Rwanda Organic Beekeeping Company
Our history :
In 1980 and 1981, after studying the African bees of Rwanda in deep forest, in their environment, Prof. Roch Domerego developed a hive which corresponded to their biotope. It made it possible to multiply by 17 the production of honey.
Out of 60 pilot hives distributed in 4 apiaries around the village of Mbazi, an average of 34 kg per year and per hive was harvested. Traditional hives made of straw or banana leaves or even unsuitable modern hives, for example of the 10-frame langstroth type (a copy of that used in Europe), produced on average 2 kg to 5 kg per hive and per year.
The quantities announced were much higher but the actual and verified production averages were very low and corresponded to these values.
The quantity of production was an important element and certainly the first one, but many other parameters turned out to be extremely positive. The second and not the least was that of the quality of the honey collected. A clear, limpid and tasty honey that corresponded to international demand. It was very different from that found in local markets.
It also appeared that changes in beekeeping criteria such as the time to visit the hives, the understanding of their biological functioning, their specific subspecies, their relations with plants, the embossing of the waxes used and especially the harmony of their lives inside this hive were essential. These very differentiated elements gave a gentle beekeeping and in harmony with this native bee. This is far from the known clichés of the African bee, a real fear for some.
In 2019, our tour of Rwanda allowed us to observe the following points:
Beekeeping is rooted in the cultural and religious fabric of the country.
There are many traditional beekeepers in the country who own many banana or “modern” beehives. On the other hand, we did not meet any seasoned beekeepers capable of leading a project. Full training will be required.
The native bees, Apis mellifera scutellata and other local subspecies not clearly defined, are not affected, for the moment, by the ravages suffered by European bees: varroa, disappearance syndrome, chemical and genetic pollution … .
We did not encounter any gentle, non-aggressive colonies as soon as beekeepers handled them in our presence. This was due, according to our observations, to the various stresses they were under. The hives used, the behavioral attitude and the techniques practiced by the beekeepers during our visits were the main causes.We did not encounter a hive in production of more than 16 kg per year (exceptional result at the monastery of Gihindamuyaga) and generally more than 8 kg per year for beehives with frames and 5 kg for traditional ones. This quantity collected in “modern beehives” does not create a sufficient differential to reflect exemplary modernity. The very high figures, 30kg per year and per hive, announced in some reports were never confirmed by the beekeepers on the hills.
We did not visit all the beekeeping infrastructures or all the cooperatives in the country but the very high figures production or packaging advertised by some organizations are not true.
The actual annual productions that are declared by the cooperatives, divided by the number of hives they control, gave us averages per hive identical to the figures announced by beekeepers in the field (simple verification).
All the beekeepers visited directly, outside the cooperative structure, told us about very small quantities of production. The figures are similar whether in the south, west or north of the country. The East was not sufficiently explored in our study. Poor quantity and poor quality beekeeping education. It does not take into account the specificities of the native bee, nor those of its ecosystem. It often consists of a distribution of material accompanied by a few explanations without the dissemination of real beekeeping knowledge.
No raw honey is actually put on the market because there are no analyzes that validate the plant origin.
No other hive product is harvested. Only wax is recovered in some cases. Often, a significant percentage of the combs are left in the honey due to lack of filtration. This is a significant shortfall. With a properly conducted beekeeping, there are 2 other products that could be easily recovered: pollen and propolis. Even the wax production could be much higher than it is now.
The administration sees bee aggressiveness and takes measures that are “unnatural” but the facts prove it right. Indeed, mistreated bees defend themselves and therefore become aggressive. They are not intrinsically so (there are many examples of hives next to workplaces or even beekeepers’ residences), but it is clear that they are because of the stresses they undergo (poor handling, bad habitat and inappropriate beekeeping…).
Agronomy using international phytosanitary products, which has only been in place for a few years, is killing more and more bees and reducing the country’s beekeeping potential. The pollination of certain endemic plant species seems to us to be in danger by this approach. Rwanda’s global bee population too!
