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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 09:27 GMT
Uganda fights for honey sales
A honeybee
Beekeeping is still a largely uncommercial practice in Uganda

The first sample exports of Ugandan honey are making their way to markets in the Middle East, UK, Germany and France.

Work is underway to ensure that Uganda's honey - famed for its distinct smoky flavour - will meet European and American standards.

Its high quality - there has never been any disease in Uganda - should mean that meeting these and other organic standards should not be difficult.

But beekeepers, especially in Uganda, still have a long way to go before they can profit from the world demand for honey.

Opportunity knocks

In theory, the time is right.

China, one of the world's largest exporters of honey, has seen its products partially banned from European and American markets, because traces of antibiotics were found.

Figures vary, but one estimate is that some 20,000 tonnes of honey are being produced in Uganda each year.

Ugandan honey production
An individual can buy traditional hives at a cost of about $9 (6) each
A hive can produce 20 to 30 kilos over four months
The honey can be sold at $0.60 (40p) per kilogramme
The hives can produce this amount of honey up to four times a year
An individual with 20 hives could thus in theory earn up to $1,300 (850) per year

Source: Uganda HoneyBee Keepers Association

But beekeeping - practised in Uganda for 200 years - is still largely an uncommercial practice.

"What the government should do is look at the institutes of higher learning to look at training people to be apiculturists," says Robert Ndybarema of Uganda Women's Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO), which operates beekeeping projects in seven districts.

This training would look at everything from how to smoke the bees to get the honey from the hive to how to multiply the Queen Bee, as well as marketing skills.

But training and standards are only part of the story - even when these are in place, will Ugandan beekeepers be able to make money from their produce?

Of the $1,100 a tonne that honey sells for on the world market, Ugandan beekeepers should only expect to see 1.5% of that, or $17, Beenatural's managing director Maria Odido Difonzo said.

While this $17 may be welcome to the beekeeper, they still have to cover their costs.

Rural beekeepers can have anything from one to 50 hives, usually as a side interest to their main business.

Fraud risk

Unfortunately for the beekeeper, the industry - Odido says - is one largely run on credit and one of the biggest complaints of many beekeepers is that they have been defrauded.

UWESO's Baker Waiswa describes the situation in one village in Luwero, a Ugandan district. Businessmen would arrive from Kampala, take the honey, promising to pay later and never return.

A year later, different businessman would arrive and the same thing would happen again.

However, once the beekeepers had received training, he pointed out, many saw their output as commercial and in turn became tougher in negotiations with visiting buyers.

Expensive journey

But the dealers, fraudulent or otherwise, are just the first stage of the process.

The honey is collected, processed and packed into airtight drums and shipped to Mombasa for export.

It is the journey from Uganda to the port that proves to be the most expensive part of the journey, with the price bumped up by export, import taxes, clearance fees and transport costs.

Odido's research shows that by the time it gets to Mombasa, it is only 40 cents less than the world price.

"We found that based on the prices quoted to us in Uganda... there is little leeway for profit... we cannot access at this price, we have to meet that or cut it, especially as a new entrant, and the government needs to assist us on this," she said.

Struggling to compete

There is huge potential within Uganda for honey sales and once it has been certified as organic, the price could be one and a half times as much as it is now.

But the bigger market and potentially bigger profits lie overseas, and it is still unclear how producers can get a share of that market.

The problem that Ugandan honey exporters are facing is that the cost of getting their product out of the country makes it difficult for the honey to compete on the world market.

See also:

12 Jul 02 | Business
02 Aug 02 | Business
16 Mar 00 | Africa
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