Former teacher finds money in honey

A decision by Margaret Ogaba to quit her teaching career and concentrate on bee farming has catapulted her into being one of the leading commercial bee farmers in Uganda producing over one tonne of honey yearly and earning over $ 25,000.

Her success has inspired thousands of other women into the lucrative trade which has not received much attention before. Having been raised in a family anchored on modern education and values, Ogaba’s father ensured that all his children went through formal schooling which was viewed as the bridge success.

Ogaba followed her father’s will and attained a diploma in Education after which she got into the teaching profession. “I taught for about four years but still felt empty. I had a strong conviction that I was not delivering my best in the world and had to self evaluate myself about the right course on what I should take up to make things right.” Based on the fact that Ogaba’s dad was an agricultural extension officer as well as an accomplished commercial farmer in Northern Uganda’s town of Kitgum, it turned out that the happenings at home had  influenced and shaped Ogaba’s passion. “I had helped my dad attend to his vast 40 acre of farm and believed that this was the right course for me.”

According to Ogaba, after serious consultations with the father, he agreed to her plea. Ogaba then had to plan and eventually make that most dreaded decision of quitting her teaching profession and delve into the unchartered waters of bee keeping. “It was not an easy decision because she was attached to her school having risen very fast to be the headmistress. The students and the teachers were like my family and I was the head of this unit. Therefore it was not easy for me to just wake and tell them I have left but eventually I painfully accorded in my resignation to the board.” Unfortunately, her dad passed on a few months later before she could settle down into the ‘farmers’ league’. “This was a shocker to me but it also gave me the zeal to spur continuity on my father’s legacy. I was more than determined to honour him by ensuring that I continue farming,” noted Ogaba.

She started off by planting maize, simsim, groundnuts and even introduced dairy farming on the farm. However, after a two seasons, the then youthful Ogaba full of innovative ideas hatched a plan to conserve their environment as well as ensure increased yields and returns from the ventures.

“While still in the teaching industry, in 1992 I managed to attend a seminar which was full of agribusiness motivational speakers. “The outstanding inspirational I got from the event was how to ensure an all round agriculture returns where bee keeping was really a vital venture,” explained Ogaba. She then decided to incorporate this model into her inherited farm. “I started on a small scale with about 20 traditional bee hives.” She was enlightened that unlike other agribusiness ventures, bee keeping is less labour intensive and a well managed apiary can increase farm yields because the bees are the natural pollinators.  “Above all, the practice fetches good returns with about four harvesting rounds per annually.”

Her trial project just turned out to be the turnaround of her life that she had for long searched for. The first harvest was a bumper one and given the ability of bees to pollinate most crops, Ogaba noted that she was not only harvesting honey but also her crops never disappointed. At that moment, the industrious farmer sold raw honey with a kilo fetching around $2 and each hive producing an average of 45 kilos per year.

Word spread around very fast about her success in apiculture and soon the district agricultural officer invited her for more training in order to enhance modern bee farming. “The government’s support through Uganda National Farmers Association boosted my efforts. I got a few modern bee hives and other accessories like honey harvesting gear but the most important of all was the eye opening knowledge that apiculture was a virgin lucrative agribusiness venture.”

Her success lured more women into bee keeping and environmental conservation. “In 1995, I recruited over 400 women from 10 sub counties into the practice and gave them prerequisite knowledge in the business. Many of them were inspired because of the success they saw me registering.” The number of farmers practicing apiculture soon multiplied because of the multiplier effect that the members had on the society and soon the region was mapped to be the leading in honey production in the country.

The group currently boasts of over 900 bee hives with a season production of over one tonne. The increased production meant that the group had to up their processing skills in order to come up with quality end product that is acceptable in the international markets which in many occasions has strict quality standards.

In order to meet the required quality in their honey, Five members of the group led by Ogaba were sponsored to a month long training in Germany in 1997. The training entailed honey quality control, focus on use of bees’ products for different purposes among others. It was funded by the German Technical Corporation helped me to conceive and deepen the business of bee keeping in Uganda.

Armed with the right knowledge and about $2000 from the returns of the sales of honey, the team purchased honey processing equipment and set up a mini plant in Kitgum. She explained that value addition is a profound trait in agribusiness and is vital for any farmer who is kin on enjoying the full fruits of his/her sweat. “We sold a kilo of unprocessed honey at about $2 dollars. However, when processed and packaged the same quantity fetches over $25 dollars and therefore for any empowered farmer, its’ in order to do value addition and reap the benefits that other middle men take advantage of,” she explained. The knowledge and equipment acquired has enabled the group access European markets with their products being fancied over others due to their natural taste. “We are producing organic honey and do not mix with any inequality.

In addition, the use of pesticides in our region is not yet rampant like in many other western countries and therefore this has leveraged our products over the ones produced in Europe hence the immense demand.” Currently, the group can only sustain supply to Turkey although they have plans to increase production and expand their processing machinery. Ogaba currently processes and packs honey under Jjllima Holdings Limited as the trading company.

Apart from the processed honey, the group is also reaping from the honey by-products with manufacturing of candle and even soap. Successful bee farming thrives on healthy environment especially the conservation of the bee friendly habitats. Recent reports of scientists from Pennsylvania State University Center for Pollinator Research, and International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology ICIPE in their study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE indicates that African honey bee was being driven into extinction due to the deforestation and climate change. 

The apiculture women’s group seems to have put this fact into consideration as they rooted for tree planting in an effort to ensure that habitat for the bees stays intact. “Our group also planted trees especially those that are widely known to be friendly to the bees like Calandros, Teak and even fruits like oranges and citrus.”

Apart from making her a millionaire, bee keeping has taken Ogaba places and earned her accolades both locally and on the international stage. She has helped drive agribusiness particularly apiculture in the country with her being recognized by the government earning her various positions like being head of Parliamentary commission on Agriculture and board chair lady for Uganda National Farmers Association the Uganda National Apiculture Development Organisation and Naads. Internationally, she is a member of the International Honey Show and Exhibition (UK), the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations (Apimondia).