The Government has granted the right to beekeepers to use state forests for farming activities as part of strategies to boost output and avert the shortage of honey in the country. Officials at Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority (RWFA) told The New Times that “the move is a response to the persistent request made by beekeepers who have been seeking permission to use the forests to practice their bee farming activities.
The request by farmers was prompted by the dwindling output for honey and desperate need to protect bees from being exposed to pesticides.
The current practice where crop production is mixed with bee farming, farmers argued, was exposing the bees to dangerous pesticides, leading to massive deaths of bees and low output of honey.
Honey production dropped from 5,000 tonnes in 2016 to 3,500 tonnes in 2017, according to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
The Federation of Beekeepers in Rwanda cited the use of pesticides as the major cause for the decline in the number of bees, saying that protected forest areas were the most appropriate places for bee farming.
Speaking to The New Times on Wednesday, Félix Rurangwa, the Director of Non Timber Forest Products and Agroforestry Unit at RWFA, said that while the Government has an estimated 100 natural forests, they do not necessarily include protected areas such as national parks.
“We want to talk with residents and cooperatives to look for ways to sign MoUs with them so that they manage them (forests) at the same time produce honey and herbal medicine from such forests,” he said.
The president of the Federation of Beekeepers in Rwanda, Jean Damascène Ntaganda, told The New Times that some people have been placing their beehives in their small crop fields, which has not been productive enough.
“With this development which seeks to ease our access to state-owned forests, we can do bee farming on larger areas whereby our bees will have many trees to forage on, and the bees would no longer be killed by pesticides,” he said.
“The agronomists [and veterinarians] will get time to look after the bees at the same time monitoring and managing the forests,” he added.
Meanwhile, Chantal Nyirakamineza, the Manager of Rutsiro Honey Factory, said some farmers were cutting the trees and applying pesticides near national parks to carry out crop framing.
She cited Gishwati buffer zone which has been encroached on by farmers who clear the eucalyptus trees to pave way for crop farming. Sometimes they applied pesticides to kill the lice.
“We request for a study on other flowering trees that can be planted to supplement eucalyptus so that bees can collect nectar from them to make honey,” she said.
Since June 2014 when Rwanda received accreditation to export honey to the European Union, only about 12 tonnes of honey has been exported to Europe.
Low production is the major reason why local bee farmers have not effectively tapped into the European export market.
Under the forth Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA4), Rwanda targets to increase honey production to 8,000 tonnes per year by 2024.
“We are required to do more to supply the EU honey market,” Felix Nyirishema, the specialist for Beekeeping and Commercial Insects at the Ministry of Agriculture said, adding that they seek to empower farmers to use modern equipment, improved breeds of bees, and best farming practices if they are to achieve the national target.
The number of beekeepers in Rwanda is estimated at 83,000, but only 45 per cent of these are active
Figures from the beekeepers’ association show that there are estimated 90,000 modern beehives and 200,000 traditional beehives across the country.
A kilogramme of honey is between Rwf2,000 and Rwf3,000 (to a farmer) and Rwf4,000 and Rwf5,000 for processed and packaged honey.
The average annual honey demand in Rwanda is estimated to be at least 4,500 tonnes, according to RAB.