we experienced the beekeeping through practical practices. From that we got our theory.
9. We took care of nature through the methods we learnt, NOT destroy!! – Olivia Murphy
I like the training as it helps me to really realise that beekeeping is not that scary as thought. This training is very systematic and this allows me to learn it step by step, what to do and what not to do.
Having some practical and theory competition at the end of the course really get everybody involved in the learning process of proper beekeeping. – Louis Chua
1. The training had been practical that it makes you used to the bees.
2. Free interaction between the trainer and the trainee.
3. When the trainer is teaching, he is so clear and understandable.
4. The trainer is friendly.
5. Am confident that I have got the relevant training and indeed I have got enough training to establish my bee farm.
6. The whole course has been interesting. – Kasoma Brian
I like the fact that our training was based on real world experience. Our trainer has a knowledge of African bees which is extensive. The training was “hands on”. Excellent course, excellent trainer. – Michael Murphy
I got knowledge about beekeeping
I got to know how to work with bees
I happen to see the queen in a hive and I can differetiate the queen from other bees, the drone and the workerbees
I learnt how to arrange the hive in an apiary
I happen to know beekeeping and how a farmer can improve the colony
I happen to know the process of beekeeping starting from handling – Faisal Muruhura
I like the lesson much
I like the way we do the team work
I like the way we share the idea and skill, the way of explanation
I like the environment
The knowledge we got from the instructor
The way I progress from the lesson everyday
The time the lesson starts and stops – Dramiga Rashid
Into the third day of the lessons, these future beekeepers got the opportunities to look deeper into what is happening in a hive. They were shown the different occupants and their job roles. As the days moved on, slowly they are getting more confident with their interaction with the African bees. Some of them had already taken off the veil so that they are able to see the bees and the interior of the hive more clearly.
A comb was selected and placed away from the hive. With that single comb, it told the daily activities in a colony. They managed to see the forager doing the “bee dance”, telling the rest of the foragers where the food source was. Some house bees were busy storing “bee bread” food for the young. They noticed that some of the bees were of bigger size. They were the drones. They knew now that drones do not have a stinger. All of them were so envious of the drone because their job role is simply to eat, procreate and dies.
They also managed to differentiate the cell size of the worker bee and a drone. Alas, there were no emerging queens because it was not the swarming season yet.
Everyone was eager to see the queen, but I told them we will have to be patient and locate when we bring that comb back first. She was not at that comb which we had brought out.
The training we provide enables a young beekeeper to have a calm environment to learn this trade. They were taught from the very beginning how to interact, to approach a colony without aggressive confrontation. We first create a paradigm shift with the way they view African honeybees. If they were to be treated with respect and gentleness, they will reciprocate.
The sad misconception of African bees being aggressive was eradicated from their minds. They being aggressive are because we made them so. We, human had treated them badly all these while whenever they go honey hunting.
Over the years, Organization embarked on food security programs, only emphasize on giving free bee hives to make good reports. No attention was given on how to manage African bees. Failing to manage them lead to projects abandoned after the project is over. Think of the process, not the outcome. Their aim is to fulfill their personal needs rather than making sure the funds were spent objectively and prudently.
They saw the African Queen…..
B.E.S.T. had established another training centre in Uganda. It is located at Kajjansi, Entebbe. A short 15km drive from Kampala enables more people to attend our program without having to be away for a week. Hopefully we can establish more centres all over the country to cater for the people.
This development is part of our plan of setting up a bee keepers club in Kampala. With the feedbacks gathered from our blog response, there is quite a large group of expatriates who are keen to have beekeeping as a hobby.
Our first batch of participants for the KJ (Kajjansi) apiary commenced yesterday. Although the training apiary is not fully operational yet, somehow all the basic setup for handling African bees is already in place. We shall see the centre gets more elaborate like the one at Timothy Centre in due course.
All the participants had heard about the nasty attitude of these ladies. They had never expected that on the second day, they were already told to introduce themselves to these ladies.
During the training, one of the combs got broken off from the frame. The participants were taught how to salvage the broken comb, especially those that are still containing brood. In normal circumstances, a Ugandan beekeeper would simply throw the whole comb away with the brood intact. In our program, we treasure every single brood. We emphasize on the importance of taking great care of the colony.
We are also in the process of developing another training centre nearer to Kampala City. It will be at Kajjansi, Entebbe Road. Once the model farm is established, this training centre will serve those who prefer to have their training done closer to Kampala. In fact the first batch of trainees had already started yesterday.
Production of propolis is underway. For those who had not heard of “Propolis”, I had link the Wikipedia site here.
As part of the our on going training program, we have developed this video for our B.E.S.T. program. Participants are supposed to digest what they saw and during discussion, they are supposed to highlight the do’s and don’ts.
Are you able to spot the mistakes?
The program is slowly attracting the expatriates community who wanted to play their part not only in embarking on honey farming, but also in keeping the eco-system balance. This class saw a group of interesting and bubbly participants whom I can considered them the most interactive and inquisitive lot so far. I was challenged a few times to demonstrate what I taught. That was good! This is the way to learn. It is no point having me talking and participant listening. Practical observation speaks for itself.
Although we had a full registration for this class, it was disappointing to learn that a group of 5 from the local community did not turn up for the training although they were fully sponsored by an Organization. This shows the seriousness of wanting to progress. Anyway, its their losses.
Tania Lazib - “Absolutely fantastic class; Lesster’s general insight /and understanding of bee behaviour is excellent. I came from no beekeeping experience to a point, by the end of the class, where I am comfortable planning my apiary, baiting hives, doing maintenance on the hives, and finally, collecting the honey (in a sustainable /and non-intrusive manner). Mostly practical training with the right amount theory to back it up. There was so much more to say!”
Colin Leenders – Hi Lesster, I would like to say that I enjoyed your bee keeping course very much. The week spent with you has changed the way I work WITH bees not against them which is what I have been doing in the past. I was amazed at how you can work with African bees using bare hands and not wearing head gear without being attacked and as we all know these bees have a lot of attitude. In the past when I have been working AGAINST them it was full on war as soon as the hive was opened and after it was closed.
Also like the fact that the course was keep simple easy to understand and loads of information about bees and honey. When I say simple I mean that after reading loads about bee keeping it can sound complicated also there are plenty of incorrect information out there, which during the course has been explained and demonstrated.
It is good to have loads of hands on learning with the bees and not all class room teaching. The classes are a good size. We had a good group which made it fun as well.
Once again thank you. I also highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in learning or working with bees. The learning curve does not have to be painful. – Colin
The class ended with a field trip on Friday. We visited an apiary where our former student had setup after the training. I was very proud of Fred and Madrine for the development.
The apiary was very well done and bees are already colonizing and had even started the honey collection process.
Last week was indeed a hectic week which saw us covering almost 1,200 km of traveling route. Jeff Ramsey, the Director for Imbabazi accompanied by his assistant director, Devon were here on a field trip to see my work. They intend to invite me over to Rwanda to conduct a feasibility study on a beekeeping project. They were eager to find the way forward.
