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.
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.
We will be having our first course in one week’s time. Pre training hive inspections are done to make sure the course runs smoothly.
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.
Honeybees were once treated as enemy or pest when it gets into a home. Not anymore. With proper education and sensitization, we can actually live harmoniously together with them.
Mr. Zolkaflil Aris had a colony of apis cerana nesting in his letter box for almost a year now. Being an animal lover, he was reluctant to have that colony destroyed. He was wondering what to do with it.
When I arrived at his residence in Damasara, I realized that urbanization had destroyed many natural habitat for these little ladies. I believed if they had their choices, they would not want to interfere with us humans. But with the fast pace of urbanization and deforestation to make way for our development, their natural habitat were somehow encroached.
I shared with Mr. Aris how he can convert his letterbox into a comfortable home for these honeybees and learn how to live with them. In return, this new hobby of his will be rewarding. For the effort in looking after them, they will provide a regular flow of honey for his family.
This idea had created a win win situation for all. Instead of killing them, with proper knowledge instilled, human and insect can live harmoniously together.
After going through the process a few times, He felt that honeybees were not as dangerous as one always looked at them if there understood their needs and wants. Getting aggressive is just part of nature’s way in protecting themselves. If they were handled with tender loving care, they can be very good house pets.
Before we part, his wisdom gave me a new light in having honeybees as pets. He said,” Whenever people go for holidays, they tend to worry about their pets. Where should they put them, who to feed them, will they be stressed if they don’t come back soon. But as for honeybees being so independent, they do not have to worry for them, they find their own food and look after themselves”.
He had bought a new letter box for his normal mails since then.
I am glad that I had embarked on a journey that life lessons never end.
B.E.S.T. - Bringing Ecology and Society Together.
The bus ride from Kedah to Kuala Lumpur took almost 6 hours. I had a break in Kuala Lumpur before a friend of mine drove me another 2 hours further South to the thriving city of Malacca.
Extracted from Wikipedia - Malacca (dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south. The capital is Malacca City, which is 148 km south east of Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur, 235 km north west to Johor’s largest city Johor Bahru and 95 km north west to Johor’s second largest city Batu Pahat. This historical city centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 7 July 2008.
Although it was the location of one of the earliest Malay sultanates, the monarchy was abolished when the Portuguese conquered it in 1511. The Yang di-Pertua Negeri or Governor, rather than a Sultan, acts as the head of state now.
Mr. Ong had been a beekeeper for the last 25 years and his bee farm could be considered one of the largest one in the whole of West Malaysia. He used to keep apis cerana in the seventies but after the introduction of European bees, apis italiana, Malaysia honey industry using apis cerana was completly wiped out due to the introduction of viruses by the European species as well.
Since then, the domestication of apis cerana had been unsuccessful until of late, many small scale farmers are beginning to use apis cerana again. it is a good sign that these species coming back.
Right now, Mr Ong had been keeping the European species after learning how to treat them. He does not have any of the asian species anymore but instead started to keep stingless bees. He found keeping stingless bees are very interesting too.
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.
Beginning of this year, I was commissioned by Bank of Uganda to write an article about the honey industry in Uganda. It was meant for their year book for 2010. It had been published and I had duplicated it for all to read.
In this article, you will have a better insight about the honey business and its potential.
3.3 Money in Honey: Investing for Quality Gives Best Returns in a
High Prospect Sub-sector
Section 1 The Markets for Ugandan Honey
All honey, in the hive, is at its purest possible quality. The vegetation around where bees forage determine the flavour, colour and viscosity of the honey. Quality deteriorates because of poor harvesting and processing methods. Normally it is the human factor that plays the biggest role in compromising the quality of honey. This will be further elaborated in Section 2 below.
Honey producers can target local, regional and global markets. The local market can be sub-divided into two segments. The first such segment is almost purely price-driven. Quality here is not an issue. Honey catering for this market is promoted by street vendors, selling it in all sorts of reused packaging, ranging from soda bottles to used cooking oil containers. Some foreigners or tourists are actually enticed by these vendors in the villages, as they believe honey sold in rural areas is natural and unadulterated. To prove that the honey is pure, the vendors have a practice of dropping a dead bee inside the bottle!
The other local segment caters to the retail market such as supermarkets and sundry shops in and around all major districts. In this segment, there is a small group of consumers that go for higher quality honey that has fewer impurities. However, the bigger local demand is still for low priced honey, as most consumers are not particular or have little knowledge about honey standards.
For the higher-priced retail market, presentation and packaging are important. Usually the honey is packed in new plastic jars with a net weight of 500g. Of late, with an increase in choice of packaging materials, honey is also packed in smaller quantities of 100g and 250g. Retail prices, locally and regionally, hover around UGX 3,800 to UGX 5,000 per 500gm.
Regarding export market, honey from Uganda is said to be exported to the European Union and the Middle East. However there are no official statistics for this market. It is believed Ugandan honey is exported by a couple of companies in small quantities, directly to niche retailers, instead of being exported in bulk.
