Rwanda: beekeepers weigh in on how to boost honey production

With honey production in the country still low compared to demand, beekeepers are proposing different ways to solve the shortage.

One of the major investments needed to increase honey production is to produce environmentally friendly pesticides, as the chemical pesticides currently used kill the bees and consequently reduce honey production, Elias Uwizeyimana, a beekeeper from Ngeruka Sector, told the newspaper. Bugesera district to Doing Business.

Uwizeyimana has about 100 hives from which he harvests 200 liters of honey every three months.

The amount could double, Uwizeyimana said, if chemical pesticides are not used in the area.

A recent study by naturalist Elias Bizuru shows that in one case, in Nyamasheke district, honey production shifted from five tons per year to 0.5 tons per year, which corresponds to a loss of 90 percent.

The findings come from a study called “Agroecology in Rwanda: Status, Opportunities and Challenges” that examined the issue of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in eight districts – Gisagara, Rubavu, Gicumbi, Nyamasheke, Musanze, Bugesera, Nyaruguru and Huye.

At least 2,635 farmers in the districts were interviewed.

The survey found that 17 percent of households use Cypermethrin pesticide, 19.2 percent Dithane, 55 percent Rocket pesticide, 4.6 percent Thioda, 2.7 percent Ridomil and 1.6 percent Beam, all of which contribute to the killing bees.

These pesticides are mainly used on crops such as rice, corn, tomatoes, Irish potatoes, eggplant, beans and cabbage.

“Governments and innovators should invest in pesticides that don’t kill bees. That could be very good news for beekeepers,” Uwizeyimana said.

Exploiting forests

Uwizeyimana urged the government to allocate state forests to beekeepers across the country to attract more people, especially unemployed youth, into beekeeping.

He added that people should also plant more forests, especially agroforestry on their farms.

“While we need to increase and protect forests to use them for beekeeping in the country, it could be fruitless if bees in these forests find food in nature that is polluted by chemical pesticides.”

Uwizeyimana owns a forest where he practices beekeeping.

To increase honey production, he noted, there is also a need to make special food for bees.

“We are trying to use water, cassava and grain flours, banana juice as complementary food for bees, among other things. But there is a need for standard food that can nourish bees and increase honey production,” he said.

Jean de Dieu Kwizera, a beekeeper who relies on a state forest in the Gasabo district, said allocating state forests to young people could fight unemployment and solve the honey production deficit.

Kwizera annually harvests between 1.5 tons (1,500 kilos) and 2.0 tons of honey from its modern beehives.

“Governments must work closely with people to preserve biodiversity, especially forests where beekeeping can be carried out. There is a need for training of farmers and beekeepers, as well as finding solutions to chemical pesticides that kill bees and reduce honey production. Beekeepers are once again in need of modern equipment,” said Kwizera.

The Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) believes that solutions to bee decline due to pesticide use consist of mobilizing and sensitizing farmers about the use of the pump when applying pesticides outdoors the flower, more research on pesticides that are less toxic and planting more honey-like plants, or crops that are bee-friendly. A honey flower is a plant that produces substances that can be collected by insects and turned into honey.

“RAB started trying biodegradable and bee-friendly pesticides before they became widely mainstream. We also facilitate advocacy to plant bee-friendly trees,” Solange Uwituze, deputy director general in charge of Animal Resources Research and Technology Transfer at RAB, Business said.

She added: “RAB will continue to work with beekeepers’ unions to improve production by using the right equipment for queen breeding and bee colony propagation.”

Can state forests solve the 11,000-ton deficit?

Uwituze told Doing Business that honey production in 2020/21 was at 5,800 tons, up slightly from 5,500 tons in 2019/20 and 4,738 in 2015.

According to the RAB, the current demand is 17,000 tons of honey per year.

Production falls far short of targets in Rwanda’s strategic plan for agricultural transformation phase 4 (PSTA 4), which covers the period 2018-2024.

The government forecast 6,595 tons in 2019/2020; 6,988 tons in 2020/21; 7,302 tons in 2021/22; 7,655 tons in 2022/23; and 8,611 in 2023/24.

Uwituze said RAB was pursuing partnerships with the Rwanda Forestry Authority to allocate state forests that are not protected parks to beekeepers for increasing production by involving more young people.

According to Spridio Nshimiyimana, acting director general of the Rwanda Forestry Authority, the government aims to allocate 48,803 hectares or 80 percent of state forests to private operators for management by 2024. Privatizing the management of state forests is seen as a way to increase revenues from the forestry sector.

So far, the government has allocated 38.45 percent of state forests to private operators to ensure better forest management.