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Making honey a priority

Rwanda, Viet Nam, Benin and Chile are all taking part in FAO’s One Country One Priority Product initiative with honey designated as the selected product. ©FAO/Olivier Mugwiza

17/05/2024

Patrick Uwingabire started learning about beekeeping when he was just eleven years old. In their village in Huye, in Rwanda’s Southern Province, his uncle and grandfather taught him all they knew about making beehives and tending to these important creatures.

Beekeeping offered him a way forward when his family couldn’t pay for his school fees. “It was not possible for me to go to school. That wasn’t within reach. So, bees and honey became my life’s levers,” said the 39-year-old.

These days, Patrick heads a cooperative of 15 beekeepers in Huye, called Koperative Abavumvu b’ Umwuga ba Huye (KOPAHU), that is benefiting from a project funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and aimed at modernising Rwanda’s beekeeping sector.

A key part of the project involved replacing the conventional beehives with 35 contemporary, rectangular structures. These modern hives make inspection and harvesting the honey easier, boosting honey production and doubling or tripling the beekeepers’ earnings.

Patrick and his fellow beekeepers also gained new skills in managing apiaries, monitoring the hives, controlling bee diseases and pests, marketing their produce and ensuring better quality and traceability from the hive to the customer.

“Before the FAO training, we did not know how to care for the bees,” said Patrick. “I used to harvest 800-900 kilograms of honey per year, but today I can harvest over two tonnes.”

The cooperative also acquired several honey filtration machines, which its members, like most of Rwanda's 120 000 beekeepers, hadn’t used before. FAO is actively addressing this gap by providing training in modern methodologies and equipment, having already trained 9 000 Rwandan beekeepers.

“We were struck by the efficiency of the new technology,” and with the increase in production, Patrick says, “I was able to build a house on part of a land I bought from honey income. I provide for my family, and I can pay for my children’s school fees.”

Following a similar path, albeit in a remote region on the opposite side of the globe, is Nguyen Van Son, a beekeeper living in the mountains of Viet Nam. Although they’ve never met, he and Patrick share a common spirit of innovation. Son, a vivacious man with silver hair and a youthful face, tends his beehives amidst the verdant tropical landscape of Viet Nam's northern mountainous area.

This seasoned beekeeper with 40 years’ experience says: “Beekeeping brings a stable income for my family. It provides economic benefits for my family and honey products for my community.”

What Patrick and Son also have in common is that their countries are both actively taking part in FAO’s One Country One Priority Product (OCOP) initiative with honey designated as the selected priority product.

This initiative works to enhance the entire value chain of a nation's chosen product, deemed to possess significant potential. In this case, FAO is providing support with improving honey production and processing methods and maximizing the benefits for farmers and others in the supply chain.

As part of the OCOP, FAO champions environmentally sustainable practices aimed at reducing dependence on harmful chemicals and cultivating a harmonized ecosystem. Meanwhile, community awareness programmes encourage those living near apiaries to appreciate the importance of bees and pollination and dissuade people from exterminating them as harmful pests. 

In Viet Nam, the initiative is helping honey producers, like Nguyen Van Son, export their products globally. The climate and abundance of wildflowers and tropical fruits in Viet Nam allow the Asian honeybee to produce honey with a uniquely fruity flavour. ©FAO/Nguyen Duc Toan

Viet Nam’s climate and its abundance of wildflowers and tropical fruits such as the longan, a relative of the lychee, make it an ideal setting for the Asian honeybee to produce honey with a uniquely light and fruity flavour. A primary objective of the OCOP is to help Viet Nam expand honey export markets globally.

With Viet Nam actively engaged in the OCOP initiative, Son is “excited that Vietnamese honey is chosen as a priority product for export. We want to develop beekeeping further to promote Vietnamese honey to the world.”

Since FAO’s OCOP initiative began in September 2021, more than 85 countries around the world have committed to promoting 54 agricultural products.

In addition to Rwanda and Viet Nam, Benin and Chile also selected honey as their priority products, with FAO rolling out similar training and support programmes to strengthen their beekeeping sectors, allowing producers to promote honey and honey products in regional and global markets.

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