The quality of honey for the export market must be very high. For exporting to European Union countries, the honey has to meet the European Union Honey Legislation requirements (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/ ). The important aspects buyers look into are the country of origin, pollen spectrum, flavour, enzyme activity, moisture and sediment content. Packaging for such niche markets varies according to the buyers’ requirements. It can be in airtight buckets of 25kg or in individual jars, as specified by the buyers.
Bulk export is usually packed in food-grade drums of 300kg. Currently the price for bulk honey is between US$1.20 – 1.30 per kg (CIF). The minimum required quantity for bulk export is a full container load of at least 20 tons. At present, Uganda’s honey industry is still at the infant stage. Nobody yet has the capacity to tap into the bulk export market.
Section 2 Quality Issues in the Honey Value Chain
For the basic local market, honey is mainly sourced from honey hunters and traditional bee farmers. Honey hunters get their honey from wild bee colonies in anthills and hollow tree trunks, while the traditional beekeepers own a few beehives made out of local materials such as rattan and logs.
There are also a good number of modern beehives given by donors and funded projects. Both the honey hunters and traditional bee farmers got their knowledge of beekeeping from their forefathers and practise destructive methods of honey harvesting. They do not tend to the bees regularly and will only approach the colonies during harvesting season. They force the bees out of the hives with lots of smoke and fire before collecting whatever remains in the hive. The honeycombs with brood, beebread, ripe and unripe honey are then squeezed with bare hands or unhygienic equipment. Some will even boil the honey to separate honey from the wax. Investment for players in this sector is minimal. Both the producers and sellers make use of whatever they can get hold of and no expensive equipment and training are required.
For the local and regional retail market there are also more commercially-minded producers. Some are traditional bee farmers and some are members of beekeeping associations, who have gone through a form of training. They usually sell their honey to traders or packers who add value by packaging before selling to retailers. There are a significant number of players involved in this segment.
Packers are normally not beekeepers themselves. Middlemen will travel to villages to buy from various sources and resell at some centralized market in town. Most packers purchase from these middlemen, filter some of the impurities from the honey, pack and label for retail sales. Little or no testing and minimal quality control of the honey is involved. The packers only need to invest in simple filtering equipment, plastic jars and labels. Investment in improving the presentation of the end product is important, as many different brands compete for attention on the same retail shelves.
Although the packaging has improved, the quality of the honey varies greatly amongst different brands. Though some of the producers have undergone training and have acquired modern beehives such as Kenyan Top Bar hives or Langstroth hives, most of the training is done in classrooms without any actual interaction with the bees. The lack of hands-on experience in handling the bees catches most beekeepers off-guard when they encounter the aggressive behaviour of the African bees face to face during their first harvest. This has led to the development of fear of the bees and subsequently these apiarists revert back to the destructive mode of harvesting. This will result in dead bees, burnt grass ashes and melted wax being mixed together with the honey. As such, the quality of the honey will still be compromised, despite the investments in training and the use of more expensive hives.
Often the emphasis is on short term profitability of the business, without any education on the importance of proper handling of the bees for longer term productivity and profit. This is just like putting the cart in front of the horse. Bee farmers should recognize the bees as an important asset in their honey business. They have to understand how to work harmoniously with the bees in their natural environment, rather than fighting against the bees. It is only when they can calmly work on the bees that they will abandon the hit-and-run approach of harvesting. They can then harvest correctly, maintaining the quality of the honey. When the process is right, the outcome will be right. Profitability will follow when the honey quality and yield improve.
For bee farmers and beekeeping associations that pack their own honey for retail sales, improved training will equip them to do quality control and produce higher quality honey. However, non-beekeeper packers who buy their honey from middlemen have absolutely no control over the quality of the honey. They buy whatever is available during that period. Even if some good quality honey is produced at the source (i.e. by the bee farmers in rural areas) there is no way to prevent adulteration, mixing with other lower quality honey or improper handling by the many hands through which the honey passes.
For the export market the investment is much higher both in training and equipment. In order to maintain best quality, all involved have to be acutely aware of the consequence of not doing the right thing. Any mistake along the way, starting from the very source inside the hive, through the harvesting, processing and packaging, will lead to the honey failing to meet the stringent requirements for the export market. As such, even after the initial training, beekeepers and refinery staff have to be constantly reminded, monitored and re-trained to ensure they follow the proper procedures.
Bee farmers must harvest only ripe honey, using the proper harvesting method to ensure the honey is not laden with excessive smoke and ashes. At the refinery, the honey extraction, filtering and packing has to be carefully controlled. Throughout the chain of activities, the honey has to be handled with clean equipment and stored under proper conditions. Although the investment in honey processing equipment is also higher for exporters, the bulk of the investment actually needs to be set aside for training and follow-ups as people are always the deciding factor in maintaining the quality of the honey.
Most of the beekeeping training courses which are currently available in Uganda are only acceptable for producing for the local and regional markets. In order to fulfill the more stringent requirements for the export market, exporters will have to work closely with their outgrowers, to the extent of developing a monitoring system or database to keep track of the farmers and of their performance. Close supervision of all departments involved will ensure that the required level of competence is achieved.