Within a 5 days span, we moved from South where Timothy Centre is located and Gulu, where my commercial beekeepers are. The main highlight for the trip was meeting up with Carol Higgins from Otino Waa Orphanage, Lira. Meeting Carol would be a very good yardstick for them to understand what to expect.
17th Jan – 22nd Jan saw the first group of participants for the BEST program for 2011. It was a diversify group because all of them came from various district in Uganda. Even the participants attended were getting more challenging.
Some of them had never kept bees while there is one who is a beekeeper. He is 74 years old. He had been in Uganda for more than 25 years as a development worker introducing sustainable agriculture activities through education on basic accounting and book keeping.
They were prepare to go through the program to overcome the fear in order to embark on the business.
This training is a “MUST” for anyone who is willing to keep bees. In this training, I learned how to handle bees in a very gentle way. My fear for bees has reduced – Building a relationship between the beekeeper and the bees is very crucial.
Father Reverend Stanislas is from Togo and currently he is pastoring a church in Lira, Northern Uganda. They had embark on beekeeping for sometime now but he felt that the project has rooms for improvement. He came for the training so that he came equip himself with more knowledge so that he can share it with his fellow folks in Lira. Fr. Stanislas is very hands on himself.
The first of importance is how to handle the bees – keeping them calm, non aggressive, how to use smoke to calm and to move the bees. How to handle the bars – all in all, very practical and very hands on. Instructors was very open to discussion, patient, willing to evaluate new ideas. Excellent foundation for further bee management.
Stan Burkey is a private consultant providing a very important component in rural development enterprise – financial planning, book keeping. Many small scale farmers do not know how to manage their earnings, calculate profit and loss. Stan would assist them in getting their books right. 40 years of experience in a few African countries. His contribution had enlighten many such farmers, turning them into entrepreneurs.
I have realised that in order to benefit from beekeeping, one has got to know how to handle the bees and make them your friend instead of enemies. This program teaches how to use the bee tools in order to deal with the bees, not to mistreat them but use the tools to work with the bees.
I so much like the hands on training that we have had which expels out the fear and panic. I aslo like the interactive training whereby you ask and discuss all that you have seen in the apiary.
This training is introductory but really loves a lot of indepth information like how the bee behave and their program in the hive such that you know the time to work with them.
Wilber force is currently working with an NGO is agriculture sustainability. He is embarking on this enterprise so that he can develop his own bee farm at his home. He hopes in the not to far future, he can use his apiary as a model bee farm to help his community to start beekeeping as another source of income to supplement their current earnings.
I liked the creative aspect of the training..Practical, Participatory and Interactive. The training emphasized the establishment of a relationship with the Bees.. at the end of the training all of us the participants were confident enough to drop the veils and the gloves, to get Up-close and passionate with the bees. (theoria cum praxi)
Lesster confidently evaluated The beekeeping Industry (based on his 10 years experience in the industry in Uganda) and gave us the challenges in the industry. The participants discuss the Bee-economics and individual prospective investment plan which he selflessly discusses.
William work as an Information Systems Consultant in his own company where he is the Director. He is also an Associate Consultant at Uganda Management Institute in the Department of Information Technology. He is looking forward to start his Commercial Bee keeping as well as promoting Api-Tourism back home in Kisoro District and to create his own Honey Brand.
Another year is soon to pass. 2010 saw many exciting happenings in the development. Looking forward to see what’s in store for 2011. Ready……get set……….
One of our students had written about her experience when she attended our training on her blog. I would like to thank her for the feedback. You can get to see more pictures posted by her here.
An exciting week! We saw participants coming all the way from United States of America and our neighbor, Rwanda. The lesson plans were somehow adjusted to accommodate the inquisitive minds of this group. Everyday they discovered a new frontier about the life of these little insect. Different strokes for different folks.
I was glad that the feedback at the end of the training were very encouraging. Here are some testimonials from this class;
The lessons did not end when the classes end. We scheduled Friday evening for a get together to have early dinner followed by a casual session, tackling all those unanswered questions that were still lingering on everybody’s mind.
This is the beginning of a new journey for these new beekeepers. Our program includes a comprehensive tracking system to monitor the performance of every individuals. All trainees were issued with an identification card to monitor their progress.
China has her Terracotta warriors, I have my beeswax candles. There is something common between them. They are a gift from Mother Earth. Sharing with the farmers on the values of by-products from honey, they are able to have another source of income.
Previously, the methods the farmers used to extract honey were to squeeze it from the combs with their bare hands, or separating the honey from the wax by boiling the honey at a high temperature. This process will destroy the quality of the honey. After which, they throw the wax away.
With proper education and sensitization, their lives changed. They now know the importance of proper handling of their harvest. Not only they can raise the quality for the honey, they found a new source of income and a ready market.
Past few days were spent running around town, getting all the documents prepared for the shipment. This morning finally saw the shipment ready for flight. The forwarder came on time to load the buckets up. Hopefully it will reach Switzerland safely and on time.
Logistic management in Uganda still has a long way to go. One of my previous shipment, one ton of my honey was left at Entebbe airport for 10 days and nobody notice all the buckets sitting there and going nowhere. Luckily honey is non perishable. If not I will be in deep trouble. My customers were very amazed that how come such things happened. How to compete with the rest of the World if Uganda is not going to look at these issues seriously.
Yesterday I was chatting with the Chief Veterinarian. He is the person that will approve and certify all agriculture export like coffee and in this case, honey. I was surprised when he mentioned that we were the only Company that is exporting honey to Switzerland. He told me that honey going into EU is very difficult because of the stringent quality test required. He was glad that ours are able to meet the EU standards and being exported out. How he wished there were more honey with the same quality in the market.
Christmas is round the corner. Creativity plays a major role in keeping on par with market demands. We had just increased our range of beeswax candles for sale. More choices, more sales.
Here are some history about beeswax candles;
Candles have been used as an artificial light source for an estimated five thousand years. The first candles were made of boiled animal fat (tallow), a substance that when burned gave off heavy smoke, an inconsistent flame, and an acidic odor. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that candle makers discovered the burning properties of beeswax, the substance secreted by bees to make their honeycombs. Beeswax candles quickly became preferred over tallow candles because when burned, the beeswax candles emitted very little smoke or odor; and beeswax candles burned with more consistency than tallow.
But bees weren’t cultivated. And this rare and prized substance could only be afforded by Europe’s nobility or by the Catholic Church. It later became canon law that candles burned inside a Catholic cathedral must be composed of at least 60 percent beeswax, a law still in effect today.
By the 9th century candle making had become so perfected that the nobility were using beeswax candles to tell the time. Candles were poured and shaped with enough beeswax to burn for exactly 24 hours. The candle maker then marked the candle with 24 lines. The candle’s owner could tell what time of night it was by the section of candle that was burning. In the 13th century, guilds of candle makers began springing up throughout Paris. The next notable innovation for beeswax candles came when guilds started using wicks made of twisted cotton instead of wicks made from rushes, linen, or flax.
The whaling industry provided the dominant fuel source for tallow candles in the 18th century. Sperm whale oil (spermaceti wax) was used more in North American and European candles than other animal fats. But compared to beeswax, the spermaceti candles still smoked more and emitted an unpleasant odor.