The moisture percentages measured in the honeys are far too high. We have not carried out any concrete analyzes of the PAH or HMF contents of the honeys encountered, but practice in the field strongly suggests that they are outside international standards.
As the production is unsuitable for export, only local markets can be supplied with such honeys. Rwandans love these honeys because they have their specific dietary habits and especially for using local beers as a chaptalizer. For the most part, the exported honeys are unstable, given their high water content.
The potential of the country seems enormous to us in terms of honey production by the simple fact that there are 2 harvests per year and that the country is covered with honey plants (eucalyptus, banana trees …). A low estimate would give 100,000 exploitable hives spread over the territory, i.e. 1,500 to 2,500 Tons (mainly organic) for a turnover of +/- 10 to 15 M € (for comparison, Cuba, 110,000 KM2 or 4 x larger, exports +/- 10,000 tons of honey per year including 4,000 in organic).
The reasons of our choice:
As the country has great beekeeping potential and is awaiting success in this area, nothing that we have seen suggests brakes at any level whatsoever. Everything was open to start our investment in reasoned, organic beekeeping and in the spirit of fair trade.
Setting up of 7 to 8 pilot apiaries of “Robeec” hives of a size adapted to the native bee. They will be used to prove the potential of the native bee as well as the honey of the country. This is a necessary and essential first step before any development in the entire Huye district, and then in other regions.
The ROBEEC project is only viable if it takes into account the observations mentioned above and if it is based on factual figures. Its experts directly supervise the pilot apiaries. Only the proof by a correct production, that is to say more than 25kg on average per hive and per year on the pilot apiaries, of a honey to international standards, will make reference. We will establish the right criteria for sustainable Rwandan beekeeping. It will be reasoned, organic, fair, economically viable and reproducible by local beekeepers.
The market exists both for the local and tourist population (shops, hotels, direct sales, regional exports, etc.). Robeec will charge market prices with products that will be of much better quality.
Locally, no market exists for other bee products (pollen, propolis, royal jelly, wax, venom). Everything has to be done.
Overall objective of the project:
The creation of a private Rwandan company, acting as a beekeeping company that sells on European or / and North American markets certified “organic” and fair trade bee products (if possible): honey, fresh pollen, wax, propolis , etc.
Specific objectives :
- Preliminary project feasibility study trip,
- Company creation
- Choice of location of the company (region and municipality).
- Production of suitable beehives,
- Creation of 7 to 8 pilot apiaries,
- Validation of ecological and technical choices,
- Writing and teaching an adapted beekeeping,
- Establishment of contracts and apiaries with trained beekeepers and partners of the company,
- Creation of the company’s honey house and laboratory,
- In the medium term, creation of an apitherapy dispensary.
Expected results :
- A brief feasibility study is carried out validating the project,
- A region and a place are chosen thanks to substantiated reasons,
- Specific beehives are produced in wood or cement or in another local certified “organic” material,
- A minimum of 7 pilot apiaries are set up by the company. They have a number of hives adapted to the environment in which they will be installed,
- Beekeeping courses are written and validated by practice. They are taught in Kinyarwanda,
- A legal contract is drawn up to allow trained beekeepers to become partners of the company,
- Apiaries are set up with signatory beekeepers,
- A honey house to “organic” standards is set up. It responds to the quantities and the chosen economic orientation: bulk, potting, placing in pods …,
- Quality and certified “organic” products are marketed on local markets: hotels and other international level businesses or are exported,
- An elementary laboratory is established. It is adjacent to the honey house,
- The growth in the number of beekeepers and production but also in other beekeeping products is effective,
- A dispensary using quality and standardized beekeeping products is created in an appropriate place to provide free care to signatory beekeepers and their families but also at low cost in local currency for the Rwandan population.
The advantages of this project:
- High-value beekeeping products for export (foreign currency receipts)
- Jobs in rural areas,
- Jobs for women as well as men,
- Above-ground production to help non-landowners,
- Respect for local biodiversity,
- University study projects for students and doctoral students,
- Education for rural populations,
- An increase in existing crops through better pollination,
- And above all the respect and recognition of the native bee.