Sweet Honey Money: The Beekeeping Revolution Empowering Farmers’ Groups in Uganda.  

Honey harvesting in Lamwo. Photo: LWF Uganda

The districts of Adjumani, Lamwo, Obongi, Kamwenge, and Kikuube in Uganda are not only poverty-stricken and resource-limited but also host a substantial refugee population from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In order to alleviate the strain on the already limited resources and infrastructure, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is addressing the root causes of food insecurity, such as low agricultural productivity, and limited livelihood opportunities.

LWF, in partnership with The United States Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), provides income-generating opportunities to improve refugees and host community residents' livelihoods and self-reliance. This major objective of the Community Led Opportunities for Recovery & Empowerment (CORE) project is skilling vulnerable populations for durable solutions in and around Palorinya, Palabek, Adjumani, Rwamwanja, and Kyangwali refugee settlements.

LWF implements on-farm, and off-farm livelihood interventions to provide alternative income sources, even during the off-season. The organization collaborated with existing farmer's groups and supported them with capacity building, apiary tools, and equipment for honey production. Apiary farming was preferred due to its low costs in terms of management and capital. Despite the initial lack of apiary farming skills, the groups demonstrated enthusiasm, so the LWF Livelihood Team sensitized the community members about the significance of beekeeping and proper bee hive management.

One notable success in the Apiary Farming interventions was the formation of six farmer groups in Adjumani, empowering 180 People of Concern (PoCs) in the refugee settlements to increase their household incomes and break away from individual, rain-dependent farming. “Before the sensitization, the members-only engaged in mostly individual farming and depended on rainy seasons. Their savings were very poor, and most members were inactive and they did not have any other source of income,” said the chairperson of Anzovulega farmer’s group Pagirinya settlement in Adjumani. The group members initially hesitant about apiary farming became motivated after the first harvest.

The engagement in apiary farming at group, household, and individual levels has been highly successful, thanks to the existing market demand for honey products. “When we harvested honey, there was a ready market because the customers could just come home purposely to buy honey.” says one of the group members from the Amakura farmers group Nyumanzi settlement in Adjumani.

The chairperson of the Aleasisi-farmer group in Nyumanzi highlighted how the earnings of UGX 250,000 ($68) from selling 25kg of honey ignited the interest of both group members and the wider community. In Lamwo, Pit tek farmers' group harvested 55kgs of honey in the first season and earned UGX 550,000 ($149). “The money made from sales of honey, UGX 1,000,000 ($270), has been deposited in our DFCU bank account which you supported us to open… for every money we get we shall save in the bank. Our aim is to use the savings and get a loan that we shall use to procure more hives and gazette another site specifically for beekeeping,” said Concy Ajok, a treasurer for Ribe ber-farmers group in Lamwo.

The money earned from the sales is then saved with the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), where members can access it through loans for agricultural interventions. The benefits of apiary farming have been far-reaching for the farmers and the community at large allowing farmers to add value to their harvest. “We learned a lot about value addition products from honey such as making shoe polish, smearing oil, and candles. We shall pick up one of these initiatives and pilot it with the local community in the settlement,” said Onek Vincent, a member of the Ribe ber farmers -group. 

Overall, these interventions have transformed the livelihoods of the farmers, created new income streams and fostered economic empowerment down to the individual level through beekeeping as a sustainable and lucrative business opportunity. The impact on household incomes has been remarkable.  The profits made enable the group members to invest in their individual businesses; Okenyi Francis and Auma Irene from Pit Tek Farmers group, for example, purchased 42 bee hives and harvested 89kg of honey, earning the UGX 750,000 ($203) from sales and investing it in a motorbike and a retail business.

The community members are collectively tackling their hardships and pulling resources together to create access to family necessities, medical care, and farm inputs. The groups provide hope and a sense of purpose. John Safari, a father of 10, is a member of Raha Farmer Field School Group in Kyangwali. He can supplement the WFP food ratio, provide school materials for his children and access better medication for his family members. “Through the group, I borrowed UGX 2,000,000 (541) to buy a maize milling machine which earns me a minimum of UGX 20,000 ($5.4) per day. This has improved the general well-being of my family, joy and happiness is restored within my children, my wife even now calls me Daddy, unlike in the past that she used to call me John.” Said John.  

The success of apiary farming among the farmers' groups has not only attracted the interest of non-group members but also garnered attention from the entire community in the settlements. People consult these groups for guidance on managing and operating apiaries, as they witness beekeeping's tangible benefits. “Our neighbours ask us how we attracted bees in our bee hives so that they can also do the same for their hives which are empty,.We tell them everything we learned from LWF training and they are also happy now like us,” said Yokole Rashid a chairperson of Kitanyaeyi group in Gimara sub county Obongi.

The groups, recognizing the importance of sustainability, have independently established leadership structures to guide their members in continuous honey production, even without direct support from LWF and PRM. To ensure continuous support and knowledge exchange, trainings were conducted by Sub-County agricultural officers in the locations where the apiary groups are situated.

The vision for the future is clear - these groups aspire to continue growing their beekeeping enterprises, empowering themselves financially, and making a positive impact on their communities. With their newfound expertise and strong foundations, they are well-prepared to thrive independently, contributing to their growth and uplifting others through training and knowledge-sharing.

The journey of these farmer groups in apiary farming serves as an inspiring testament to the transformative power of sustainable livelihood initiatives. Their determination, resourcefulness, and commitment to learning have not only enhanced their economic well-being but also positioned them as leaders in their communities. By embracing apiary farming and investing in their own resilience, these groups have paved the way for a brighter and more sustainable future.