Cotton wicks improved next when candle makers began braiding their cotton wicks instead of just twisting them, allowing for a more consistent burn. Using braided cotton wicks is one of the only changes to beeswax candles since their original conception in the middle ages.
For nearly 1500 years, beeswax candles would be considered the cleanest and most pure form of artificial light until the popularization of electricity in the 1900s.
Original article from here.
When we arrived at his place, he was in his working clothes, out in the field. He was happy to see us and was so enthusiastic that we were there. Immediately he led us to one of his shade to show us what he had done – 20 local bee hives! He was in the midst of identifying a suitable plot of land to start his apiary. Simon is also a brick maker. He told us that once he is able to get some income from his selling of his bricks, he will start his apiary.
To me this was very motivational. The effort that all had put in had not gone to waste. Although the results are slow, but there are results from the training. Nothing is more satisfying than to see the participants benefitting from the program. I am proud to have Simon as one of our BEST farmer.
Beeswax is one of the by-product from honey farming. Many bee farmers are not aware that it can be another income generating activity if they were taught to process and value add. One of the main items that can be produced from beeswax are candles. Beeswax candles are well received because of its natural origin. They are not chemically treated like paraffin candles. In fact burning beeswax candles are more environmentally friendly as one does not inhale toxic fumes in comparison to burning paraffin candles. The advantages out weigh the normal paraffin ones.
One of our programs at BEST is to empower the farmers to utilize what is available in honey farming and to teach them about value adding. By collecting empty combs from the hives, they were taught how to convert honey combs to beeswax using whatever they can find locally.
Simple understanding of how things are done do not require expensive equipments. Take for example, a simple solar wax melter are just a few pieces of wood nailed together. Having it painted black to increase the heat absorption rate. Inside are just a few stones to harness the heat , a simple pot cover, with holes drilled acting as a sieve. Under the harsh African sun, the combs will melt through the sieve in a sauce pan, giving them the raw beeswax.
Once the conversion is done from combs to wax, the rest is getting it moulded into different shapes and sizes ready for market. As part of the training program entails entrepreneurship, for those farmers that do not have the facilities to start their own production, we get them involve in the candle making process so that on top of producing honey, they can come to the centre with their beeswax, sell them to us and gradually teach them to use their income to start their own small business. we will help them to acquire moulds from overseas where they have no access to the products.
Bees are more smart than scary, and instead of wasting time running away from them, we should start studying them. Their life and business lessons rival the strategies taught at some of the best colleges out there, so check out this list of 10 skills you can learn from bees.
- They’re expert communicators: Bees triangulate distances and direction, and are in continuous contact with their hives as they search for food sources. They’re not off “hunting” for themselves; instead, bees never seem to break contact with the group and keep each other informed to stay alive and recruit other bees to help them collect pollen where it’s most plentiful. Can you imagine if there were no secret stashes or ulterior motives in business?
- Bees are associative learners: Bees never stop learning and use natural forces to direct their actions in terms of finding food and monitoring the environment. They continue to visit the types of flowers that consistently offer them rewards, noting color and odor, and then effectively ditch them if weather patterns or other elements make the reward harder to obtain in search of other flowers. If we could learn as quickly, and then let go of past processes in order to move forward, we’d be profit-making machines, no exceptions.
- The more, the merrier. And the more productive: Swarms of bees result in a very social insect, promoting flexibility and adaptability, robustness, and self-organization, according to AskNature.org. Scientists have found that when surrounded by a pack, bees that “fail,” don’t cause major problems because all the others pick up the slack. Innovation, optimization and streamlined processes result from self-organization, which seems to naturally occur in swarms.
- They have different jobs and stick to them: It’s a controversial lesson in efficiency, and one that’s often rejected in the United States, where cross-mobility is appreciated. But bee colonies have a strict hierarchy and class system, and the hive works so well because worker bees sting and forage, male drones mate, house bees build the honeycomb and tend to the queen, and so on.
- Their product is attractive to many industries: Bees don’t just make the honey you put on your ice cream. Their wax is used for cosmetics, religious products and lots of food products, and they also pollinate plants and even whole orchards. Furthermore, their honeycombs and hives are still inspiring architects today because of their complexity and relative durability. What’s the business lesson here? Always aim to create a product and/or service that’s attractive and even necessary for lots of industries and customers, making your company indispensable and practically invulnerable.
- They’re highly adaptable to even drastic changes: Bees that have been relocated thousands of miles — from Hawaii to Louisiana in this case — are still able to locate and collect pollen in just an hour. New locations, temperatures and environments don’t sway their end goal or bottom line.
- They continue to evolve: Scientists believe that honeybees first spawned 130 million years ago, during the landmass of Gondwana. After the breakup of the landmass, some honeybees became extinct, but most have evolved and sub-speciated according to their new environments. Even after continent break-ups and climate changes, bees are still around and working just as furiously.
- Age levels are directly related to work habits: Bees delegate different jobs according to age level, showing an understanding for natural ability, stamina and practice. Young bees, for instance, aren’t allowed out into the field unless there has been a serious blow to the population. Would you want your brand new intern making independent sales calls on his first day? Take a cue from the bees and associate new workers with “housekeeping” for the first few weeks.
- Bees depend on their queen: Every colony or company needs a strong leader. When queen bees are absent or have died, bees start squabbling and are less organized. During the interim between queens, colony morale is down, and honey production is lower. Even the mere presence of a strong leader (hint: you don’t have to micromanage) is vital to directing workers.
- Bees have an innate sense of responsibility and a desire to work: While you can’t force an instinct upon someone else, you can train employees to almost instinctively notice when work needs to be done, minimizing wasted time and micro-mangement. Bees start working a few hours after they’re born, noticing the dirty cells that need to be cleaned around them and eventually moving on to clean the queen, guard the hive, and forage for pollen and nectar, and contribute in any way that’s needed.
You can see the original article here.
Photos by Lesster Leow, Aug 29, 2010
Dear Mr. Beekeeper Sir,
By the time you read this letter, probably I would have already left this World. You see, my life on this earth is only about 45 days. And it is only the last few days I was able to fly out to collect half a teaspoon of honey for everyone to share.
I was very sad and frightened when I saw this video clip of you and your method of taking honey away from us. I think I should say more of sad than frighten. For so many years, we had to be placed under lots of tests and experiment and cross breeding to develop a mutated species of honeybees that do not know how to protect ourselves the way God had wanted us.
When I was born, I heard from my sisters that our mother was not given the opportunity to find her own mates but instead sent to you, forced against her will to be inseminated according to your desire. And when you found out that our mother is no longer producing, you terminate her life prematurely.
You could not handle our natural aggressive behavior given by God’s to protect ourselves, you took nature into your own hands and made generations and generations of our siblings defenseless. You made us felt that as if the honey is rightly belonging to you and we are hindering your progress when you sell our honey.
