Although the main purpose of my visit to Uganda was to support the ongoing project work of Bees Abroad it also provided an opportunity to learn more about local poultry production systems and, where possible, to offer technical advice. Since my first visit to Uganda in 2012 word had spread within the various villages that my day job involved working with poultry as a technical advisor. During our visit to the homestead and an apiary of one of the group leader’s I briefly interviewed her husband about their chickens.
Some notes from the interview on keeping chickens in a rural village.
A total of 20 chickens (15 hens, 5 cockerels) were kept at the homestead and managed free-range (extensive) mainly to supply eggs for the family. They had been purchased as chicks at a local market and were now between 1-2 years old. The hens had been kept for almost one year before they had come into lay. Most of the hens produced an egg per day, mainly during the dry season (December to February), and tended to be laid close to the house rather than in the bush. The birds usually scavenged for their food but were sometimes offered feed in feeding troughs. When this was the case the feed comprised mostly of finely ground maize (produced locally) and fish (sourced from Lake Albert). The birds were usually very healthy and significant mortality was rare. No vaccinations or treatments were routinely administered. The services of a local vet was rarely requested (response slow and also very expensive). The husband told me that Newcastle disease was his main concern and that in the past he had encountered coccidiosis in some of the birds. On further questioning it was concluded that it was likely that the diagnosis of clinical coccidiosis had been incorrect – blood in the faeces having been mistaken for caecal faeces (chickens produce two types of faecal material: intestinal (‘normal’) and caecal droppings, the latter not infrequently mistaken for blood in faeces. Interestingly, his current worries were thieves stealing his birds and wild animals (monkeys, probably baboons) killing his birds. If they survive this, the birds are kept for about 5 years before being killed for consumption by the family.
In many parts of Africa there is a history of honey hunting particularly in areas having a low population density and an abundance of natural bee flora. Traditional honey hunting has largely been replaced by beekeeping. Indeed, many parts of rural Africa have strong beekeeping traditions which play an important role in the rural economy. Despite such a tradition, there has been a considerable decline in traditional beekeeping in many parts of Africa, including Uganda. Proposed reasons for this decline include the intensification of agriculture which is commonly associated with degradation of bee forage and over-use of pesticides. It is worth mentioning that many people in Uganda, and also other areas of tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa, are experimenting with a wide range of beekeeping methods, from traditional to modern. The important point to note here is that some of these methods have been successful, others not. Of the apiaries that I have visited in the rural villages of western Uganda many use traditional log hives. Generally speaking these work well.
Traditional log hive — in use.
Similarly, the introduction of more modern hives such as the Kenya top-bar hive (KTBH) also work well but require some initial training in their construction and use.
Kenya top-bar hives — in use.
Where new methods fail it is usually because the technology is inappropriate to the particular area, e.g. the use of Langstroth hives in remote areas of Uganda. Although these types of moveable-frame hive are used with considerable success in temperate climates, and in cooler parts of Africa, overall they have met with limited success in Africa. The aggressive nature of the African bees is not suited to the techniques for managing such hives which are expensive and intricate and must be built with precision. Expensive equipment is also required to extract the honey. Furthermore, unlike the KTBH, these hives cannot easily be suspended high enough off the ground to be safe from invasion by ants and termites, and they are also vulnerable to colonisation by wax moths whenever the bees abscond. Despite such limitations, Langstroth hives are frequently supplied by larger donor organisations and governments without any appropriate training or technical support and can often be found abandoned, often never colonised.
Beeswax is often wasted by beekeepers. It is however a valuable commodity whether it be for baiting bee hives or for making a variety of products such as candles, polishes and cosmetics. In 2012, during my first visit to Uganda, the group leaders received training in the harvesting and processing of beeswax. We saw the fruits of this training on a visit (29 April) to the homestead of one of the group leaders.
One of the group members proudly showing her sample of candles, some using sections of bamboo.
Another group member with some nice blocks of good quality beeswax.
One of the aims of this trip was to visit the apiaries of individual members rather than group leaders to try and get a better understanding of what is actually going on at grass-roots level with the project. [Further details on this and other posts, together with other activities carried out on the trip but not mentioned in this blog, can be found in Roy Dyche’s full trip report which should be available on the BA website in June.]
By way of an introduction, the mind map below created by Mary Home shows the scope and diversity of the work of Bees Abroad. During this trip to Uganda (my third) I shall be assisting BA Project Manager Roy Dyche to evaluate progress with a project launched in May 2012. The aim of the project is to help women’s groups living in the rural areas of Uganda’s Hoima District supplement their income, often less than $1.25 a day, by undertaking more modern, environmentally sustainable beekeeping.
Importantly, the day-to-day in-country management of the project continues to be handled by our local partners, the small Bigasa Sustainable Development Foundation (BISUDEF).
Of course, as suggested by the mind map, there will be other, perhaps less visible, certainly more difficult to evaluate, benefits generated by the project. I hope to capture the essence of some of these in my photographs, incidentally, to be taken by nothing more sophisticated than either my iPhone or my iPad.