Patrick Uwingabire, a beekeeper, says a modern beehive produces up to 70 kilogrammes of honey annually compared to a traditional one which produces between four and seven kilogrammes per year.
Uwingabire, 30, is the president of Kopabuhu, a beekeeping cooperative of 14 young people in Kigarama village in Southern Province’s Huye District.
To fend for his wife and two children, he decided to join his colleagues in embracing modern beekeeping realising the benefits that come with it.
Their cooperative started in 2010 with 10 modern hives it got from the Association for Promotion of Integrated Development in Rwanda (ARDI).
Though each of the cooperative members had practiced traditional beekeeping for a long time, the difference that came with modern beekeeping was significant.
“When we were using traditional hives we produced between four to ten kilogrammes, but with modern hives we produce between 60 and 70 kilogrammes of honey,” Uwingabire said.
So far, the cooperative boasts 284 modern hives and sells eight tonnes of honey annually. A kilogramme of honey goes for Rwf2, 200, which brings the total annual earnings to around Rwf17 million.
“I and my family are leading a better life thanks to beekeeping,” Uwingabire said, adding that the practice has since transformed the lives of all the cooperative members and their families.
Now their cooperative projects to have 600 modern hives in 2017 and produce above 10 tonnes of honey annually.
Uwingabire and his colleagues are some of the country’s beekeepers who have benefited from a national strategy to increase rural incomes, enhance food security and transform agriculture into a vibrant commercial sector.
Under the auspices of Agriculture Sector Development Strategy (ASDS), modern beehives are set to hit 322,007 by 2020, which will help increase the tonnage of honey produced in the country.
According to Jean Marie Vianney Munyaneza, the Manager of Agriculture Diversification and Product Development Division at the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), Rwanda wants to boost honey production by significantly increasing the number of high yield modern beehives and reinforcing standard compliance with emphasis on traceability of honey products to help boost local consumption and exports.
The official said financial instruments tailored to beekeeping activities, farm-to-farm relationship development, contract farming as well as research on diseases and colony collapse disorders will also be considered in the promotion of modern beekeeping.
For beekeeping, there are about five zones namely Virunga, Gishwati, Nyungwe, Rusizi and Akagera and the government wants to adopt both polyflora and monoflora honey production so those who want a unique specific flavour as well as natural honey with various nectar can get it.
Rwanda’s honey is normally polyflora, which means it is produced through bees foraging on nectars and pollens from various flowers.
Polyflora honey serves as medicine since it is generated from various medicinal trees or herbs.
Most countries, especially in Europe, have mainly monoflora honey following the collection by bees of nectar from intensive farming for a single variety of crop like sunflower.
That’s why Rwanda’s polyflora honey is on high demand in Europe. In June 2014, Rwanda was accredited among third party countries to export honey to European Union, thanks to the quality of its natural honey.
Officials at the Rwanda Agriculture Board (Rab) estimate that there are 530 beekeepers from 73 cooperatives countrywide who were trained in modern beekeeping and offered modern beekeeping equipment.
The deputy director general for animal resources extension at Rab, Dr Christine Kanyandekwe, says more training of trainers in beekeeping will be organised as the government seeks to boost honey supply.
Kanyandekwe said while Rwanda produces 3,500 tonnes of honey annually, the demand for the country’s honey is estimated to be at least 4,500 tonnes per year.
Rwanda expects to produce 7,100 tonnes of honey by 2017.