Section 3 Typical Investment and Returns for a Small Apiary
There is no magic figure in starting beekeeping. The numbers of hives one can maintain depends on the competency of the beekeeper, the land available to him or her and the vegetation surrounding the land. For discussion purpose, we look at a typical smallholder beekeeper with 20 hives that are colonized.
Before comparing the different kinds of hives from which a beekeeper can choose, the other standard accessories they should be equipped with are:
A smoker @ UGX 25,000
A protective bee suit @ UGX 120,000
A hive tool @ UGX 10,000
A bee brush @ UGX 7,000
A pair of protective gloves @ UGX 18,000
20 airtight buckets for honey harvesting @ UGX 7,500 each = UGX 150,000
Basic beekeeping training @ UGX 300,000
Total standard cost UGX 630,000
Now we shall compare the costs and income achievable using different kinds of hives. It usually takes about 18 months for a new colony to fully build up its strength and produce to capacity. Small harvests are possible in the first year, but this will be excluded in the calculation below, as it is not certain that production in the first year will be achieved.
a)For traditional beehive investment
Cost of 20 traditional beehive @ UGX 10,000 = UGX 200,000
Plus standard cost, as above = UGX 630,000
Total investment = UGX 830,000
Honey harvest in a year = 15kg / hive
Total honey harvest in the 2nd & 3rd year = 600 kg
Selling price of honey = UGX 3,000 per kilo
Gross income = UGX 1,800,000
Net income = UGX 970,000
b) For Kenyan Top Bar (KTB) beehive investment…
Cost of 20 KTB beehive @ UGX 60,000 = UGX 1,200,000
Standard cost = UGX 630,000
Total investment = UGX 1,830,000
Honey harvest in a year = 20kg / hive
Total honey harvest in the 2nd & 3rd year = 800 kg
Selling price of honey = UGX 3,000 per kilo
Gross income = UGX 2,400,000
Net income = UGX 570,000
c) For Langstroth beehive investment…
Cost of 20 Langstroth beehive @ UGX 140,000 = UGX 2,800,000
Standard cost = UGX 630,000
Total investment = UGX 3,430,000
Honey harvest in a year = 30kg / hive
Total honey harvest in the 2nd & 3rd year = 1200 kg
Selling price of honey = UGX 3,000 per kilo
Gross income = UGX 3,600,000
Net income = UGX 170,000
To use the Langstroth beehive effectively, a much higher beekeeping skill level and precision hive construction are needed. This is to ensure productivity over a number of years, to realize the benefits of the considerable investment involved, upfront. With the current conditions in Uganda, traditional and Kenyan Top Bar hives are still the more recommended methods of beekeeping.
With improved knowledge, skills and close monitoring of the activities of the bees, harvesting can be done on a more regular basis and thus yield will increase. Also, in the rural areas where properly dried timber is not available, KTB and Langstroth hives will warp after a short while and create problems for the beekeepers when handling the bees. They will also be difficult to maintain and repair. Using local materials available in hive construction is more appropriate.
Section 4 A Honey Export Operation
To start an export honey operation, one can choose to be involved in the upstream activity of beekeeping, or to concentrate on trading. In the discussion below, we are looking at the operations of an exporter who does not engage in beekeeping itself. The company will buy directly from the outgrowers, process the honey and pack it for export. The main field of operation will be sourcing, processing and marketing.
There are two kinds of export in which one could be engaged, small scale and bulk export, respectively.
For small-scale export, the basic equipment required would be:
Honey extracting equipment, stainless steel settling tanks, filtering equipment, airtight buckets, clean refinery & storage building, pickup. The cost can range from UGX 50,000,000 to UGX 150,000,000, excluding the building.
For bulk export, the basic equipment required would be:
Forklift truck, food grade drums, palettes, honey extracting equipment, stainless steel settling tanks, filtering equipment, airtight buckets, clean refinery & storage building, truck. The cost can range from UGX 300,000,000 onwards, again excluding the building.
Expansion of a refinery can be progressive. One can invest in the minimum initially and add on more of the same equipment as production increases. Usually, companies will start with small-scale export. Once they secure more honey and orders, they can easily switch over to bulk export operations by adding on some other equipment. Whatever they have already invested in will not be wasted, as the assets are still applicable in the new operation.
At the moment, the local and regional demand for honey far exceeds the supply. In fact, local and regional prices are more attractive than those achievable for bulk export, at world honey wholesale prices. At the same time, the investment for a bulk export operation is quite substantial. Thus bulk export is not the most profitable option at the time of writing. Small-scale export to niche markets that command higher product prices is a more attractive choice to start with.
As written in Section 2 above, the investment in training and education will be much higher than the investment in hardware. It is difficult to quantify this software investment as it varies with the level of professionalism of the staff and moreover is an on-going investment.