You had made us so stressful that we had lost all our own defense system in order for you to take advantage of our docile behavior. Initially I thought it was for the best for both parties, but I was wrong. I thought being docile was a good thing so that we can work harmoniously but instead, you took our kindness as weakness. You abused our gentle friendship and treated us like slaves, without sparing a thought on how we feel. We are also living creatures like you and we do feel pain.
Look at the video clip. How did you mistreat our fellow sisters? My heart bled when I saw so many being crushed in between the box. They had done you no wrong except bringing honey for you to enjoy the fruit of their labor. When you had taken whatever you wanted from us, you simply trashed all of us on the ground, lost, confuse and stressed.
Now all of us are sick and many of us are slowly disappearing with no apparent reasons at all. Have you ever thought about the cause and effect? What is happening now is a vicious circle. Treating us with anti-biotic to prolong our lives is not the solution. Soon the anti biotic will be spilled over into the honey and end of the day, you will be eating contaminated honey from your own doing. In fact I knew this had already happened. But you chose to keep silent so that you can sell the honey. A piece of paper can never wrap a burning flame. That’s why some time back, honey from some Countries were banned because traces of anti-biotic were found in them.
Things had come full circle. If you were to see what is happening around, it will not last long. We used to be very resilient to all kinds of diseases and viruses but for the last decade, many of our siblings were succumbed to diseases and viruses that had always been living together, without interfering with our daily lives.
Look at my fellow sisters in Africa, with little or no human intervention. They had retained their natural aggressive instinct and till now, they are still resilient to viruses and diseases. They are still producing beautiful, natural honey, which is what it should be.
Dear Mr. Beekeeper Sir, I hope this letter will make you rethink how you should treat us and what will be the effect in the long run.
To you, it is just in a day’s work. To us, it matters life and death.
From a frightened little honeybee
Wanted to know more about the life cycle of honeybees? Watch the video below from http://www.hilaroad.com.
5th July saw the second batch of trainees undergoing the program. The idea of having the interviews for selection before training was prudent because we saw serious farmers who were prepared to pay the price of hard work. If not we will not be able to see the results if committed farmers were not chosen.
The 6 days training also saw them spending most of the time in the field, hands-on. By the end of the training, we received very positive feedbacks especially having them recognizing the importance of real field experience rather than classroom lectures of honey farming throughout the course. We had a very interesting participant and we shall talk more about him later in the blog.
Our classes were kept to a maximum size of 12 and below. We do not want classes to be of any larger less it might cause stress to the bees if activities were to be conducted throughout the next 6 days. African bees are well known for its aggressive behaviour. The classes will not meet its objective if the farmers were unable to work on them when they turn aggressive.
The class started with the participants introducing themselves and sharing with all why did they decide to embark on beekeeping. This gesture is common here and I do find it is a good practice. It will somehow enable the participants to interact more freely and to share their experiences as we went along.
Most farmers are still unaware of the different types of bee hives that can be used for honey farming. The course provides the insight of the history of beekeeping, the different methods applied in different parts of the World, the advantages and disadvantages of the various hives used. Most important of all the migration of honey hunting to honey farming.
One of the first topic that we had touched on was sustainable beekeeping. It is pointless if we would just simply teach them about beekeeping without them realizing how to keep the business sustainable. We need to instill in their thoughts that the most productive method is the method that will suit them best, in terms of financial and skills.
Beekeeping is a full time job. We have to change their mindset that beekeeping is not easy and simple. You don’t simply put beehives out in the field and wait for the honey flow season to starts. After which you go and collect the honey and sell. All these have to go. When there are no interaction with the bees, you will see zero results.
When the time comes for harvesting, they would find the colony so aggressive, so much so that instead of harvesting honey, they would destroy and kill all the bees before they can to get to the honey.
The fear of these insects was always there and the only method they knew were to approach them during the night with fire to avoid stings. That was what they were taught from their parents and grand parents. The end results – beautiful honey destroyed and contaminated during harvesting.
They were quite skeptical in the beginning when we told them they will be moving into the apiary in the afternoon. We will work on the bees in broad daylight. Some did not believe it. In order for them to accept the fact that beekeeping can be done during the day, we went down to the apiary and let them have a feel of the bees busy flying in and out of their hives.
The following day, the team started early to begin their basic on apiary management. Previously some were taught that they were supposed to hide their beehives among tall grasses because bees loves to colonized in thick bushes. This is not true. In fact having all the tall grasses and thick bushes would hinder the mobility of the farmer. On top of that, farmers can even be injured or killed by snakes hiding or moving around. Thus we demonstrated why it is important to have a clean neat apiary for easy handling of the hives during apiary management.
Every batch will be taken to task to start an apiary from scratch. We allocated another part of the farm to have them clear the area to prepare the siting of their bee hives. This time round, they will be setting up 2 rattan hives, 4 Kenyan top bars and 1 log hive coming from Gulu.
After which, they were taught to bait all the hives before deploying them out into the field. Baiting is an important process for it will hasten the process of colonization. Many a times, farmers would use cassava flour or honey or even sugar, placed inside the hive to attract the bees. They did not realized that these items will also attract other insects like ants.
Below are some of the shots taken during the 6 days training.
Earlier in this blog, I mentioned that we had an interesting participant. his name is David Sengaali. He was born physically challenged. His left hand was born stunted but his determination of being a good beekeeper was admirable.
David started beekeeping when he was 9 year old and got his skill of honey hunting through his grandparent. He would move around with them and other beekeepers in his village whenever they went for honey hunting. At the tender age of 9, he was fascinated by these insect and wanted to know more. Soon the desire to keep them was so strong that he started to build his own hive and caught bees in places like abandoned ant hill and hollow logs. He would then transfer them into his hives.
Soon village folks around came to know about his passion and they started to buy honey from him. Honey is like medicine to these villagers. With that little source of income, he managed to send himself to school.
25 years had past and now he makes his living by making bee hives, smokers and bee suit for Organizations. His passion had turned into a business for him.
He chanced upon our project 2 months back and was curious when he saw our apiary. He wanted to know more about our operation and approached Karl. When he heard that we are conducting training, he requested to join in so that he is able to increase his knowledge in beekeeping. My interaction with him found out that his knowledge in beekeeping was good. He does have potential in this trade. I will be monitoring him from now and I believe he will be a good candidate to be a future bee trainer under our wing.
Below is a video of him making his own rattan hive during the training.
Photos by Lesster Leow, Aug 7, 2010
10 years of struggle, ups and downs, zillions of stings and understanding Uganda’s apiculture had seen us establishing the first school for beekeepers in Uganda. The long awaited beekeeping school had finally arrived! Home base is at TIMOTHY CENTRE, MASAKA.
Our school’s motto – “BEST” program – “BRINGING ECOLOGY AND SOCIETY TOGETHER”, defined our direction and the purpose of the setup of this school. We had seen too many bee farmers keeping bees without sparing a thought for these insects. Most bee farmers in Uganda are mainly honey hunters because not much emphasis were put on the well being of these bees. The long term detrimental effect of the decline of the bee population, unbalancing of the ecosystem was not taken into consideration. It’s about time beekeepers learn to appreciate the existence of the bees and understanding the positive impact when they co-habit alongside with them with the least disruption of their lifestyle. Honey farming can thus be done in a more humane way.
