Beekeeping and honey production stand out as highly profitable and valuable Non-Timber and Forest products (NTFP) livelihood, which have the potential to render tangible benefit amongst rural communities adjacent to park Ecosystems. Despite efforts to encourage beekeeping among tourism host communities, aimed at enhancing livelihood diversity, many still face challenges due to limited skills and lack technical expertise required for high-quality honey production. This poses challenges in meeting the standards of the strategic tourism markets operating in the area.
Research conducted by the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) 2017, revealed that certain tourist lodges within Bwindi Impenetrable Park source their honey from outside the local area. This practice stems from the perception that honey produced locally is of poor quality, with inconsistent supplies that do not appeal to tourists. Consequently, local communities find themselves perplexed by the low demand for their honey, resulting in low prices due to the use of rudimentary packaging materials and quality concerns and as a result local people especially poorest who live closest to the forest were developing negative attitude to the park and to conservation. This was largely because they felt that conservation was “unfair” – the costs of living close to wild animals far outweighing the benefits.
In response to this challenge, on December 4, 2023, The Environment Governance Institute (EGI), with the support of IUCN Save Our Species, conducted a capacity training program for Bwindi’s frontline local communities. The objective was to impart effective beekeeping practices, enabling participants to enhance the quality of honey production to align with the standards expected by strategic tourism markets. The meeting attracted over 50 participants (34 men and 25 women) from the villages of Rubona, Buhoma, Iraaro and Nkwenda from the Greater Kayonza Subcounty situated in Kanungu District, in the Buhoma Northern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Park that inhabits various families of Gorilla Species.
During the training, Mr. Bashaija Moses, an official from Buhoma Subcounty, expressed concern about the low rate of colonization of community hives, stating, “Over 40 hives had not been colonized, and this is discouraging our communities.” This situation raises worries about potential negative impacts, as it could drive communities back towards exploiting illegal park resources through hunting and laying traps, posing a significant threat to the slowly reproducing Gorilla Species.
To reverse that, EGI rolled out a “Lemon Grass Approach’’ to quick hive colonization that involved a mixture of fresh Lemon Grass boiled in honeycomb exudates for 15 minutes and sprinkled in the entrance of the Hive, a move intended for rapid colonization of the Hives within 1 week. The communities were further equipped with practical and onsite demonstration skills on Honey value addition, Quality Honey harvesting techniques to erase the possibility of honey having bad scent of smoke, improve honey packaging, sealing and branding.
Gloria Tushemereirwe a woman representative leading a team of 10 reformed poachers thanked EGI for the training, “our group had so many uncolonized hives, we believe through this knowledge, our honey will be the best”. Having these reformed poachers skilled and equipped on quality honey production throughout value chain would ultimately make them not slide back to their former ways of park encroachment for survival, and instead tap into tangible livelihoods benefits that sustain their needs.
To scale up the approach, EGI identified five group leaders from each mapped bee keeping groups from Buhoma Northern sector of Bwindi to ensure onsite Knowledge trickles downs to other members which will be tracked with various feedback mechanisms to measure impact in 6-month. The training is intended to impact five bee keeping groups and over 50 households around the tourism hosting villages surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable Park. Tumushabe Jane one the women champions stated, “apart from honey, the knowledge we have gained will enable our groups to venture into new ways of processing other honey products like Propolis and soap made from wax so as to have a double income flow” to sustain our households.
EGI, therefore, calls for continued partnership with UWA, CBOs, Buhoma subcounty officials and entire Bwindi frontline communities to embrace effective means of harnessing sustainable quality livelihoods outcomes from Bee keeping, an endeavor aimed at fostering frontline community household income and long-term conservation of the Gorilla Species.
By John Peter Okwi, Program Coordinator, Environment Governance Institute (EGI-Uganda)
This publication was produced with the financial support of the IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Environment Governance Institute and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN