Livestock Research for Rural Development 27 (1) 2015 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Assessing honey production value chain in Lira Sub-county, Lira District, northern Uganda

E K Ndyomugyenyi, I Odel and B Okeng

Department of Animal Production and Range Management, Gulu University, P.O. Box 166, Gulu, Uganda


A study was conducted to assess honey production value chain with a view of improving household incomes in Lira sub-county, Lira district, Uganda. A total of 60 respondents were used for the study in four different parishes of the sub county. Data were collected using structured questions, observations, and interviews. Secondary sources of data were also reviewed.


Most respondents who kept bees were males, were between 26-30 years and had little formal education. Local beehive usage was higher than modern beehives. The number of colonized beehives was more than that of either un-colonized or absconded beehives. Local beehives were more colonized than improved beehives. The majority of respondents used fire during harvesting honey, did not process their honey and used plastic bottles and Jericans as packaging materials. Most respondents indicated that honey bees depended on natural forage sources for honey production, although some planted forages or supplemented forages with sugar syrup, maize and cassava flour. The main water sources for bees were swamps and morning dew. Honey was mainly sold to vendors in trading centres, while the least quantity of honey was sold to supermarkets. Apiculture contributed more income to households compared to other livestock species. The investment in apiculture per hectare was also higher than other livestock species. Lack of knowledge and skills and poor harvesting techniques were the major limitations to honey production. Beekeeping industry in Uganda calls for committed men and women who are business minded to work with all the stakeholders along the value chain to bring commercialization of beekeeping and marketing of honey and by-products to a reality.

Key words: beekeeping, investment, poverty alleviation, sustainability, value addition


A majority of agricultural enterprises being promoted in Uganda require high costs of investment and maintenance, and are labour intensive. Some of these enterprises such as sugarcane and cattle production necessitate destruction of forests and game reserves for their establishment. Beekeeping provides an opportunity for production of food; enable rural communities to earn an income with low investment and maintenance cost; low labour requirement, and without necessarily destroying the environment (Kugonza 2009). In areas surrounding National Parks and Game Reserves, some households prevent wild animals such as elephants from destroying crops by keeping bees around their homesteads. In recent government programmes, beekeeping has been recognised as an important sector for development, poverty alleviation, conservation and sustainable use of forest resources (MAAREC 2000; MAAIF 2010). Beekeeping is mainly carried out at subsistence level where low volumes of honey are harvested and most trade is informal (UBOS 2007). The volumes of honey are not well known because of difficulties in measuring and monitoring informal trade (UEPB 2008).  However, the annual honey production in Uganda was estimated to be 2,600 metric tons where the northern region had the highest production, while the central region had the least production (MAAIF 2010).


Even though there is diversity of forage suitable for bees, the shortage of bee colonies remains one of the most limiting factors to honey production. The shortage of bee colonies is due to most beekeepers still using traditional beekeeping methods where beehives are often destroyed and colonies killed in the process of harvesting honey. Additionally, many beekeepers raid the beehives at night to harvest honey using grass torches and fire to smoke out bees, hence leaving many colonies destroyed. As a consequence, beekeeping becomes a less sustainable enterprise because beekeepers depend on collecting swarms of bees to restock new beehives. In most cases, honey is eaten directly from combs although a few beekeepers have modern honey presses or honey combs pressed manually. Presently, more Ugandans are increasingly adopting improved technologies in use of modern bee hives such as Kenya top bar hives and Langstroth, and modern harvesting equipment. 


Despite the low start-up costs, high demand for honey, and other enormous benefits of beekeeping to rural households, little information is available on production and marketing dynamics of honey and its products in Lira district and how best the venture could be improved in order to increase household incomes. There is need to provide information on production, marketing of honey and its products, and creating an understanding on the importance of beekeeping in income generation. The information will be helpful to all stakeholders including the government to develop programs aimed at increasing household incomes through apiculture. This study was, therefore, conducted to assess honey production value chain characteristics with a view of improving household incomes in Lira sub-county, Lira district. The other objective was to establish limitations to honey production.

Materials and Methods

A survey was conducted in Lira district located in northern region (2o14ˈ50.0̎ N 32o54ˈ00.0̎ E) of Uganda. The data were obtained using structured questions, observations and interviews.  Secondary sources of data were also reviewed mainly from journal publications, district, and sub county headquarters. A total of 60 households were selected in the four parishes of Lira sub-county. 

