Gerald Mugisha looks troubled as he inspects his beehives.
Scores of bees lay dead around almost all the beehives. Mugisha, a resident of Kigarama lower, Bisheshe Division in Ibanda Municipality, has about 100 beehives.
He attributes the deaths to environmental destruction and impacts of climate change, especially prolonged droughts, which affect flowering plants and water sources.
“The cutting down of flowering plants affects the sector as the bees now have to travel long distances for nectar and water,” Mugisha said.
Consequently, the bees usually carry less nectar to sustain the colonies leading to such deaths.
He said climate change and use of agrochemicals by farmers were some of the main challenges affecting the sector.
“Thousands of bee colonies are killed by toxic chemicals annually as more people spray weeds or bushes while preparing gardens,” Edson Twinomugisha, from APINET Uganda — promoters of beekeeping and processors of bee products, said.
Bees good for economy
Millions of Ugandans depend on production for their livelihood.
However, as more bee swarms continue to be destroyed each year, crop production will suffer. The bees play a significant role of pollinating crops which are Uganda’s mainstay sector on which the economy is built.
“The issue of protecting bees and other pollinators has been ignored yet they are at the centre of crop production. Bees are the biggest pollinators in the world. Therefore, by using chemicals on crops, you are directly attacking the pollination system,” he said.
“The poor agronomical practices, unguided and sometimes unwarranted use of chemicals by farmers, coupled with climate change, have significantly hurt the pollinators, leading to their reduction in the ecosystem,” Twinomugisha said.
He argued that such actions must be discouraged because they lead to destruction of thousands of bee colonies per year.
“Bees directly influence crop production and, therefore, destroying them leads to poor agricultural output. It also threatens the sustainability of crop production and the national economy,” he added.
Ibanda district entomologist Maurice Mutabazi also reiterated the importance of safeguarding bees. He noted that studies have shown that the presence of bees increases coffee productivity.
He added that beekeeping was an enterprise for anyone who wants extra income.
Twinomugisha noted that Uganda’s production capacity stands at 500,000 tonnes of honey annually. However, the country produces about 50,000 tonnes or only 10% of its capacity.
He added that one tonne of propolis is also produced by Uganda, an amount which is far less than what the market requires.
“Generally, there is enough market for honey and other bee products,” Twinomugisha said.
However, Mutabazi said farmers have failed to exploit this big market and were being paid less than the market price for the honey because of poor production methods that affect quality.
Mutabazi said: “Most farmers are still using outdated traditional methods, which have affected the growth of the apiary sector and marketability of bee products.”
He encouraged beekeepers to embrace modern farming practices to boost production and quality if they are to earn better from their efforts.
Twinomugisha noted that a kilogramme of honey costs sh10,000 in Ibanda and goes up to sh15,000 during offpeak periods.
He said using food supplements such as pure fruit juices can help spur output, enabling a farmer to harvest three to four times a year.
This compares to about two times for most beekeepers, who do not provide for the bees.
Untapped bee venom potential
The cash cow in the apiary sector is bee venom which has an immense market locally and abroad. However,
Twinomugisha said few people have embraced apiary, and only a small volume of bee venom is produced in the country.
He said 10 hives can produce at least one gramme of venom every three days or 10 grammes per month, raking in sh600,000 monthly.
“A gramme of bee venom is at sh60,000 and sometimes sh100,000. A kilogramme of bee venom costs between sh60m and sh100m,” he said.
“Bee venom is a ‘gold mine’. It is needed here and abroad. However, in Uganda, we cannot produce a quarter of the market demand,” he said.
“This is good income for a rural household, which a person with 10 cows cannot make in a month,” he added.
However, Twinomugisha is optimistic that more organisations and the agriculture ministry are sensitising farmers about the benefits and opportunities in apiary.
“I am confident that the situation will have greatly improved by the end of the next decade,” he said.
Gerald Mugisha says honey harvesting gear is expensive, making it hard for ordinary people to acquire them.
He also said poor care for the bees and lack of extension support from the sub-county and district workers was affecting the sector’s growth.
“There is no centralised market, discouraging the would-be beekeepers to fear investing in apiary, which has contributed to the sector remaining highly subsistence in nature.
“So, the Government should develop market linkages and ensure a sustainable market,” Twinomugisha said.