FOR MANY YEARS Faustin Munyakazi practiced beekeeping in Nyungwe National Park using traditional methods which he believes were dangerous to the park and to himself.
Munyakazi, with other beekeepers, often started a fire which produced plumes of smoke which helped them chase the bees out of the beehives.
More often, Munyakazi says beekeepers were responsible for frequent fire outbreaks which devastated part of the forest.
“We used to practice beekeeping in the park but the way we did it was traditional, setting off fire which usually burnt the forest,” he says.
“This was the same way our grand fathers used to treat the forest, we had beehives around the forest but in most cases, we had to go to the forest to install our beehives because it was where we could get enough honey. Sometimes the fire could cause serious incidents in the park and even the produce was poor due to traditional beekeeping practices,” he adds.
Munyakazi says beekeeping in the forest was a long entrenched habit until 2009 when Rwanda Development Board (RDB) started to encourage them to move from the forest to form cooperatives where they could get support to boost their trade.
RDB sought to support not only beekeepers but also the community around the park to help them start income generating activities a through revenue sharing scheme.
Initiated in 2005, the 5 per cent tourism revenue sharing programme targets communities around the Volcanoes National Park (north), Nyungwe (west), and Akagera in the eastern part of the country.
The communities are supported in various ways such as through the scheme, government constructs key infrastructures such as schools, hospitals, hotels and roads in areas surrounding or near national parks.
It also supports artisans, farmers’ cooperatives and other various categories.
Munyakazi, with his colleagues are some of the beneficiaries. As beekeepers they received training in modern beekeeping and were given materials to improve their business.
“We were asked to vacate the park and practice beekeeping outside, we did it and set up our modern beehives around the park and in other areas.
‘‘Apart from the trainings, we were also given modern equipment that helped us practice modern beekeeping to boost our production,” Munyakazi says.
Munyakazi was speaking last Friday as RDB inaugurated new classrooms constructed as part of the revenue sharing scheme at Groupe Scolaire Gasakura in Bushekeri Sector, Nyamasheke District.
The four classrooms block was constructed in partnership with the district at a tune of Rwf27 million with RDB contributing Rwf13.7 million, according to officials.
The inauguration of the classrooms is part of a nationwide buildup to the 12th annual gorilla-naming ceremony, set for September 2, during which 21 baby gorillas in the Virunga National Park in the north of the country will be named in a tradition locally known as Kwita-Izina.
A total of 216 baby gorillas have been named since the introduction of the naming ceremony for baby mountain gorillas in 2005.
Munyakazi is the president of a cooperative of beekeepers in Kitabi Sector, known by its french acronym, COASKI. He says their lives have changed lately thanks to modern beekeeping.
There are thirteen cooperatives around the park, made up of over 1300 members.
“We are now modern beekeepers, we no longer harm the forest and our produce has been improved and increased,” he says.
Our lives have improved thanks to modern practice, and every member manages to send their children to school, to pay health insurance for their family while some of us have managed to construct houses and keep livestock,” he adds.
The cooperative has an office and capital worth Rwf15 million.
Thanks to best practices, they get good quality honey and hope to start exporting very soon, according to Munyakazi.
According to Placide Tuyisenge, the president of Nyungwe cultural village, an artisans cooperative dealing in artifacts, residents who used to threaten the park are currently the ones who protect it and benefit from their arts.
”Most of us used to go to the park to collect firewood while others were poachers, but thanks to the trainings and support we received from RDB, we now make various products to sell to tourists while showcasing our culture. In a good season, we reap huge benefits because many tourists visit the park,” he says.
“We have benefited a lot from the park, our lives have changed in various ways and having these classrooms constructed is a very good gesture. Our children were congested in class but now they will study with some breathing space in the new classrooms,” Tuyisenge adds.
Belise Kaliza, the chief tourism officer at RDB, said over Rwf2.6 billion was invested in over 480 such projects countrywide, adding that the revenue sharing scheme will remain operational to help prevent human-wildlife conflict.
Nyungwe is one of Africa’s last tropical rainforests and recent exploration findings indicated that it’s the furthest source of River Nile, the world’s longest river.
The forest receives more than 2000mm of rain a year and it boasts dozens of different species of primates and rare birds. It also hosts a canopy walk that offers a magnificent view of the park.