Results and discussion

Social demographic characteristics of beekeepers


More males were involved in the beekeeping than the females (Table 1). This agrees with Mujuni et al (2012) who reported that beekeeping in Bushenyi district, Uganda was dominated by men (95%). Male domination in beekeeping in Lira sub-county was probably because most women stay at home at night since this is the harvesting time. Some women fear to be stung by the bees during harvesting and routine management practices such as clearing bushes around the beehives. In addition, beehives are mainly placed on tree branches, keeping most women out of the enterprise since culture forbids women from climbing trees (Kugonza 2009). Majority of the respondents who kept bees were between the ages of 26 and 30 years (Table 1). The reason was that youths at this age had started families and they needed to meet their financial obligations. This was contrary to Mujuni et al (2012) who reported that 73.8% of beekeepers were above 30 years. Few respondents who kept bees were less than 20 years because this was a school-going age. At this age, the youths are still dependant on their parents. Most respondents who kept bees had no formal education (Table 1). This disagrees with Mujuni et al (2012) who indicated that all beekeepers in Bushenyi district, Uganda had attained formal education. The current study showed that although most beekeepers had indigenous knowledge and skills in beekeeping, they lacked modern beekeeping techniques, hence low honey production.

Table 1: Social demographic characteristics of beekeepers in Lira sub-county


Number of respondents (n=60)

Percentage of respondents










Age (years)















Education level



Not educated















Degree and above



Types of beehives used by beekeepers


Traditional/local beehives were the most commonly used as compared to modern hives (Figure 1). This is in agreement with what Mujuni et al (2012) reported in Bushenyi district. Local beehives were mainly locally made from wood logs (Figure 2). Wood logs were less costly and readily available for making the beehives. Some bee farmers found it more expensive to buy modern beehives since they mainly produced honey for home consumption. Modern beehives also required knowledge and skills to construct them locally. In addition, some farmers were hesitant to adopt new changes in technologies hence tended to prefer local to modern beehives. The persistent use of the local beehives was also because farmers were still using indigenous knowledge in keeping bees and were not well versed with the use of modern management practices involved in modern beehives. Although most farmers used local hives, a reasonably good number of them adopted the use of modern beehives (Figure 1). The farmers with modern beehives reported that they produced more honey than those with local beehives; modern beehives facilitated easy harvesting, inspection and control of pests and diseases.

Figure 1: Beehive type used by farmers

Figure 2: Commonly used traditional/local beehives in Lira sub-county

Colonization versus absconding rates


The number of colonized beehives was higher than that either un-colonized or absconded hives (Table 2). High colonization rate was due the environment beekeepers provided to the bees such as presence of tree species that gave shade and flowers to the bees; smearing inside the hives with honey or cow dung; placing combs in beehives. Colonization of beehives normally took 3 weeks from the time the hives were set. However, some beekeepers started their apiaries in good conditions, but later left them to get bushy. As a result, beehives were vulnerable to invasion by vermin and insect pests, hence absconding of bees. Absconding was observed to be more prevalent in modern beehives than local hives especially in situations where management was very poor.

Table 2: Beehive colonization versus absconding rates


Number of beehives (n=165)

Percentages of beehives




Not colonized









Colonization rates in modern and traditional beehives


Colonization rate was higher in traditional beehives than in modern beehives (Figure 3). This was because traditional hives were always coated inside and outside with cow dung, which in absence of beeswax attracted a large number of swarms of bees. The finding agrees with what Mujuni et al (2012) reported in Bushenyi district, Uganda. 

Figure 3: Colonization rates in local and modern Beehives
Bee forages and water sources


Bees mainly depended on natural sources of forage (Table 3). However, bees also got food from crops and crop by-products planted around homesteads. Such crops and by-products included groundnuts, beans, potatoes, mango trees, Calliandra, maize flour, tomato, cassava flour, sorghum sunflower, peas, sesame, peas, eggplants, eucalyptus and banana (Figure 4). Beekeepers reported that sunflower nectar was very poisonous to the bees and killed many of them. However, the death of bees could be attributed to gum-like characteristics of sunflower nectar. Bees probably get stuck in the flowers, hence dying inside them. Other farmers believed that death of bees could be due cracks in honey stomach of bees caused by sunflower nectar. There was general lack of knowledge among beekeepers about quality bee forages and in which season they were supposed to provide these forages to the bees. This was the reason why many beekeepers left bees to look for their own food from trees and shrubs naturally grown. Bees mainly depended on the natural sources of water (Table 3). However, some beekeepers provided water for their bees in containers such as saucepans and plastic basins. Farmers placed stones or crushed woods in the water to provide support for the bees, hence preventing drowning and dying of the bees.

Table 3: Bee forage and water sources


Number of respondents (n=60)

Percentage of respondents

Bee forages



Natural forage sources



Planted forage sources



Posho and cassava flour



Sugar syrup



Water source






Morning dew



Rain water from leaves



Provided in containers



Water where people urinate



Figure 4: Some of the planted bee forages
Honey harvesting techniques


Most farmers still used traditional methods to harvest honey from beehives (Table 4).  Farmers burnt dry grass and put wet leaves above the fire so that smoke was produced. Grass and leaves were readily available and less costly or no cost at all. However, the use of smoke reduced the quality of the honey as some ash and smoke produced by grass/leaves contaminated the honey. Harvesting was mainly done during the night. Few farmers used modern smokers especially those organized in groups. With effective extension services, use of smokers will gain popularity. Removal of honey combs was either done using only hands (77%) or hand and knives concurrently (33%). This was because most farmers used traditional beehives, which did not favour removal of honey combs using knife cutting technique. Harvesting was done twice per annum.

