Beekeepers and members of the Umutsuma Co-Operative in Nyenyeri Village, Ngororero District, Rwanda.

Progress is sweet for Rwanda's beekeepers

The 'Busy Bee' cooperative are living up to their name. Beekeeping start-up kits and training in business skills, provided by VSO, have helped this group of 26 producers boost their income and entrepreneurial skills.

The pine forests of Shangi sector are tranquil. But amidst these trees are densely populated villages of farmers, subsisting in some of the most remote and disadvantaged communities in all Rwanda.

Nyamasheke district is the second poorest in the country, with four out of ten people living in extreme poverty. In such an environment, any way of boosting income can make a huge difference.

Members of the Impashyi beekeeping cooperative in Shangi, Rwanda

Tackling poverty together

"I know we will be wealthy in the future."

Nzeyimana Jean Népomuscène, vice president of the Busy Bee co-operative

Nzeyimana Jean Népomuscène, 50, is the vice president of Impashyi co-operative, who have been supported by VSO Rwanda. The name, meaning Busy Bee, is fitting: its members have not stopped since they received support from VSO in 2015.

Jean Népomuscène explains:

"A few of us first started a beekeeping project together in 2013. But we failed, because of problems of management. We were not a proper co-operative and the business was not run well because of lack of knowledge.

"In 2015, VSO offered to help us. They gave us 30 hives, accessories, machinery, storage tanks and two beekeeping suits."

Dreaming big

Less than two years on, the co-operative has doubled the number of hives. It has expanded to 26 members, each of which paid 50,000 Rwandan Francs (RWF) - around £50 - to join. What's more, it has big plans for expansion.

"We drafted a business plan, and asked VSO for the support of a volunteer.

"Beathe (a VSO volunteer) has given us training about financial management, and how to keep managing the co-op.

"I now feel confident that the co-op is well managed. We work together. We have a good committee and we have learned the lessons of the past."

Busy Bee co-operative can harvest 45kg of honey from each hive, three times per year

Bright future

Last year, each individual received an income of 10,000RWF (£10) through the co-operative. It may not seem like much, but it provides a hugely welcome buffer, especially considering four in ten people in Nyamasheke live on less than £83 per year.

Vice President Jean Népomuscène has ambitions to become more profitable still:

"Beathe is supporting us to register with the Rwanda Co-operative Agency. We are just in the final stages now.

"Up to now [we have] not been legally registered. This means we don't have opportunities to request for a loan from the bank, and have problems with marketing."

"I now feel confident that the co-op is well managed. We work together. We have a good committee and we have learned the lessons of the past."

Nzeyimana Jean Népomuscène, vice president of the Busy Bee co-operative

"We have plans to increase production. The district authorities have been impressed with us and will give us other forest to establish more hives.

"If we had 100 hives producing at this level we could make a yearly profit of 10 million Rwandan Francs (£10,000).

"I know we will be wealthy in the future."

Skills for life

Jean Népomuscène fits in his role steering the Busy Bee co-operative around his main trade, working as a tailor. His wife, who is also in the co-operative, is a teacher. They both also work farming the small parcel of land they own, and are also kept busy raising seven children ranging from four to 20 years old.

On top of all of these responsibilities, the industrious Jean Népomuscène has even made the effort to apply skills he has learned through VSO at home.

"I used to be a beekeeper before, in the traditional way", says Jean Népomuscène. "Now after training, I know so much more. Life has improved.

"I have taken the lessons I have learned with the co-operative into my heart. Now I am also doing my own beekeeping at home.

"I have constructed 20 hives myself at home, using the technical skils and knowledge I learned from here."

Nzeyimana Jean Népomuscène, vice president of Busy Bee co-operative returning from checking on some of the hives.

"My last harvest brought me an income of 300,000RWF. This was so helpful to our family.

"We spent it on health insurance payments for the family and school fees. The two eldest are in public secondary school. Without this additional income it would be more difficult.

"I am thankful for what I learned from VSO."

Will you help VSO support people like Jean Népomuscène?

VSO's work in vulnerable communities across Africa and Asia is supporting vulnerable communities with the skills and resources to improve their lives and be self-sufficient.

Please consider supporting our work with a donation.

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