Adolph is not your ordinary bee farmer. While most of the farmers keep bees for their by products like honey or wax, he has found fortunes in extracting bee venom in his 50 acre piece of land, a venture that earns him about UGX 9million monthly.
Being a veteran in bee keeping Bagonza the farmer has become acquainted with the science and lifestyle of bees than many insect. “I have been keeping bees for the last 30 years and as a result, I have mastered the practice and earned from all the products and by products of the insects,” he explained. The farmer who hails from Kabarole district is an authority and consultant in bee keeping in Uganda and has trained and inspired many other farmers in the country into bee keeping.
In 2009 while representing Uganda in an international bee keepers expo in France, Bagonza stumbled on the largely unknown but vital discovery of the importance of the honeybee venom which most people back in Uganda and Africa as a whole makes them shun and fear bees because of the lethal stinging ability. Most of the stands at the expo had normal bee products and by products like honey, wax and propolis that Bagonza had already witnessed or known owing to his long time experience in the trade.
However, there was a section that struck his eyes and relished a resounding desire of interest. This was the section being headed by a South Korean scientist. “I was surprised and challenged when I saw that what most people at home dreaded so much from the bees was the most precious element of the insect. Forget about the honey and its medicinal value. From the Korean researcher, I was being enlightened about a more mouth watering treasure from the honey bees; honeybee venom,” explained Bagonza. The Korean researcher was illustrating the whole procedure of extracting the bee venom without harming the insect and to the Ugandan farmer, this was a new concept worth trying.
According to Bagonza, the venom has numerous medicinal values and can be answer to many of the current paradox ailments that seem to be having no immediate answer like cancer and HIV AIDS. “I picked interested in the venom extraction and got more hands on training from the Korean researcher with a view of also trying the same concept in Uganda.” In fact, Bagonza learnt that, apitherapy or treatment using honey bee venom was an old age practice used widely in Asia and South America although new in Uganda.
In early 2013, Bagonza felt ready to try his luck in the risky but very promising venture of extracting bee venom. Using about UGX3million, he procured the special equipment for the practice from South Korea through the help of his Korean scientist. For bee venom extraction, the simple special equipment needed include bee venom collector which is the size of laptop. Its’ fitted with glass and a panel with wires. The panel is connected to a 10 volt battery with a switch in the middle of the two components.
In order to extract the venom, one places the venom collector in front of the bee hive. It is then switched on ready for the extraction exercise. The current produced by the 10 volt battery cannot shock a human being but can shock the honeybees although not killing them. When one of the honeybees returning into the hive from forage meets the panel at the hive’s entrance and is shocked, automatically it produces the defensive mechanism which is the venom.
The scent of the venom instantly also alerts the other bees in the hive which then comes out to defend their hive. The swarm of bees stings the panel releasing their venom on the glass and Bagonza noted that the exercise lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes depending on the number bees in a hive. After switching off the power on the panel, the shocking ability disappears and the bees calmly retreat back to their hive believing that the danger has been neutralized. Bees take about two days to fully recollect their venom and therefore a farmer can conduct the exercise after every three days.
The venom that is extracted from the bees dries on the venom collector glass from where it is scrapped off for use. Honeybee venom is a clear, odorless, watery liquid. When coming into contact with mucous membranes or eyes, it causes considerable burning and irritation. Dried venom takes on a light yellow color and some commercial preparations are brown, thought to be due to oxidation of some of the venom proteins. Venom contains a number of very volatile compounds which are easily lost during collection. On average, Bagonza extracts about one gram of venom from 10 bee hives. He mixes the powder venom with syrup which he sells. A gram of the venom retails at about UGX200,000 with his 40 bee hives, on a good month he extracts about bee venom worth over UGX9 million.
Honeybee venom is produced by two glands associated with the sting apparatus of worker bees. Its production increases during the first two weeks of the adult worker’s life and reaches a maximum when the worker bee becomes involved in hive defense and foraging. It diminishes as the bee gets older. The queen bee’s production of venom is highest on emergence, which allows her to be prepared for immediate battles with other queens.
Having no medical background, Bagonza noted that he has partnered with a medical doctor who helps him keep the track on the patients’ response from the venom syrup. Due to the bureaucracies involved in certification of medicines, Bagonza who has no medical qualification is capped by the law and therefore can only hope to partner with a qualified medical doctor in order to produce a clinical report on the discovery.
He has served over 300 patients of HIV from which he says that the response has been positive with an over 60 percent success rate. His patients details are written I a book that he is keeping records. “With the feedback I get from my clients who visit different independent doctors for clarification and verification, I have the belief that I am on the right track because even in medical world, it is observed that if a discovery has an over 60 percent success, then the it is positive and can be adapted,” explained Bagonza.
If the medical discovery of the bee venom by Bagonza is anything to go by, players in the industry have noted that bee keeping is going to be revolutionized not for its sweet honey but the most dreaded bee venom ‘sting’. This revelation comes at an opportune with HIV prevalence rates among Ugandans between the ages of 15 to 19 now standing at 7.3 percent according UNAIDS. The number of new infections has risen from 124,000 in 2009 to 128,000 in 2010 and approximately 145,000 in 2011.
According to Christopher Kim, medical director of the Monmouth Pain Institute in Red Bank, New Jersey, bee venom therapy has been around for thousands of years. Reference to the treatment can be found in ancient Egypt and Greek medical writings.
Also known as apitherapy, the technique is more widely used in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America. "Most of the 40 ingredients in bee venom have been identified," noted Cohen in an earlier interview. "Mellitin, an anti-inflammatory agent found in the venom, is one hundred times stronger than cortisone." Bee venom also contains a substance known as adolapin, which is both anti-inflammatory and pain-blocking. Practitioners believe all the ingredients in bee venom work together to cause the body to release more natural healing compounds in its own defense. Bee venom is also said to increase blood circulation and reduce swelling.