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World Bee Day: From honey hunting to bee keeping in Rwanda

As we mark World Bee Day (May 20th), we highlight how a community in Rwanda is playing its part in conserving biodiversity

Silvan Rwerinyange with his bee colonies in Nyungwe National Park in south west Rwanda Photo: The Eye Rwanda Silvan Rwerinyange with his bee colonies in Nyungwe National Park in south west Rwanda Photo: The Eye Rwanda

For several years, Silvan Rwerinyange poached and honey hunted in Nyungwe National Park in south west Rwanda so he could support his family. He was not aware that these activities threatened biodiversity and the ecosystem. He was only focused on surviving.

But life was transformed for Silvan, and many in his community, thanks to beekeeping training delivered by BIOCOOR (Biodiversity Conservation Organisation) in partnership with Trócaire.

As part of the training programme, Silvan was given beehives and tools and learned about the importance of bees for pollination and growing crops.

“We never had enough honey to make a profit from honey hunting,” says Silvan. “The added beehives and tools will bring us more money that we shall invest back into other business. I now know the importance of taking care of the bees as they help in pollination, which helps to grow crops.”

Silvan has also learned about the dangers of using pesticides. “One of the biggest challenges now is the decline of bees due to increased use of pesticides, and I wish there could be pesticides that are not harmful to bees,” he says.

“I see beekeeping as a good business, as demand for honey demand is higher than what is produced.”

Silvan did his training as a member of CODAPE (Coopérative pour le Dévelopement des Apiculteurs et la Protection de l’Environement). Based in Nyamagabe district in Southern Province, Rwanda, it is one of the cooperatives identified by BIOCOOR to support beekeeping under the ”Community led planning and management for biodiversity protection and resilient communities in Southern Rwanda” project funded by Jersey Overseas Aid.

CODAPE is made of 78 beekeepers (25 women and 54 men), most who used to be poachers, but who are now involved in bee businesses which are supplementing their incomes, and contributing to biodiversity conservation.

Codape is one of several beekeeping cooperatives in Nyungwen National Park where Trócaire has a memorandum of understanding to promote consultation and collaboration for conservation activities.

Since 2020, Trócaire, through its partners CARITAS Gikongoro and BIOCOOR, has trained 342 (265 men and 78 women) beekeepers in Nyaruguru and Nyamagabe Districts in Rwanda. 457 beehives and tools including honey harvesting suits have been distributed.World Bee Day:

Did you know?

Bees are under threat. Present species extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal due to human impacts.

Close to 35 percent of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, and about 17 percent of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats, face extinction globally.

If this trend continues, nutritious crops, such as fruits, nuts and many vegetable crops will be substituted increasingly by staple crops like rice, corn and potatoes, eventually resulting in an imbalanced diet.

Intensive farming practices, land-use change, mono-cropping, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change all pose problems for bee populations and, by extension, the quality of food we grow.

How we can do more:

  • Plant a diverse set of native plants which flower at different times of the year.
  • Buy raw honey from local farmers.
  • Buy products from sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Avoid pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in our gardens.
  • Protect wild bee colonies where possible.
  • Help sustain forest ecosystems.
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