The Buzz about Bees is Making Life Better in Uganda

There is joyful buzzing going on these days in the Nebbi Diocese of the Church of Uganda—both among the excited residents and around the beehives they are establishing as an ongoing source of income through the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).

The project, started by the Mamba Women’s Christian Association in February, began with an exchange visit to a self-help group in the Yumbe area. While beekeeping has been an income-earning activity for local farmers in the Nebbi area for many years, the traditional practices did not always encourage good honey production.

Kareng Joyce, one of 30 women in the Mamba group, says that investing time and resources in learning new beekeeping skills is starting to pay off.

“When every woman in the Mamba group received one beehive through CRWRC and the Diocese, we each agreed to purchase at least one additional hive—more if we could afford it. I was able to buy ten more hives,” Joyce says. “Now there is a total of 83 hives in our group.”

The initial training in Yumbe introduced Joyce and the group members to seven components of high-yield honey production. These are proper hive construction, monitoring, processing, recordkeeping, site improvement, marketing, networking, and sustainability. The instruction has helped the women avoid some common setbacks involved in raising bees like delayed hive colonization, termite and rodent infestation, improper honey refinement, and marketing to middlemen.

“Through exposure to new techniques and skills in beekeeping management,” says CRWRC Uganda Consultant, Joseph Mutebi, “the women in the Mamba group are building a new, sustainable income source for their families and the community as well.”

Serepta Uronya is a great example of their success—even when it comes late in life.

Serepta is 67 years old, which is about the right age to begin an “encore career” for most North Americans. But in Uganda where the average life expectancy is 54 years, Serepta thought she was too old to start anything new. While she had no formal education, Serepta and her husband, a retired pastor, raised ten children together during their 40-year marriage.

After she was widowed in 2000, Serepta joined a CRWRC-supported adult literacy class in Nebbi Diocese. There, she learned basic reading, writing, and counting skills that gave her a new confidence and brought her leadership abilities to light. Serepta was elected treasurer of the group and came to the Mamba women’s group to learn whether beekeeping was something she could manage as she approaches her 70s.

“Now,” Serepta says, “I have six beehives. Two are from CRWRC and four of them I purchased myself. I am amazed that five of my hives were colonized the day after they were set up. I thought I was too old to keep bees but I realized that if I was going to support myself, I had to try, despite my old age.”

According to Joseph Mutebi, Serepta’s accomplishments have become a real inspiration within the Mamba group and the community. “She has become a successful businesswoman who grasped the opportunity to learn with eagerness and enthusiasm. She started with no education at a time in her life when most people are slowing down. Serepta has not let go of her opportunity to learn and grow.”

To increase their success, Serepta and the other members of the Mamba women’s group have participated in additional exchange visits throughout the spring including a ten-participant, three-day trip to a CRWRC partner in western Kenya, Christian Community Service (CCS)—an international experience for which they helped raise their own funds, that exposed them not only to education in beekeeping but also cultural exchange.

The purpose of the exchange visit was two-fold. First, participants from both groups shared their best practices in beekeeping, explored hive designs, practiced honey processing, and learned new marketing methods. In addition, the Mamba group identified four individuals to receive additional training as apiarists and artisans.

These four specialists then attended a two-week, advanced training in beehive construction and apiary management. The women now provide technical support when challenges arise.

As part of CRWRC’s agricultural programs in Uganda, the Mamba project provides a sustainable income through conservation farming principles.

Kareng Joyce, who was able to purchase ten beehives in addition to the one provided to her, learned conservation agriculture techniques that help her identify plants to grow in her garden to attract bees and encourage honey production.

“The sunflower and mango trees, among others in our neighborhood, are producing more fruit this year,” she says, “because of the increased bee pollination in our area.”

Greater diversity in plant species and tree cover that promote honey production are becoming more valuable to group members like Joyce and the community overall, Mutebi notes, and the result is an increase in income that is both sustainable and builds or rebuilds the natural resources in the area.

Residents are less likely to use harmful environmental practices like slash-and-burn to clear the land for planting, Mutebi adds, when they recognize and appreciate the benefits of preserving the usefulness and beauty of their natural surroundings.

The buzz about bees is changing lives for the better in poor communities in rural Uganda through CRWRC. The members of the Mamba Christian Women’s Association, like Kareng Joyce and Serepta Uronya, are improving their livelihoods, communities, and families with their work and enthusiasm.

In fact, in a culture where women are encouraged to be subservient, uneducated, and stay at home, their men have realized for the first time that, “Even women can make beehives!”

One of the four artisans who received training with CCS in Kenya says, “Our training in Kenya connected us to other beekeepers there and helped us identify markets for selling our crops. Now, we can appreciate living beyond the borders of ethnicity and social differences to achieve a better livelihood.”

And that’s a lot to buzz about.

~ By Beth DeGraff, CRWRC Communications