PIONEERS FOR THE “BEST” PROGRAM
First batch of trainees for the program. There were from Gulu district. Class conducted on 10th – 15th January 2010.
FEEDBACKS FROM THE TRAINEES DURING THE COURSE;
“I like the training on transporting bees and the way we can work on bees. My most important lesson was the way the trainer taught us on how we must handle the bees gently in order not to kill them unnecessarily. I have also benefited from the training in three ways – 1) How we must set our apiaries, 2) Working on the bees during day time. 3) How to handle the bees gently.” - Achuman Martin Odong
“What I like about the training was that it had given me technical ways of keeping honeybees. The most important lesson in the training was the calm handling of the bees. The training method was practical. I had benefited from the training a lot because I have discovered many different ways of beekeeping/management of which it will make me go back and make modern change in my bee farm.” – Odoki Thomas -
“Gin ma omiyo aropwony ma pi medo ngec pipito kic. Pi miyo nge kit me kobo kic metero ne ipoto muken. it ma myeo ibed lorem kic. Ki ngec me kwoko poto obed maleng. Ber pa Lapwong nyutu pwonye itic. Anongo ber pwonye iyo meworo, a) weko itoto kic maleng, b) miyo kic pe bedo ger.” – Odong Julius Peter
The second batch of trainees coming for the course will be on 5th July to 10th July 2010. Slowly but surely we can see more bee farmers coming forward wanting to keep bees the proper way.
WHEN THERE ARE BEES, THERE WILL BE HONEY……
God created these beautiful insects to help mankind, to produce honey for us. But with modernization of this industry with human intervention, these lovely queens have to succumb to stress and being defaced just because we human wanted to spot them easily out of conveniences. Some beekeepers would even go to the extend of clipping their wings just to prevent them from flying. To me these are act of inconsideration to the well being of these queens and it is cruel.
I wonder are these necessary? Are the rationales able to justify our treatment to these insects? I feel that if we want to become a beekeeper we should spare a thought for these little insect. Let them live as naturally the way God wants them to live and we learn to co-habit with them harmoniously. Let’s not try and force them to live according to our whims and fancies.
Nature has its way of development. Bees are disappearing from the surface of the earth. Scientist are always looking for an answer. Could it be our own doing? I cannot imagine the queen bee have to sniff the chemical paint on her back all her life. What if it was the paint that had created this adverse effect on her growth or production system, making her and her off-springs less resilient to viruses and bacteria? I know one of the reason for marking the queen is to identify an aggressive one so that she can be repalced. Maybe it could be this practice that had aggravated the situation for some.
Engaging in natural beekeeping is so humane. We do not see the need of doing such things and yet, they are still producing good honey for us. I for one will never deface such a wonderful creature. Look how ugly man had made them look. I don’t believe without these practice, the bees will not produce honey. Life still goes on without the need of identifying the queen.
I wonder how would a beekeeper feels if he or she is walking around with a blob of paint on their forehead, identifying themselves as a good beekeepers.
Yesterday I received an email from a trading Company in Singapore telling me that they are interested to carry our honey products to be marketed back in my homeland. I guessed they could had gotten my contact either from the web or had read an article somewhere regarding my work as a honey farmer here.
The first few questions she asked were, “How much is your honey? Is your honey pure? Is your honey real? I want your cheapest honey.”
If it was my former self, I would had taken it personally. How can she ask me all these questions without first doing her homework on the industry. She had not even understood what a beekeeper had to go through in order to have that clean jar of honey on the table. I was very surprised with myself that not only was I not offended with these questions thrown at me, and instead replied her with an earnest answer. There are no rights or wrongs with consumers asking that kind of questions. Its just because there are not enough information for the consumers to understand about this industry, especially honey farming in a third world country. I had to thank Violet Oon for that.
Violet shared her experiences as a professional in her work, dealing with all kinds of people from all walks of life. While we were discussing about how we are going to present Uganda honey back to Singapore, we touched on the competitiveness of our honey in comparison with the honey from other countries. My main concern was that Uganda has no regular shipment or flight back to Singapore and the cost of transportation will be an issue. What struck me was when she enlightened me on the different consumers’ needs and want. I began to empathize with the way the lady approached me with her questions. There are products that are meant for general public and there are products that only meant for those who knows and appreciate the values. Its not the end product but what kind of social impact the product had benefited the community during the course of development. I should be the one having to recognize which market is best suitable for my product. Once I can place the path correctly, I will get my direction right.
Coming back to the process of harvesting honey, the many challenges that the farmers had to face had never crossed the mind of the people around the table when that small teaspoon of honey was lifted off the jar. Two of the toughest but deadly challenges faced by the farmers are mentioned below. Personally I had encountered some of the snakes during my life as a bee farmer here. With GOD’s blessing and guidance, that is our only protection from grenades or land mines. You can find more informations and pictures regarding snakes here.
THE HIGH RISKS OF HONEY FARMING IN NORTHERN UGANDA.
1) For the last 22 years, Northern Uganda had been under insurgency by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA). Although the fight had ceased and they had left for Central Africa, there are still a lot of unexploded grenades and land mines lying around. To date, United Nation are still deploying mines experts to detect and detonate land mines. Villagers, especially children were still killed by these mine till today. Our bee farmers are like playing “Russian Roulette”. They will never know when they would step on one.
2) Venomous snakes occur throughout many regions in Uganda and are a threat to the people in the agriculture industry, especially in the rural areas where they are most abundant. Out of more than 3000 species of snakes in the world, some 600 are venomous and over 200 are considered to be medically important. There are two types of categories in venomous snakes. Uganda have 13 species.
CATEGORY 1: Highest medical importance
Definition: Highly venomous snakes that are common or widespread and cause numerous snakebites, resulting in high levels of morbidity, disability or mortality.
CATEGORY 2: Secondary medical importance
Definition: Highly venomous snakes capable of causing morbidity, disability or death, for which exact epidemiological or clinical data may be lacking; and/or are less frequently implicated (due to their activity cycles, behavior, habitat preferences or occurrence in areas remote to large human populations).
Africa has the highest number of venomous snake found. Uganda is no exception. Below are the types of snakes that can be found in Uganda and the chances of the bee farmers facing them during harvesting is high. Bee hives have a warm temperature of 35ºC and snakes love to hide inside the bee hives during raining or cold nights.
To the lady who wanted to import the honey, it’s just a matter of a day’s work, but to the farmers who wanted to sell their honey so that they can provide for their family, it’s a matter of life and death.
Honey harvesting season is over! El Nino had confused the farmers as well as the bees. When it was supposed to rain, it shone and when its time to shine, it was raining cats and dogs. This season the farmers had difficulties in harvesting due to the erratic weather. But still the show must go on. The next few weeks will be consolidation of all the honey buckets from all the parish within the range of 60 kms, All these honey will arrive at the collection centre to be weigh. The farmers will get their payment once we had finalized the quantum.