Table 4: Techniques of harvesting honey

Harvesting technique

Number of respondents (n=60)

Percentages of respondents













Honey processing


Most farmers did not process their honey (Figure 5). This was because of their inability to purchase more costly processing machines. Besides, the quantity of honey produced (4 kg of honey per hive per season; few beehives) was too low to guarantee the purchase of the processing machines unless farmers joined in groups. Those who processed honey used cloth to squeeze honey out of the combs and it was then allowed to drip in a container. Additionally, most farmers did not process their honey because they believed that processed honey was tasteless and others claimed that it was cumbersome to process honey even by using cloth.

Figure 5: Honey processing by farmers
Packaging of honey


Jerry cans/plastic bottles were most commonly used packaging materials by the farmers (Figure 6 and 7). This was because these materials were easy to be tightly closed; readily available; easy to transport honey with minimum losses due to leakage. Although some farmers labeled containers, honey was not certified by Uganda National Bureau of Standards. This meant that many potential customers were always suspicious whether the honey was of good quality.

Figure 6: Packaging materials used by farmers

Figure 7: Small Jeri cans/plastic bottles used by farmers to pack honey
Marketing of honey


Vendors in trading centres were the commonest buyers of honey from beekeepers (Table 5). Beekeepers mainly sold unprocessed honey because the demand was high in the village centres. Processed honey was highly priced and therefore, most rural households could not afford to buy it. Little honey was sold in supermarkets because most of it did not meet the required quality for the urban consumers.

Table 5: Marketing of honey


Number of respondents (n=60)

Percentage of respondents




Middle men



Locally in villages









Contribution of beekeeping to the livelihoods of households


Apiculture contributed more income to households compared to other livestock species (Table 6). The investment in apiculture per hectare was also higher than other livestock species. This was because households required little resources/capital to produce honey. Also many hives could be concentrated within a small area and apiary did not need a lot of labour to manage. The other animals needed large space; high costs associated with their production such as health, feeding, hence low return on investment per hectare. Kugonza (2009), reported that beekeeping enable rural communities to earn an income with low investment and maintenance cost; low labour requirement, and without necessarily destroying the environment.

Table 6: Annual income generated by apiculture and other livestock species

Animal species

Annual production per hectare

Price per Unit (Ugx)

Annual income per hectare (Ugx)

Bees (honey, kg)

1,500 (350 hives)















Small ruminants




Limitations to honey production in Lira sub-county


Most respondents indicated that lack of knowledge and skills, poor harvesting methods/lack of equipment, lack of capital to invest in honey production, price fluctuations, and inadequate forage and water resources were the major limitations to honey production (Table 7). Farmers rarely selected apiary farming during enterprise selection. Thus, inadequate extension services made beekeepers enable to effectively manage their apiaries; process and market honey. Beekeepers lacked capital to invest in beekeeping and this was made worse by unwillingness of financial institutions to offer loans to beekeepers. Thieves and vandalism of hives discouraged many farmers to venture into beekeeping business. Bees absconded the hives because community members often grazed their animals near the apiaries, burnt bushes, and children played near the hives. Sometimes, children were attacked by the bees leading to wrangles among the communities. Low market prices for honey discouraged farmers from beekeeping. Some customers bought honey only if they had illnesses such as cough and wounds.

Table 7: Limitations to honey production


No. of respondents (n=60)

Respondents (%)

Lack of knowledge and skills



Poor harvesting methods/lack of equipment



Lack of capital to invest in honey production



Price fluctuations



Inadequate forage and water resources



Lack of streamlined market for honey



Fire outbreak in dry season



Vandalism and theft of beehives



Poor honey quality/adulteration of honey



Insect attacks - black ants and termites



Shortage of land for setting up apiaries



Costly bee hives/poor quality hives



Poor attitudes by the farmers on bee keeping





The authors thank S. Ajok, D Aluko, D Ojok, J Okello, R Nyanzi, D Ntambi, S Natandula, C Oola, B Maktunu, S Etwomu, E Epedu, H Edema, W Opio, B Asio, G W Sentongo, and J Okema for contributing towards the success of the study.


Kugonza D R 2009 Beekeeping: Theory and Practice. Fountain Publishers, Kampala, Uganda.  

MAAREC 2000 Pests of honeybees. www. 

MAAIF 2010 Statistical Abstract, Ministry of agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Entebbe, Uganda. pp 28.  

Mujuni A, Natukunda K and Kugonza D R 2012 Factors affecting the adoption of beekeeping and associated technologies in Bushenyi District, Western Uganda. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 24 (8). 

UEPB 2008 Trade and market study for honey in Uganda. Report produced for Project Strengthening Trade in Honey and other Bee Products in Uganda.  

UNBS 2007 Honey Specification. Statistics of honey imports and exports 2002-2007.  

Received 18 October 2014; Accepted 1 December 2014; Published 1 January 2015

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