An entrepreneurial group of Mayange residents are building a new business by taking an old idea—beekeeping—and updating it with the help of training from the Millennium Villages Project and financial support from the Mayange Community Development Fund.
A total of 33 men and women who previously kept from one to ten traditional beehives to produce medicinal honey have formed a beekeeping cooperative to build modern hives to supply honey for the local market.
The president of the Koperative y'Aborozi B'Inzuki Mayange, or Mayange Beekeepers Cooperative, Bakundukize Gerard, said the members knew honey could generate a lot of money and that the production could be increased with modern hives, but the modern hives were too expensive. A ready-made modern hive costs about RWF 30,000 Rwandan francs, or about US $53.
Then, in October 2008, Millennium Villages Project (MVP) offered a training course that showed villagers how to build the beehives themselves. To get them started, the MVP loaned the cooperative RWF 1,520,000 (about US $2,700) for the raw materials to build hives; the loan will be repaid to the community-run Mayange Community Development Fund (MCDF).
This kind of activity would have been almost inconceivable four years ago, before the MVP began. In 2005, basic food security was the biggest concern in Mayange. Every aspect of the community's welfare was affected by periodic hunger. With MVP support, including fertilizer and improved and drought-resistant seeds, farmers are able to grow enough food for their families. In fact, the community now stores on average 200 metric tons of grains and cereals each harvest season to protect against future shortfalls.
Now that food security and other primary needs such as medical care and education are being met, the community has turned its energies to finding income generation projects that can truly bring the community out of poverty. More than 25 cooperatives have been established, with businesses ranging from poultry to soap making to tourism. The goal is to build on existing successes and earn more cash so that families and the community can go beyond meeting their basic needs and begin to build wealth through savings and investment.
For the beekeepers, the investment is already paying off. The new hives are expected to produce about 10 kilos of honey every season, or twice a year. With an average local selling price of RWF 2,000 per kilo (about US $3.50), the cooperative hopes to generate RWF 2 million per season, and plans to pay back 60% of the loan after the first season.
The remaining profit will be used to buy additional parts for the beehives to improve production for the second season, including wax foundation and other accessories. The cooperative will also continue to progressively produce more beehives for members who did not yet receive a new hive, either because the members were wary of the new business, or because they could not afford the contribution required of RWF 10,000 (US $17) or could not provide a suitable shelter to protect the beehive from the rain.
In the past, beekeeping in Mayange was constrained by the lack of rainfall and resulting lack of greenery that bees need to gather nectar to produce honey. But the cooperative members say this worry is long past: Thanks to efforts by the community and assistance from the Millennium Villages project, Mayange has been intensively reforested and it is now as green as other regions where bees have traditionally done well.
Sebukinike Celestine had eight traditional hives, producing at least 20 kilos every six months and earning him enough to pay for school fees and materials for his six children, four of whom are in secondary school. With five modern hives, he expects to earn enough in the next year to pay school fees regularly without any problem or need to rely on additional loans.
Jeannette Mukabalisa is a Community Development Coordinator for MVP Rwanda. She is based in Mayange, Rwanda.