Now that the honey season is over, we will be looking for other source of income for the villagers. Recently I had been in collaboration with a German friend of mine. He is into Shea butter production for EU market. We will be embarking on a joint co-operation so that our bee farmers and their wives can go into the forest to collect Shea nuts. It would be another good source of income for them. There is a whole demand for Shea butter now. Consumers are slowly appreciating the usefulness of Shea products. Its a good natural ingredient for cosmetic especially for skin.
With the combination of our honey and beeswax and his Shea butter, we will be developing our first range of product – lip balm and moisturizer. Meanwhile our 100% certified Organic Shea butter will be making its way to Asia later part of this year. The product will be available at our Singapore Office.
Over the weekend, I was invited to Village of Hope, in Masindi to assist in removing a colony of bees that had built its nest inside a rooftop of one of the building. The colony arrived at a bad time because Mike and his team were supposed to have the place fully operational by end of this coming week for inspection. Luckily the colony had been there for only about two weeks and they had not reached its full force yet. If not, it will be more difficult to handle them.
I was glad Mike did not chose the easy way out, which was to get a pest controller to terminate the colony. Life was already tough enough for these bees, we tried not to make it any tougher for them. If we were to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we were actually intruding into their habitat. Although many felt that we humans are the most superior being amongst animal and insects, we should still stay humbled and learn to live with nature in a more peaceful way. What goes around, comes around.
After dinner, we decided to let the bees get to know us. We had to do this at night for we need to wait for the foragers to return. In case we needed to transfer them down, we would not miss out the foragers.
When Bosco started to pry open the bottom plank of the roof, they started buzzing, showing their unhappiness. My initial plan was to see whether I could avoid using the smoker. Soon from trickling movement, I could sensed that they will pour themselves out within the next few seconds. Immediately we have to move back and activate plan B, using the smoker.
Smoking simulates forest fire. Bees fear forest fire. Smoking the bees is not as simple as it looks. One must fully understand why, when and how to introduce smoke to the bees. It will then be effective.
Too little smoke, there will be no effect on them. Too much smoke, they will turn aggressive. They will start flying in all directions, making it very difficult to contain them.
It took us about 20 minutes before we can proceed with the opening of the bottom panel.
The view was breathtaking! It was indeed a strong colony as they had already built up to 8 combs with some having brood while other having honey stored.
The situation looked calm and we decided that we should not make things ugly by having to dislodge the colony. Moreover, we were not equipped with any empty hive to contain them and to relocate them if we were to bring them down.
So our plan of action was to destroy part of the combs, making them feel that this was no longer a safe place to stay anymore. They would find another location and leave this nest the next morning. Our main objective for this decision was that we do not want any confrontation resulting in casualties on both sides. Patience will make us arrive to an amicable solution.
Comes next morning, we went to observe the bees, they were very still. This shows that they were waiting for the queen’s instruction what to do next. Meanwhile Mike shared with me his plight, that he had a deadline to meet. We do not know know long before this colony will find another location to nest.
So we decided to help them hasten their decision by creating a bigger smoke just below the hive so that they have no choice but to abscond and leave the nest immediately.
Bosco ignited the drum of wood shavings, the smoke and heat started to rise. Within 10 minutes, the queen took flight, stopping at a nearby tree. The whole colony started to follow, forming a large dark cloud. The whole area was buzzing and bees were seen flying in all directions. Those who are not accustomed to this scene will tend to be wary of being attack by them. Usually they would not disturb anyone because they are focusing on joining their queen.
By 10am, everything had quiet down with saw the colony clustering on the tree top. This was where we moved in to clear the remaining combs, painted it with wood varnish demolishing all traces of smells from a previous nest. No other colony will choose this location again.
My first impression of the village when I arrived was a, “YES”! I was impressed with the way things are developing if an orphanage was to take place. The feeling I got was very down to earth, very real. This beautiful family, Mike, Janelle and Jenna, had done a wonderful job, transforming a barren piece of wilderness into a productive, positive haven for these children to move ahead with their lives.
Having such a setup which is very close to the way life should be in Northern Uganda, the orphans are able to grow steadily physically, mentally and spiritually, not having that vast paradigm shift, not taking things for granted. They will learn how to appreciate the changes and opportunities given to them to start life afresh. I can say that the focus right now for the orphans is really their needs and not our wants. The need of a good home, the need of medical attentions, the need for proper education and the need to identify the importance of sustainability. I had seen one too many. Without that portion of self sustainability, projects will not last.
We chatted and had lunch on Sunday before I took off to Gulu to see my bee farmers. We shared many common objectives. Well done! Mike, Janelle and Jenna!
For the past year, my Singaporean friends who had been following my blog had urged me to write about the frequently asked questions on honey. There are so much information on the net concerning honey, having its own findings, rationales and reasons. I would just be duplicating what had already been written and I don’t see the point of repeating it. In Singapore, there are still a lot of consumers who are not sure about the information received, were they facts or myths.
Three of the common myths are;
1) Ants are not attracted to real honey.
Ants, like honeybees, are social insects, when ever they locate a food source, they will go back to its colony to inform the rest of the findings. Honey is simple sugar. It is made up of fructose and glucose. Fructose is fruit sugar. Fruit sugar is sweet. Ants like all things sweet.
2) One cannot use metal spoons for honey.
After harvesting raw combs from the hives, we are to break the combs and let it drip through fine filters into food grade stainless steel tanks according to safety food standards. Honey are then stored up to more than 3 weeks for settling. Yes, although honey is acidic, but that will create no significant effect whatsoever while using a metallic spoon.
3) Honey must be crystal clear.
Pure unadulterated honey tend to be cloudy due to the presence of pollen spectrum. That constitutes part of the nutritional values in honey. UltraFiltered Honey or UFH honey are crystal clear. Well that boils down to the consumer preference again. Some consumers feel more comfortable taking honey that are perfectly clean and clear. There are also some Countries prefer having their honey pasteurized.
One of the reason why it took me some time before I decide to bring my honey back to my homeland was that now there is growing group of friends that had really understood and appreciate what is real honey, because some had been here and had seen my work and are assured that what they are going to get will be at its purest.
At the same time, they knew that by consuming the honey harvested from our farmers, directly they are assisting them in providing a source of income for their children to go to school and to help alleviate poverty. That jar of honey on my friends’ table are more meaningful rather than pondering whether their honey is pure or not. What they have on their table comes with assurance and these three simple facts are more than enough to quench their doubts;
1) They witnessed the source of the honey
2) They received the test report stating the quality and authenticity
3) They know the beekeeper.
Selling our honey in Europe is far more simpler than in Singapore. The honey eating culture is matured and they know exactly what to look for.
Consuming honey is a simple issue. So long as they are getting from a reliable source, having all the necessary certification and test reports backing up from established institutions. Real honey sells by itself. Our honey going back to Singapore will be as no frill as possible so that consumer will get every single drop of their honey worth.
I guess knowing the source is a sure way of getting what you really want. Consumers are getting more knowledgeable and vigilant with their purchases now because of the internet. There are a whole lot of information out there. Soon consumers will be able to find out the truth. Its just a matter of time.