It is only during the last ten years that the beekeeping industry is slowly gaining attention as an additional income generating activity for the growing number of farmers who have small land plots. The local land inheritance culture of dividing land among one’s sons is causing plots to be split into smaller portions. Beekeeping becomes a viable enterprise for such small landowners, as it takes up less space compared to agriculture or animal husbandry. This newly-noticed industry is not well understood by banks in Uganda and they have not developed any special schemes to cater for beekeeping activities. They will assess any loan request using standard policies and procedures. The following is a summary, from the point of view of a honey producer.
a) Financing Equipment: For companies engaging in honey production and processing, asset-financing arrangements are possible with some general equipment such as generators and vehicles. However, banks would be more reluctant to provide loans for equipment that is specific to the beekeeping industry, such as refinery equipment and beehives. They will only consider loans for such specific equipment if there are other assets to secure it. Risk is much higher due to the limited resale market for such items. Also, for production equipment like beehives, it will be almost impossible to repossess once the bees colonize the hives.
b) Working Capital: Unlike equipment loans where the equipment itself is an asset with some value as collateral, banks are more stringent in facilitating loans for working capital. The usual procedure would require the borrower to use assets such as land, buildings or fixed deposit as collateral to secure the loan. They will also look into the past years’ cash flows and performance of the company in deciding the payment terms. Interest rate is in the high 20% – 30% range.
An alternative for companies without suitable assets as collateral would be contract financing, whereby, with a firm order secured from a buyer, the exporter could negotiate for a temporary loan using that as security. Unlike businesses such as manufacturing where business activities are more evenly spread out through the year, honey production is seasonal. The huge amount of money needed to buy the honey during the one or two seasons a year poses a great strain on most companies’ cash flows.
With contract financing, once the exporter ascertains the amount of honey their out-growers can harvest for the season, they can liaise with their buyer and bank for such a financing arrangement. The money released in advance by the bank makes it possible for them to pay the outgrowers for the honey, process and ship it to their customer. The exporter will incur less interest expense with contract financing, compared to the case with unsecured finance, which in any case is extremely difficult to obtain in Uganda.
c) Financing for Smallholder Producers: Local banks are receptive to opportunities to provide financial services to out-growers supported by a processor / exporter. Many banks are coming up with low cost savings accounts and are opening branches upcountry to tap into this market. However, the monthly bank charges may still be too taxing on beekeepers who may receive income only once or twice a year. Also, any loan packages come with the unaffordable interest of more than 20% and a short repayment period. Beekeeping is unlike most other agriculture or animal husbandry activities when it comes to the investment and return schedule. Almost all the investment is made in the initial period and the returns only start to be generated 18 months later. However, the beekeeper can reap returns for many years thereafter with minimal maintenance investment. If this situation is understood by the banking sector, and they develop special loan packages that take all these unique characteristics of beekeeping activity into account, then it would be viable for the outgrowers to tap into financing by the banks.
Section 5 Support by Government
The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries has been making efforts to support the honey industry by assisting commercial beekeepers and stakeholders with permits for bee transfers and veterinary certification for honey exports.
The Ministry of Trade and Tourism and The Uganda Export Promotion Board also issue different certificates essential to any export of honey, while the Ministry of Finance allows tax exemption on imports of honey processing equipment and packaging.
All these greatly help in advancing and developing this industry. It would be an added boost to the development if all the necessary permits and certificates could be processed in a one-stop location. Not only is it more efficient for the exporter, it will be easier for Uganda to compile statistics regarding this industry. With more information and feedback, the Government can then formulate policies that will enhance the growth of this industry.
The National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) Program provided some farmers with beehives and training. There is room for improvement in the quality of the provisions though.
With the setting up of ApiTrade Uganda, an organization dedicated to supporting the beekeeping industry, Uganda is trying to provide a regional link for producers, buyers and equipment suppliers. They organized ‘Apitrade’, a honey conference / exhibition that acts as a platform for interested players in the industry to meet. It is held once every two years in different African countries; the first was in Uganda in 2008. This year, 2010, Apitrade is hosted by Zambia and in 2012 it will be in Ghana.
 Author: Lesster Leow, EastWest Innovations Uganda Ltd.
 See also Article 4.2 in this Yearbook for a more complete discussion of bank financing linked to forward sales contracts.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I had mixed feelings when I left the apiary in Lampun. I was amazed when I saw how beekeeping was done. European honey farming methods and Asian honey farming methods are completely different. I really appreciate the bee farmer to allow me to have a better insight on honey farming in Thailand.
The term “beekeeping” derived from the way how a bee farmer is supposed to look after the bees, how the farmers is supposed to make sure that the honey is only harvested from combs that are filled and capped with honey, with no signs of broods or larvae. Usually the brood will not survive once they were taken out from the hives. They required the constant temperature the worker bees provide. The incubation period is very vital for the young brood to develop properly. I wonder is this one of the causes nowadays where bees are less resilient to viruses?
When I exchanged notes with Professor Burgett while having lunch, he shared the same sentiments. For those who are in the beekeeping industry will know what we meant.
After witnessing the difference, somehow I felt very proud of my farmers. They had done a wonderful job by providing such good quality honey for the world to taste. Uganda beekeeping is so many years behind modern honey farming Countries but yet, they can fulfill the EU requirements. A pat on their shoulders.
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.
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.
Jonathan Wong, a professional photographer from Singapore came and did some product shoots for my advertising campaign. The results was astonishing! He had brought out the beauty of my work. Below are my two favorite shots!
