At least 15 beekeepers’ cooperatives, bringing together more than 1,300 beekeepers around Nyungwe National Park, have benefited from the revenue sharing scheme initiated by the Government to support communities surrounding national parks.
The cooperatives, which now operate over 4,500 modern beehives, bring together former poachers within the park, who used to illegally harvest honey from the protected in the park located in south-western Rwanda.
Telesphore Ngoga, the community tourism development analyst at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), told The New Times that illegal harvesting of honey from the park was a major cause of wildfires, which exposed animals to danger.
Ngoga was speaking, last week, during a study tour targeting land owners from around the recently gazetted Gishwati-Mukura National Park to assess how other communities around Nyungwe National Park are being motivated to manage buffer zones in parks.
Most of the people make periodic incursions into the new park to carry out varied illegal activities.
According to Patrick Nsabimana, the coordinator of Landscape Approach to Forest Restoration and Conservation project at Rwanda Environment Management Authority, conservation projects around Nyungwe are expected to be emulated by the communities around Gishwati-Mukura National Park in the management of the buffer zone.
RDB reports show that wild fires caused by illegal honey harvesting destroyed more than 20 per cent of Nyungwe forest between 1997 and 1998. The report calls for efforts toward the forest’s restoration.
“There are still cases of wildfires in Nyungwe and around it although it has drastically reduced. Some of members of these beekeeping cooperatives are currently part of groups that monitor illegal activity in the park,” Nsabimana said.
Kauru beekeeping cooperative
One of the 15 beekeeping cooperatives operating around Nyungwe Park is Kauru Beekeepers’ Cooperative, made up of 74 members from Nyamasheke District. It was formed in 2013.
Edouard Munyankindi, a former poacher, is one of the 74 members of cooperative.
“I could spend a week in the forest looking for wild animals and honey. I did not bath all this time. Returning home, I would take all the proceeds from the wild honey and game to the bar until I finished it and return to the forest to hunt for more,” said Munyankindi.
The cooperative has four beekeeping sites with more than 100 beehives built with the support of Rwf6.2 million provided through the tourism revenue sharing scheme.
Through RDB, the Government has since 2005 been committing 5 per cent of the proceeds from the national parks toward projects aimed at empowering communities around the parks.
Kauru cooperative harvests between 300 and 500 kilogrammes of honey per season – a year has three honey seasons – according to Vincent Niyonsaba, one of the cooperative representatives.
They sell unprocessed honey at Rwf2,000 a kilogramme.
Niyonsaba told The New Times that from the honey, the cooperative has since managed to buy land on which they set up their beehives. Before buying the land, he said, they used to lease.
At least 50 members of the cooperative, Niyonsaba added, have so far acquired domestic animals that helps boost their income, among other benefits.