To summarize it all, what I can say with regards to this issue, whether you are getting the real honey or getting what is worth, here are the simple guidelines;
1) Make sure you get it from reliable source.
2) Knows where the exact location of the honey are produced. (It is best that honey comes from one location and not blended from various destinations)
3) Look at the test report of the honey. The test report is like the birth certificate for that batch of honey.
Well, now is the beginning of the harvesting season and I shall be traveling up to meet my farmers soon. The climate we are experiencing this year is a bit erratic. It should be getting hot by now but somehow we are still having heavy rain. We will have to wait a little while longer before we can start the harvest. We have to work around nature and not against it.
I am glad I have friends coming from all walks of life coming over to visit me. Slowly but surely, by word of mouth, they will be able to share what they had learned from their field experience here.
Honey is simple, it is only made complicated by people.
Finally the test report is out and we are able to introduce a new range for our boutique, Eucalyptus honey.
In our Mellisopalynology report, pollen count shows 95.8% belonging to the Myrtaceae family. Less than 3% consist of Mango, Combretaceae, Anacardiaceae, Senecio-group and Musa. Our Eucalyptus honey is thus considered Monofloral. The enzymes (Diastase) activities detected was found to be much higher than the recommended EU Honey Legislation in Europe. This shows that the honey was filtered raw and natural and has never been heat treated or had gone through UV lights or any forms of heat energy such as microwaves. Diastase, this enzyme is responsible for converting starch to dextrins and sugars and is introduced into the honey by the bees.
The moisture contents of our Eucalyptus Honey falls below 20% and this is one of the most important aspect when buying honey. According to the EU honey standards, honey having more than 20% in moisture content determines the rate of fermentation. Unripe honey harvested are usually having a moisture content of 23% or more. It will taste sourish.
Our Eucalyptus Honey is dark amber and has an intense and persistent peppermint after taste. It crystallizes much faster are usually preferred as an excellent accompaniment to cheeses, pastries and herbal teas.
In Uganda, villagers are often seen using Eucalyptus Honey as a home remedy for mild cough and cold.
Eucalyptus Grandis or E. Grandis is well known in Uganda, being first introduced around 1912. It is commonly planted for fuelwood and poles and is an important source of income for small farmers. As other sources dwindle, E. Grandis is increasingly being recognised as a valuable source of timber too. It is easy to raise from seed and coppices vigorously when cut. Many of the E. Grandis trees in Uganda have hybridised, however, and thus it is important to use only improved seed from tree breeding programmes (mainly in Southern Africa) for commercial plantations here.
In Uganda, E. Grandis is best suited to deep soils in the cooler, moist areas – particularly in the west – around Kabarole and Bushenyi, in the West Nile region and in the south-west (Kabale). On suitable sites and with good management, E. Grandis can grow extremely quickly: Mean Annual Increments of over 50 m3/ha/yr can be achieved in such areas, though an average of 25-35 m3/ha/yr is more likely. Rotations of 8-15 years are expected for the production of sawlogs and large poles.
As I was ascending up the winding road to meet the Akha hill tribe folks, these thoughts came to my mind. These small little insects have so much to contribute to the society and yet they had always been taken for granted. With everywhere going through urbanization, these little insects are finding it more and more difficult to call a place their own. Many people love honey, but somehow little or no attention is paid to the creator, honeybees.
There are more than 50,000 Akha people up in the hills and are scattered all around. The tribe that I visited was situated in Maechan Province, Patung District, Pabong-ngam, Chiang Rai. All these while, these folks had difficulty in making ends meet. Originally they had a head count of about 300 but many of the young people are slowly heading down to Chiang Rai main town to look for jobs, leaving the older folks trying to eke out a living through agriculture.
Benz came from this village and she was given permission by her parents to be sent to a missionary school at an early age. She had finished her higher education and now she wanted to contribute back to her village.
She told me that many of the young girls had already gone into the flesh trade because of poverty. There was one parent that literally sold their daughter to the flesh industry for Baht 10,000 (S$450). To them the amount is huge.
When Raymond and Koong mentioned my feasibilty trip to North to her, she was very keen to introduce her village to me, to see in what way the village can benefit from keeping bees.
I told her that there are many factors to look into before one can embark on beekeeping. I need to understand the culture of the people and their reception to bees. Many Christian Organizations are helping the village folks and I do not want to be misunderstood as a businessman trying to come in to exploit the people. This is a very sensitive issue. All of us are doing God’s work. Sometimes I just feel that these Organization should have the heart big enough to open up for discussions rather than setting their directions too stringent, not trying to expand their entrepreneurial skills by interacting with others. I fully understood their good intentions of protecting the people from harm, but sustainability is of paramount in order to see them being able to survive without that constant financial help.
Before the visit, we had a brief discussion with an American Pastor that had been in Chiang Mai for 16 years. He told me they had embarked on many projects, ranging from chicken farming, cattle rearing to fish farming. All failed. Sensitizing these villagers to proper farming is good. I believed additional skill like value adding and marketing play an important role as well. I know every Country has its own sets of problems. I have to prepare to face it if I have decided to move ahead with my plans.
Coming back to beekeeping, I had observed the vegetation and I am pretty sure these folks will have no problem to start bee farms around the hills. The situation and scenerio is quite similar to Uganda. What they are lacking is the knowledge in keeping the bees. In fact in our tour, I had seen a few farmers already keeping bees, but that is only meant for their own consumption.
I spoke to one of the farmer and he described to me how he harvest the honey from the hives when it was due. I was tickled when he told me how he had to bear with the stings in order to get to the honey.
Honey farming contributes to a large portion of poverty alleviation in most part of Third World Countries.
When Raymond and Koong told me about the Akha tribes, It will be a good experience for me too and to share my experience with them. I felt something can be done if they are ready.
After landing back in Singapore and after a week of break, my marketing drive began. The first stop was meeting up with Violet to finalize the way forward in promoting Uganda Honey into the market. The discussion went well and soon Singaporeans will be able to buy our honey at all Violet Oon’s outlet.
I am excited to make my trip back home tomorrow. I guess you can say it’s occupational hazard. I must visit at least a colony before I leave. Meanwhile, I harvested some comb honey to be brought back to Singapore for my family members and friends to see what is ‘REAL RAW HONEY”.
There are so many marketing hypes about raw honey and its health benefits in the market but actually, does one really knows what does that mean or are they simply buying the label? Well hopefully this time round my family and friends are able to gain more insight of what is real raw honey harvested fresh from the farm.
Yes, although I am keen to push my honey into the Asia market after having served the European market for the last 5 years, I would also like my consumer friends to fully understand the benefit of eating honey, and not turning it into some kind of miracle wonder medicine that can cure everything. If I were to do that, I am doing a disservice to my fellow Singaporeans.
Hopefully this small talk will enable more to appreciate the existence of the honey bees and how it contribute to mankind. At least you will know that the next spoonful of honey you take, no bees were sacrificed.