Soon all these colonies will be transported to Masaka to start the training school. We will have to do a pre flight check to make sure we understood the stucture of each and every one of the hive in order to have them transferred without any hiccups.
Helmut and I had been keeping bees in our garden in Kampala for the last 5 years. All good things must come to an end. He will be leaving Uganda soon and I had taken the task to adopt his bees. They will come in very handy for my training school at Timothy Centre, Masaka.
An amazing friend that shared the same passion as I. In fact his experience in beekeeping is far more greater than mine for he has been based in a few African countries and he had always kept bees.
We went to his place around 1930hrs but the rain had disrupted our schedule and finally at around 2045hrs, the sky managed to clear and we proceed on with the checks.
Francis, my bee master, who will be the overall in charge of the training school at Timothy’s, assisted me is making my rounds. So far I am very pleased with his performance and the way he handles the bees, although there are still a lot of rooms for improvement.
We had to perform our harvest and check in the night because Kampala is really saturated with residential housing and we do not want the bees to disturb the neighbors should they became cranky.
There are a few reasons why we are harvesting some of the honey. When the volume of honey is reduced, the bees tend to be less aggressive because they have less honey to protect. At the same time, the hive will be much lighter for us to transport them for the 2 hrs drive.
Comb honey is highly in demand from the expatriates community because these “Muzungus” honey lover truly appreciate fresh comb honey harvested directly from the hive without going through any processing or filtering. Honey at its purest!
The fascinating sight of having the comb honey being sliced open, watching the liquid gold flowing down onto the platter, makes one wonder how nature had created such a small yet dynamic insect, being able to interact socially amongst themselves without a single conflict.
Although African bees are known to be very aggressive, they still do display its gentle side, provided we as human being, listen to them more attentively and not try to force ourselves onto them during harvesting. No clashes will occur.
The result – beautiful comb honey with little or no casualties on both parties. Many a times, bee farmers are too eager to get the job done. They approached the hive with only one intention…… get the honey and go. Whether the bees are destroy or not is secondary. To me, this is honey hunting.
Whenever I harvest honey, I will always think of this friend of mine, Joanna Yue. We used to play squash together back home occasionally and will always share her squash knowledge when we played. She once told me that in order to play good squash, I have to think of the process, not the outcome. So long as I set the process right, the outcome will be right.
In beekeeping, I applied the same principle. Thinking of the process, by listening to the bees, observing their movement and behaviour, practicing patience. The outcome will see me having that beautiful comb taken out from the hive successfully with little or no stings. I do feel a great sense of achievement whenever I managed to harvest fresh comb honey without agitating the bees and being able to keep their temperament at bay.
Every road that we walked, every path that we take, it’s all about life experiences. It’s just a matter of how one adapt to the situation and environment. Even a young lady nearly half my age, had shared a life skill so valuable that I am applying it now.
Anyone care to have a taste of fresh comb honey?
Today I went to Shoprite to check on my stocks. Ramadan (the Shoprite staff in the picture), told me that although things are moving slowly, it is still moving. My honey is slowly gaining ground with shoppers there. By the way, Shoprite Checkers is an established South African supermarket based in most parts of Africa Continent. Most of the customers that are using my honey are mainly Expatriates and Somalian. They are more particular about the quality.
Last year was a year of filming. After the media team from Singapore left, another TV media crew from Japan came and did a documentary. I was invited to assist them in calming the bees before the filming. They had no idea that the African bees were so aggressive. The camera man got stung and he nearly fainted. He applied insect repellent prior to the filming without checking with me, thinking that would repel the bees. On the contrary, bees hate scents. We had to go around the villages a few time to identify a suitable colony for filming. By the time the shoot was over, it was coming to 11pm.
The main objective for this filming is to showcase the possibilities of bees by-product, beeswax. After the harvesting of beeswax, the crew proceed to an orphanage in the North which was funded by Japanese NGO. The orphans were taught how to use beeswax to make crayons.
I had to leave them for other commitment after making sure that they were not injured during the engagement with the bees.
Finally the dry spell is over. The weather is getting cooler and the rainy season is coming. Its that time of the year where the villagers start to plant crops again. Going up Gulu with Fischer last two days was refreshing. Same time we look at the progress of the refinery and collection centre. Hopefully it will be ready when the next season comes in April 2010.
This Centre will serve as a meeting point for all the bee farmers around the region. All future honey harvested from our selected bee farmers whom had gone thru our training will be sent to this centre for processing. Come next year I will see myself being split between Timothy Centre which is in the South and Gulu, in the North. I hope I can have the strength to see it thru.
NEW DELHI (AFP) – - The electromagnetic waves emitted by mobile phone towers and cellphones can pose a threat to honey bees, a study published in India has concluded.
An experiment conducted in the southern state of Kerala found that a sudden fall in the bee population was caused by towers installed across the state by cellphone companies to increase their network.
The electromagnetic waves emitted by the towers crippled the “navigational skills” of the worker bees that go out to collect nectar from flowers to sustain bee colonies, said Dr. Sainuddin Pattazhy, who conducted the study, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
He found that when a cell phone was kept near a beehive, the worker bees were unable to return, leaving the hives with only the queens and eggs and resulting in the collapse of the colony within ten days.
