August 24, 2017

New homes for Burundi’s bees

This month was a time of learning for Burundian beekeepers. SPARK organised a 5-day workshop on modern beekeeping to train the traditional beekeepers in the latest methods of handling their liquid gold.

Beekeeping is certainly not new to Africa, but good planks of wood for building hives can be scarce. As a result, grass and mud constructions have become the norm. However, bees can be crushed in the harvesting process and honey can be contaminated during extraction, resulting in less honey of a poorer quality. Wooden beehives are more expensive, but enable the bee farmers to produce up to four times more honey, with increasing quality year after year, a life changing improvement in the professional practice of an entrepreneur.

Members of a beekeeping cooperative in Bubanza made the one-hour trip south, to Bujumbura, to attend SPARK’s hive-making workshop. And just an hour north-west of Bujumbura, the same workshop took place in Cibitoke. The twin workshops were held to advocate for modern beekeeping techniques and teach farmers how to make their modern beehives out of wood.

New techniques for harvesting and processing honey were discussed in the theoretical part of the workshop but it was the practical phase that challenged beekeepers the most. Since some of the keepers had never picked up a saw in their lives, this was a whole new experience! Participants were taught how to choose the right type of wood, how to sand each piece and assemble them together with the precision required to achieve quality hives.

Belize – a confident beekeeper and an amateur carpenter – said:  “I want to do it, give me the saw”, as she pushed her way through a group of men surrounding a pile of wooden planks. With careful precision she cut out the base for a top floor. “The technicians talked us through everything but theory is very different than practice. I wanted to practice what I have learned”, she said.

Trainer, Emile Ndabituyimana, finished his studies in France and returned to his home country to open a cooperative for carpentry called Seven Services and soon also opened a training organisation, San & Eli. A combination of training experience and carpentry knowledge made him the perfect candidate to train the Burundian beekeepers. “It is for sure an interesting way of using my knowledge of carpentry. I was looking for carpenters and ended up working with bee farmers”, he explained.  

Towards the end of the workshop, the beekeepers decided to create a working group back in Bubanza to practice building their new hives. They asked for SPARK to visit them to provide support and consultation if needed. When presenting her beehive, a Bubanzan lady said: “Look at us! We are not even carpenters but we created this in less than five days. Next time, our beehives will be even nicer than the technicians’!”