Whereas most people experience the sweetness of honey on their tongues, George Tunanukye feels it in his wallet. The 51-year-old resident of Bisozi village, Kamwenge sub-county in Kamwenge district, is engaged in beekeeping.
He started the venture with eight local hives in 1996. Today, he is a model farmer with over 300 modern hives.
“I was inspired to go into beekeeping by my grandfather. He had a few beehives from where we would get honey for home consumption,” Tunanukye says.
Tunanukye also used to harvest honey from the wild, especially in the 1980s when he was in primary school.
“I learnt how to make beehives from my grandfather and by Primary Seven I had already made three, which I placed on the trees in our forest,” he says.
The first harvest from his three hives was about three litres of honey. However, he gave up the venture to concentrate on his studies. After graduating in 1996, Tunanukye decided to focus on beekeeping instead of looking for a job.
He made eight local beehives and hang them on the trees on his grandfather’s piece of land in Bisozi village. Although the first harvest was poor, he did not give up.
Tunanukye says in the beginning, he used to harvest 16kg of honey from all the eight hives. However, things later changed for the better after he and his wife, Harriet Tukahirwa, were trained in beekeeping by officials from Private Sector Foundation Uganda.
“I applied the knowledge I acquired on my project, which improved production,” he says.
In 2004, he decided to engage in beekeepining as a full-time job. His apiary has earned him training opportunities from National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and the trade ministry. The training that turned Tunanukye’s farm around was one conducted by the East African Beekeepers Association.
He says during the training, he learnt about the langstroth beehive. With the langstroth hive, a farmer can get honey every week during the harvest season. After the training, Tunanukye bought 40 langstroth hives, which have turned his fortunes around. He currently has over 300 langstroth beehives.
To increase honey production, Tunanukye has planted crops and trees that yield good pollen and nectar. Such plants include mangoes, citrus, guavas, tamarind, moringa, neem, eucalyptus and bottle brush. Other crops are sorghum, sweet potatoes, millet, coconut, roses, castor oil, pomegranate and date palm.
Tunanukye says there are two honey harvesting seasons in a year.
These fall in June-September and January-March. During the June-September season, Tunanukye harvests 500-1,000 litres of honey. In January-March, he harvests 200-300 litres. He says unlike other farming enterprises, beekeeping does not require a lot of land.
Tunanukye employs four permanent workers, who keep records of the apiary and market/ package the honey. He also employs casual workers whenever need arises.
Tunanukye says he has trained all his workers on how to take care of bees. He pays each worker sh200,000 per month.
Marketing and value addition
“ Through field visits to different parts of the country and other beekeepers, I realised that I was losing a lot of money when I sold raw honey. It was then that I decided to invest in a honey press that cost sh5m. I later bought other machines that also cost sh5m,” he says.
Acquiring the machines has ensured that none of his bee products goes to waste.
“We extract, grade and package the honey before it is sold. We use the wax to make candles, which has doubled my earnings from beekeeping,” he notes.
Tunanukye also makes cosmetics, lip balm, therapy jelly (using bee venom) and bee propolis (for treating injuries). To ensure collective burgaining, he has mobilised over 150 farmers to form Kamwenge Beekeepers Association. Tunanukye has trained members of the association on how to make candles from wax and many other value addition methods.
NARO has been a key partner in training Tunanukye and other farmers under their association. Tunanukye and other beekeepers under Kamwenge Beekeepers Association have started a savings and credit co-operative society.