Over 100,000 people in Kerala are engaged in apiculture and the dwindling worker bee population poses a threat to their livelihood. The bees also play a vital role in pollinating flowers to sustain vegetation.
If towers and mobile phones further increase, honey bees might be wiped out in 10 years, Pattazhy said.
Read an article the other day regarding the problem with “Colony Collapse Disorder” where the honeybees simply vanished from the surface of the Earth. Scientists had came out wth some findings. It has to do with the way modern honey farming are done. Modern honey farming recycle the honeycombs. Now the scientist found traces of pesticides residue that were remained in the combs. This is a very interesting point to look at. Slowly bee farmers around the World are taking effort to understand traditional way of beekeeping.
Below is an extract of the article,
“Scientists Untangle Multiple Causes of Bee Colony Disorder PULLMAN, Washington, July 29, 2009 (ENS) — A microscopic pathogen and pesticides embedded in old honeycombs are two major contributors to the bee disease known as colony collapse disorder, which has wiped out thousands of beehives throughout the United States and Europe over the past three years, new research at Washington State University has confirmed. Working on the project funded in part by regional beekeepers and WSU’s Agricultural Research Center, entomology professor Steve Sheppard and his team have narrowed the list of potential causes for colony collapse disorder. “One of the first things we looked at was the pesticide levels in the wax of older honeycombs,………….”
Here is the full article;
For the last 5 years, we had been supplying our honey to Switzerland and East Africa region. Slowly but surely it is gaining popularity through word of mouth from those that came and visited me from Asia and orders are coming from Singapore, Malaysia and Japan now. We have decided to launch our honey on a bigger scale with this new packaging. Due to the cost of freight, it is more economical to airfreight the honey on a bigger volume of 1.4kg.
I guess people now are getting more affluent and particular when come to honey consumption. The feedback I got from my buyers are that they are beginning to appreciate honey coming from bees that are resilient to viruses which are affecting honeybees in most part of the world. We do not treat our bees with antibiotic or mite removal solutions. Sometime back, Europe banned some honey importers because they found traces of antibiotic in their honey. We are glad that our honey met all EU honey quality legislations.
Uganda is one of the last frontier where the bees are still resilient to viruses and diseases. We allow the bees to live as naturally as possible with minimum human intervention to maintain this blessed status. It could be this reason that the bees here are not succumb to viruses and diseases. They are protected by mother nature.
Went to open my letter box yesterday. The test report had arrived! This evening I gave a call to Professor to thank him. We had a long talk about the report and the honey we had harvested. There are so many things one will never believe what we can find from this tests. Many people only knew about honey from salespeople telling them how good the honey is or whether your grandfather or grandmother used to take them. Too much of marketing hypes. If you really ask the salesperson what actually is inside the honey, they will never know. I recalled sometime back in Singapore, when I asked one of the salesperson whether the honey was harvested riped or unriped, she gave me that queer look. She simply brushed me off telling me that the honey are pure honey and my grandfather used to take them???? I was wondering how did she ever knew my grandfather? I didn’t even knew him.
As much as one knows about internet and googles, one can find tons and tons of general and common information about honey, cut and paste from one website to another. Having said that, you can find at supermarket, salespeople trying to sell their product as if theirs is the ultimate honey and a miracle wonder compared to the rest of the honey from other honey suppliers. Little did one realised that most of the honey are coming from the same source. Same product, different packaging.
From the scientific point of view, honey is simple sugar. It is more easily digestable compared to complex sugar. What is important are following questions one should ask when buying honey from the supermarket;
1) Is the honey pastuerised? Once honey is heated, all the nutritional properties are damaged, enzymes are destroyed.
2) Is the honey collected from bees that are treated with anti-biotics? Most of the commercial bee farm, the bees are infected with some form of viruses.
3) What are the percentage of anti-biotic contamination? Is it within the safe level. There are cases where the anti-biotics are spilled over into the honey.
4) How does one define pure honey/Organic honey/natural honey/raw honey? What are the difference? Many a times, I find honey branded “Organic” but do not have any Organic certifications.
5) What is riped and unriped honey? Good quality honey are honey that are ripe and has a moisture content of less than 20%.
6) How can one harvest so much wild “riped” honey from one country and sold at the supermarket in tons? Wild honey are usually honey harvested from a species of honeybees called, “Apis Dorsata”. They are also known as “The Himalayans bees” or “The Giant Honeybees”. They are normad bees and only colonised on one hugh honey comb, unlike the “Apis Meliferra” honey bees. “Apis Dorsata” will “eat” the honey back before they are ripen before they travel to another destination.
7) If one is selling “Wild Honey”, are they “Honey Hunting”? Are they killing the bees in order to acquire the honey? “Wild honey” are seldom ripe. Unripe honey has a higher moisture content and are usually sourish in taste. Fermentation takes place at a much faster rate. Usually you are advised to consume the honey within a short period of time. Ripe honey will not ferment and has no shelf-life.
8 ) What sort of floral are they honey derived from? Different floral has different character in taste and colour. It must coincide to confirm the country of origin.
