Former honey poachers now earning from bee farming

Former poachers in Gishwati forest are now reaping big from beekeeping. Photos by Michel Nkurunziza.

Before 2015, honey production for beekeepers from Nyabihu District in Western Province was not sustainable.

At the time, farmers would install their traditional beehives in Gishwati Forest where they collected little, if any honey.

Exploiting the forest for honey poaching was also not only unsafe for them, but environmental activists also claimed that it was an encroachment on the park that has since been turned into a tourist destination.

However, today, the 356 beekeepers grouped under Nyabihu Beekeeping cooperative Union (NBCU) are reaping big from modern beekeeping methods thanks to government support that seeks to reduce encroaching Gishwati-Mukura National Park.

Over Rwf6 billion was allocated to restore and conserve the forest and its buffer zone of which at least Rwf1.7 billion is benefitting different community projects around the park according to Rwanda Environment Management Authority officials.

Theoneste Harerimana, the president of the union of beekeepers in Nyabihu district told Business Times that they started modern beekeeping in 2016.

“We used to install our traditional beehives inside Gishwati forest. This was a threat to the forest and its biodiversity since we used fire and smoke while harvesting honey which would often cause fires damaging the biodiversity. Some individuals would also poach wildlife from the park while others would let their cattle graze in the forest in the process,” he said.

He said that based on the advice from environment law enforcers, the beekeepers started to install their beehives in the forest’s buffer zone.

“We have about 600 traditional beehives and over 250 modern beehives. We set up honey a collection center and we have honey processing unit. We invested over Rwf12 million value chain of this business,” he said.

A modern beehive can produce between 25 Kg and 30 Kg of honey while the traditional one produces between 10 Kg and 15 Kg,” he said.

“We collect over 3 tonnes of honey for processing per year but we are targeting to process about 10 tonnes. We have ready market for our processed honey. We buy honey at Rwf3, 000 per Kilogramme and when we process it we sell a kilogramme at Rwf4, 000,” he said.

The union is made of 8 cooperatives with 356 members who provide a livelihood for over 1,500 households.

The beekeeping union is in the process of acquiring quality certification from Rwanda Standard Board which will lead them to access to a wider market, the president of the cooperative said.

The union processed 1.9 tonnes of honey last season worth about Rwf 8 million.

“The proceeds are important to the community considering that a member can supply 30 Kg of honey and get paid about Rwf90, 000 from which they can pay schools for children while others can buy livestock. Beekeepers harvest honey twice a year,” he said.

According to Patrick Nsabimana, the coordinator of the project involved in restoring Gishwati Mukura Forest, at least 10,180 households have benefited from community projects around the park.

“There are different categories of beneficiaries including individuals and cooperatives. The projects seek to keep people from encroaching the park. Some take up agro-forestry as on alternative to use trees from the park. So far we have planted trees on 1,300 ha with over 9,000 households benefitting from sustainable land management system,” he said.

The beneficiaries used to carry out illegal mining, honey and animal poaching in the forest as well as extraction of medicinal plants.

Besides honey producing cooperatives, the process of rehabilitation also take into account other illegal activities including Rwf171 M to be disbursed to illegal miners to start professional mining and processing, he said.

The official said that there are also community eco-tourism projects, community selling points along Kivu Belt road near Lake Kivu, Irish potato farmers’ cooperatives among others.

“Each of four farmers’ cooperatives that are involved in potato seed production got Rwf26 million and consequently receives about Rwf5 million profit per season,”

“Besides farmers, we have also supported livestock farmers with Rwf 450 million to embrace pastoral approaches on 339 ha as well as to set up milk collection center,” he said.

Nsabimana added that over 4,700 previously poor families were given Rwf330 million to invest in agricultural and livestock activities.