The year started with a very good news from US Embassy. Usually they have funds for farmers to embark on agriculture projects and they were looking for good partners to work with in order for the farmers to benefit from such funds. We were identified as a potential partner and they came to interview us. Few days back we received an email saying that they were pleased with the findings and had identified us as one of the partner they intend to work together. Below was part of the mail that was sent to us and we felt honored to be selected;
” It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been approved as recipients of this year’s Ambassador’s Special Self-Help Fund grant! We are looking forward to partnering with you in your various income-generating activities reaching under-served and under-privileged people throughout Uganda. It is our hope that together we truly will make a difference in these communities………
…………….Looking forward to a wonderful partnership with each of our grantees. We have chosen 7 projects with the hope of finalizing one or two more. Congratulations! This is very competitive (9 projects out of 100 applicants!) and you have stood out as doing exceptional work in your communities.
Please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours in development,…………………..
Dawn P. Conklin
Small Grants Coordinator
US Embassy – Kampala, Uganda “
Having gotten this motivating mail, it really made my day. Now the farmers are able to move an extra mile with the support.
I could see the trend of large Organization co-operating with private social enterprises. I should say this is the way to go because we as social entrepreneurs, we have mindset focused to succeed in order achieve our goals which we had set out to do. We developed the whole value chain from training to harvesting to refining to packing and export.
I had seen many projects failed because their emphasis stop short at providing equipments to farmers. They did not realize the importance of a sound training program where farmers were taught how to handle the bees properly in order to attain quality honey. Sadly the rest of the process were not properly established thus putting many farmers in limbo. They produced poor quality honey which are not acceptable to the world market.
This created a bottleneck where abundant of low quality honey were produced but going nowhere. Disappointment and dissatisfaction grows and soon farmers dropped the idea completely and start to look for other avenues.
All these things can be fine tuned if the Organization involved are prepared to pay more attention not only on fulfilling their equipment distribution objective but also on the environmental impact, where wrong methods of beekeeping were applied, causing millions of bees to perish in the process.
We would like to thank US Embassy for having confidence in us.
Happy New Year everyone! In this brand new year, let me start off with something that is close to everyone’s heart, or I should say stomach – FOOD! Occasionally I will be introducing honey related recipe for those who are keen in trying to use honey on their dish. For a start, here is one Asian dish, Cantonese Shredded Beef.
Stir-fry over high heat cooks food quickly while sealing in all the flavour. In this recipe, the beef is cooked until crisp and sweet. Blossom honey counteract the spiciness of the pepper while harmonizing with the sweetness of the carrots. The dish is best served with plain boiled rice to absorb the honey juices.
This recipe is meant for a serving of 4.
2½ tbsp sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
12 baby carrots (about 375g), cut into 5cm strips
1½ tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp blossom honey
¾ tsp chilli powder or cayenne pepper
500g beef fillet, cut into thin strips 5cm long
¼ tsp salt
In a wok or non-stick frying pan, heat the oil until hot. Add the garlic and cook until it is just turning golden.
Add the carrots with 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of honey and ¼ teaspoon of chilli powder or cayenne pepper and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until the carrots are just starting to soften.
Add the beef with the remainder of the soy sauce, honey, chilli powder or cayenne pepper and the salt. Stir-fry for a further 5-7 minutes until the beef is a dark golden brown and slightly crispy and the carrots are caramelized. Serve immediately.
Julius and Martin are my bee masters from Gulu. My work of sharing the importance of having to produce quality honey does not stop at the village. I will make effort to bring the leaders down occasionally to Kampala to show and explain why we need to pursue excellence in what we are doing.
Before I came, keeping bees in the the North is just to produce enough honey for their own consumption and many did not realized that it can be an income generating activity.
Bringing them to the city will somehow motivate them to realize the potential and many aspect of moving forward after being in insurgency for so many year, thinking that there is little or no hope for their future generations.
I had been working with them for three years now and I do feel their sense of wanting to progress. What amazed me was the speed in which they picked up the skill from honey hunting to honey farming.
Once that is achieved, they are able to pat themselves on their shoulders and showing the world that they can also be part of the world food chain by producing high quality honey for the world to embrace.
Their trip to the city this time included a short session on how to transfer bees from one location to another. According to them, this is the first time in Uganda beekeeping history that they are able to learn how to do that. They had done short distance transfer but never in their life ever thought that we can transfer bees 120km apart.
They will be part of the team to transfer the colonies to Timothy Centre within the next 3 weeks. It seems that we are unable to fulfill my planned schedule of completing the task before Christmas. Anyhow, the show must go on.
Timothy Centre will be the FIRST-ONE-OF-ITS-KIND apiary in Uganda where bee farmers coming for training will be able to understand the different kinds and methods of beekeeping around the world. They will then be able to fully understand what sort of method best suits them. Rather than just having to listen to others, always thinking that the most expensive and modern hives is the way to go.
For the time being hives that are going to be deployed at the Centre will be the Traditional Log Hives, Rattan Hives, Kenyan Top Bars and the Langstroths. Timothy Centre will also serves as an information Centre where NGOs who have beekeeping projects, wanting to introduce it as part of their curriculum, to have a better understanding on the way forward in initiating it to their farmers.
Modernization of beekeeping industry in the North takes time. The current situation requires a lot of effort, especially apiary management. Why the need for these farmers to learn how to relocate hives is that most of the hives were placed in an awkward position where it is so difficult to work on them safely and gently. Others had their beehives located too far apart between every hives, making it time consuming for farmers to work on them.
Our findings for the honey industry here is this – there is no such thing as whether modern bee hives produces better, higher quality honey compared to traditional log hives. All nectar collected from the bees and being converted to honey are good quality honey. It is the process of how the farmer approach the hive, handle the bees and extracting the combs. Most of our honey harvested are from the traditional log hives and yet they are able to meet EU honey legislations.
The other misconception about beekeeping in Uganda is that farmers were being told that it is one of the simplest form of income generating activity. They simply place a modern beehive on a tree, just wait for the bees to come and deposit honey and collect them during harvesting season. So many quickly jump onto the band wagon but later realized that it was not true, Finally giving it up totally losing their hard earned money to those who sold them the idea.
Too many hypes on modernization but little emphasis on sustainability.
Julius, 68 and Martin, 45, and the other 300 farmers that I am working with do faced many obstacles but somehow we are determined to face them one at a time.
The only time we failed is the last time we tried. We have not try the last time yet.
Three weeks with Jonathan passed by in a flash. Today we started to pick up where we had left off before he came. It rained quite a bit in the morning and our schedule was delayed a little. All the hives were soaking wet when we loaded them on the truck. Hopefully we are able to complete our work before Christmas and spend a relaxing festive season. Francis will be escorting the bee hives to Timothy Centre. Tomorrow he is getting married.
Really appreciate Jonathan for taking time to come from Singapore to capture moments of my work in still life. He had also shared a lot on the art of photography. Its all about inspiration and being able to capture the feeling and moment there and then. The final challenge is to capture the African bees closeup at 5pm. The timing for opening up beehives during the day is crucial. The weather must be cool in order for the bees to stay calm.
Come next week, when Jonathan leaves for Singapore, we will resume the transfer of bee from Kampala to Timothy Centre at Masaka.