9) Tracebility? Do you know exactly where your honey is coming from? Or the honey has been mixed from all over the world.
First part of the honey harvesting work is finally done! Hurrah! The next part – getting the honey extracted from the combs begins tomorrow. The journey of the honey from Gulu to Kampala took 10 hrs. By the time it reached Kampala, it was 2358hrs. This time round we had 2 more guys helping out in the transferring of the honey from the truck to the store. It took us 1 hrs to transfer them.
95% of all these honey were harvested from traditional log hives. Honey samples from this batch sent to Hohenheim for test has met EU honey quality parameters. Many young NGOs always feel that only modern honey farming is the way to go. I feel that they have to do more studies before they come to that conclusion. They are throwing away good money by not having a better understanding of this industry first.
All you can is all you can do, and all you can do is enough.
Once in a while I would get some invitation to do talks on honey and bees. Last Wednesday, we had a small group of 10 families wanting to know more about bees and honey. It was more of a friendly get together with children running around waiting for the honey eating session.
Many people are still unaware how does honey looks like when it is still in the bee hive. So the night before the talk, I harvested 2 fresh combs for the folks to see.
When we arrived the next morning, most of the children were already sitting at the playground with their parents. I realized that this session would not be much of a talk but more of getting the children to see where does honey comes from and how does it look like before being sold at the supermarket. Anyway, it was a good start. The children enjoyed the honey and the parents were very appreciative and that was what matters most.
I remembered once a friend of mine from Singapore told me that when they asked some of the kids in Singapore where does the chicken come from, some gave the answers as, “coming from NTUC Supermarket”. I was even more surprised that some children doesn’t even know that chicken has feathers. Sometimes I wondered whether has modernization made us took a step backwards towards nature. My nephew grew up sitting in front of the computer 24/7 playing games. Playing marbles, catching spiders, flying kites are childhood activities long forgotten.
I am glad that parents now are making effort to find education materials related to nature to empower their children at an early age. These early childhood development activities are very healthy for them. Education are no longer confined to classrooms. Creative methods and techniques are deployed to make learning much more interesting and exciting. I am glad I am part of it.
Uganda has come a long way. With the Country experiencing peace and prosperity, with all these activities going, it is a sign that the society is ready to move forward and the thirst for knowledge had increased. In no time, I believe Uganda will be one of the most aspiring and affluent place to visit in Africa!
That brings me to an article which I found when I was here for the first time in 2001. It was titled, “The Africa Pearl” by Sir Winson Churchill. It goes like this;
The African Pearl
My Journey is at an end, the Tale is told and the reader who has followed so faithfully and so far has a right to ask what message I bring back. It can be stated in these words – concentrate upon Uganda
“But it is alive by its’ self. It is vital! And in my view in spite of its insects and its diseases. It ought in the course of time to become the most prosperous of all our East and Central African possessions and perhaps the “financial diving wheel of all this part of the world”
My counsel plainly is concentrate upon Uganda! Nowhere else in Africa will a little money go so far. Nowhere else will the results be more brilliant, more substantial or more rapidly realized.
Uganda is from end to end one “beautiful garden” where the” staple food” of the people grows almost without labour. Does it not sound like a paradise on earth?
It is “the pearl of Africa “
From my Africa Journey by Winston .S. Churchill 1908, Uganda
Honey harvesting season is over! Since early March, the farmers had been busy with the harvesting and they saw all their hardwork paying off. Was up in Gulu last few days to finalized the paperwork for the honey to come to Kampala. Am very pleased with the harvest and this year’s operation. The farmers were very co-operative and were also glad that they had found another source of income to supplement their livelihood, especially able to pay school fees for their children.
I was chatting with some of the farmers and asked them what they intend to do with this extra source of income. Some are going to reinvest in more beehives so that come next year, they will have more production. More production means more income. Others are thinking of buying some chicks to start a small poultry farm producing eggs for their local market. When I heard these, I was very proud of them. How I wish readers can be there to see the smiles on their faces. 22 years of insurgency had made them so wanting to get out of poverty. The Acholis, (people from Gulu), are really hardworking and serious with their work. Our honey production had increased 20% compared to last year. Ugandans with these kind of attitude are worth supporting. These farmers really impressed me.
The best news of the day was receiving a call from Professor telling me that the honey samples harvested from this season, which was sent to the University in early April had met European Union Honey Standards requirements again. (a pat on the shoulder)
Coming back to the collection centre, it’s taking shape and with this period having abundant rainfall, things are growing and the flowers and plants are developing nicely. Soon I will be able to stay there, saving money from staying in hotel and best of all, my great dane can travel with me.
The next task is to organize the whole lot to come to Kampala. Meanwhile, we have started packing for Shoprite Supermarket here in Kampala since I had brought a few buckets back with me during my last trip. The honey will be sold under “Kids Of Africa” brand. A portion of the proceeds will go to the orphanage.
Two weeks ago, we placed a test/trial beehive at Timothy Centre [see post] to see how good is the proposed land to start the apiary. Usually setting up a single beehive to trap the bees is the first thing to do. We will observe the trial hive to see whether the place is suitable for beekeeping. Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from Karl. He told me the hive was colonized on the same morning. He was very excited because he witnessed the colonizing process. The process is breathtaking. You can literally see the whole colony following the queen into the beehive. The photo below was sent to me by Karl after the bees had settled in.
