Finding opportunity amidst COVID-19 lockdown and school closures

Sustainable agriculture
According to UNICEF many of the learners affected by school closures in Uganda as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are unlikely to return to schools.

The COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda led to the world’s longest school closure. For nearly 2 years since March 2020 over 15 million learners were out of school.

Drought and flooding were the common challenges before COVID-19

Michael Bwambale is 18 years old and lives in Nkondo village in Rubirizi district in Western Uganda. Michael is the 5th child among 7 siblings.

Before March 2020 Michael was in the second year of secondary school at Ndekye Secondary School. He says the only challenges they were used to having was lack of pasture for livestock due to flash flooding and prolonged droughts.

A panoramic view  of  Nkondo village in Rubirizi in Western Uganda as seen from one of Michael's apiaries where he has established more than 20 transitional beehives.

Experiencing 2 school closures

When the first COVID-19 case was reported in Uganda it was not long before the number of confirmed cases sporadically increased in the capital Kampala at first and then eventually all over the country.

For Michael the whole experience was surreal.

"I thought COVID-19 was temporary and I would go back to school after the first school closure. But after being sent back from school the second time I knew it would be long"

Starting out as a novice beekeeper

After a few weeks at home pondering what to do, Michael decided to start a ‘project’ – a venture that he could earn money from. According to Michael, he “... only had two options- piggery or beekeeping. My dad convinced me to do beekeeping because he was a beekeeper himself”.

Michael initially started with 5 local hives. He soon realized that the knowledge he had was not sufficient and he needed to have proper beekeeping skills. Michael’s lack of proper beekeeping skills affected him as most of the hives were not getting colonized.  “

I would site the hives but for months they would not be colonized, but I just never quit and would relocate them to new sites” he said.

Meeting a Swisscontact project partner

Michael’s first harvests were low, but he was lucky to easily get a buyer. Michael sold the honey he harvested to Delta Bees.

Delta Bees is a local SME partnering with Swisscontact through the Dynamic Market for Farmers – Sustainable Cocoa and Honey Uganda project. The project supports over 3,500 smallholder beekeepers from 5 districts in Uganda including Rubirizi to transform from subsistence to commercial beekeeping.

Michael says he first heard about Delta Bees from a radio advert in which the SME was offering to buy honey at a stable price in addition to other beekeeping support. 

Later an agent of the SME visited Michael’s village with more information. This led Michael and 32 others from his village to organize themselves and form a beekeepers’ group called ‘Nkondo Beekeepers group’.

Growing and prospering

Delta Bees supported Michael and the members in his group with skills training in beehive making, hive siting, hive hygiene management among others. 

Michael was enthused by the support he received which went a long way to helping him acquire better beekeeping skills. 

We bought wood and Delta Bees provided freely iron sheets and nails and top bars which I used to make 20 transitional hives” he recalls.

By June 2021 Michael had harvested and sold honey worth 680,000 Ugx (CHF 179) to Delta Bees. The money was invested in acquiring improved hives. 

I used the money to buy timber to make more hives. For three seasons I invested all the money buying timber to make more hives”.

Furthermore, Michael accessed 20 of the high-yielding-low maintenance KTB hives worth UGX 2,000,000 (CHF 517) through the microleasing scheme implemented by Delta Bees and in partnership with Swisscontact. The scheme provides access to improved beehive inputs with a flexible repayment that can be made with honey upon harvest. 

This is good for sure because the hives are of good quality. I am confident that I will pay back because Delta Bees has taught us how to attract bees” asserts Michael.

Michael  adjusts a transitional beehive. Thanks to Swisscontact he learnt the importance of positioning the entrance of the beehive away from strong winds.
Michael holds out a piece of bee wax used for attracting bee colonies into new hives.
Michael prepares to rub bee wax into an empty hive.
The inside of transitional hive after it has been rubbed with wax and smoked. The aroma of the smoke and melted wax attracts new bee colonies.

Even though not everyone in Michael’s village is supportive of beekeeping yet, he receives a lot of encouragement from his family. 

My family encourages me, but other people are not yet supportive because they have not understood that beekeeping is profitable”. 

Michael is proud that in momentarily losing the opportunity to be in school, he gained another opportunity to become self-reliant. In the future Michael sees himself growing his beekeeping venture further. 

I see myself phasing out all the local traditional hives in favor of KTB hives because the harvest is nondestructive, production is higher and they are easy to maintain. I also know that Delta Bees will be there when I need anything”.

Michale Bwambale (Right) with his older brother in front of a truck that had delivered  20 KTB hives that Michael recieved thanks to the the micro-leasing scheme supported by Swisscontact and local SMEs.

Michael has since returned to school after full school reopening in January 2022. He remains confident that when he harvests  more than 40 hives he will be financially independent and cater for his school fees thus lifting a burden off his parent’s shoulders.

This project is financed by Linsi Foundation, City of Zurich, Medicor Foundations, canton of Baselland, among other donors. It is part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA.

Sustainable agriculture
Dynamic Markets for Farmers - Sustainable Cocoa and Honey
The project supports smallholder farmers in the cocoa and honey value chains by facilitating their access to extension services and markets, and by enabling them to improve their knowledge and skills.