The next move is to visit the hive at Timothy Centre to assess the strength of the colony to decide what is the way forward.
Honey season is over. I will be embarking on my next project – Timothy Centre in Masaka. Karl and I had known each other since 2005 and we had always been keeping in touch, discussing beekeeping.
When he was given the task to develop a girls’ school in Masaka, he approached me to see whether would I be interested to join force and start a beekeeping project at this new centre. This is exciting for me for it will be another challenge in Uganda. Honey will never be enough for me because of the demand I am facing. Many challenges awaits me and the most difficult challenge I have to face is to instill proper handling of bees and honey onto the farmers.
Timothy Centre is still at its infant stage and it is Karl and Arleen’s baby from now on. I hope with this apiary being setup, it will benefit all, including farmers around the centre. We will conduct beekeeping training for the farmers so that they will acquire another skill to improve their source of income.
Setting up an apiary is not that easy as it seems. There are a lot of preparation and also understanding the environment and surrounding. Once the apiary is properly sited, and when the bees colonized, it will be very difficult to change the location later on. Hopefully this trial beehive will enable us to do an analysis to see whether beekeeping is suitable here.
If it is successful, I can forsee that this beekeeping project could well be my biggest project ever in my 8 years stay here. We had some indepth brainstorming session and the developing ideas we had is really exciting. I shall keep our plans for the time being until everything is concrete and finalized.
05/03/2009 – I was very lucky and the timing was so right that I was able to meet up with a very experienced Professor in Entomology from America at Chiangmai Univeristy. He is Professor Michael Burgett, Emeritus Professor of Entomology, Department of Horticulture, Oregon State University. He had been going to Chiangmai for the last 27 years, researching on mellifera and cerenas. His presence sped up my learning curve. In my course, I was contemplating whether should I introduce Api Cerena or Api Mellifera. Both have its advantages and disadvantages. After having a long discussion with him, we come to a conclusion that we should explore the possibility of introducing cerenas instead. Professor is also keen to explore the possibilty of using KTB, Kenya Top Bars, which I am using for my African Honeybees.
Api cerena, commonly known as “Jungle Honeybees” here, are easily available all over Chiang Dao. The advantage of this species is that the villagers can learn to trap them for free. Whereas for the mellifera species, they were introduced in Thailand sometime back and they are bred commercially. My main concern was, if the villagers were to start beekeeping, we have to look into the sustainability with the farmers. The cost of a starter pack of mellifera bees will cost the farmers between Bht1500 – Bht3000, depends on when they are buying them. If the sale is much closer to the honey flow season, which is around this time, the bee starter pack will be more expensive. We had a good lunch and bade goodbye before I set off back to Chiang Dao to start a “get-to-know” session with a few of the villager’s representative. They will then disseminate the information to the rest of the villagers. Its more productive this way. But anyway, The first message I sent across during the session was to let the farmers choose which type of bees they prefer to work with. This way they can decide what’s good for them.
4/3/2009 – Made my first stop at Chiangmai University, Entomology Department, Faculty of Agriculture. Had a very good insight of the beekeeping industry, thanks to Assistant Professor Pichai Kongpitak. His passion for developing this industry in Thailand made me feel much more confident that if I were to start honey farming here, I will not be lost.
I had the privilege to be able to see some of his work.
This part of my fact findings had given me more confident in crystalizing the direction for the bee farmers in Chiang Dao. The main issue lies in the sensitizing of the farmers and to guide them in making the correct decision for themselves. Let see what turn up next.
Finally I managed to get my hands on the right adaptor to power up my laptop and to surf after 3 days! Computer is so part and parcel of my life that I will suffer from withdrawal syndrome if I do not work on my computer. Anyway, this was really a sudden pleasant surprise for me to be invited to Chiang Dao (70km North of Chiang Mai). This could be a new journey for my beekeeping life. I am supposed to visit this province to explore on the viabilty in developing a beekeeping industry with the villagers.
Left Singapore for Thailand on 1st March. I had to postpone my trip back to Uganda till 15th March. As usual, landed in Thailand at 2035hrs and got stuck in traffic for about 2hrs before reaching my friend’s house at Charan Sanit.
Morning comes and we started off the 10hrs drive from Bangkok to Chiang Dao. To make the long trip an interesting one, we stopped at quite a few places for breaks and snacks and to experience some interesting happenings.
We passed Ayutharad and visited a model agricultural farm set up by the Queen to cater for the farmers. Villagers can come to this farm to learn more about agriculture.
We discovered we cannot stop anymore if not we will not be able to make it before midnight in Chiang Dao. Beautiful and smooth 10 hrs drive, not like Uganda roads.
03/03/09 – Today first visit is to a bee farmer who has about 100 beehives in Chiang Dao. He told me he deployed his colonies in Lampun, about 120km from his home. What we did was to inspect his bees in his garden and had a good discussion with him.
Here you can see my collegue extracting honey from combs using a honey press. Honey in these form are as pure as they can be.