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Rwanda: Brigitte Muhayimana breaks cultural barriers to succeed in beekeeping (by Solange Ayanone, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Rwanda)

There’s a popular belief in Rwanda that women make bees flee. This idea has discouraged more than one woman from taking up beekeeping, an activity dominated by men. But Brigitte Muhayimana is an exception.

Ms. Muhayimana is a widow of the 1994 genocide. She makes her home in a village in southern Rwanda. Life was not easy for Ms. Muhayimana after her husband died. To support her four children, she worked a half-hectare field that she inherited from her husband. She grew beans and sweet potatoes – the staple foods in her region. These crops supplied the family’s food, but other needs went unmet. Her journey towards a better income began with inspiration from a neighbour and continued when she broke down cultural barriers.

In 2006, Ms. Muhayimana decided to take up beekeeping. She got some traditional hives and received advice from a neighbour who is a long time beekeeper. But she heard discouraging words from men in her village. They said that bees would not enter her hives. They believed that bees flee from women, especially during a woman’s menstrual period.

Ms. Muhayimana decided to learn the craft anyways. At first, she asked a man to collect honey for her. But when she realized that the man was stealing honey, Ms. Muhayimana broke the last taboo about women and beekeeping. She learned to do it herself. Today, she carries out all aspects of the business. She says, “I know how to prepare the hive, attract bees, and retrieve honey.”

Ms. Muhayimana became a model of success in her village. She introduced other women to beekeeping. The women started a co-operative to help find markets for their honey. The co-operative is called Twegerane, which means “getting closer.”

Nkubiri Germain is a veterinary technician in southern Rwanda. He assists the women beekeepers and provides regular training on modern beekeeping. He notes the group’s success: they harvest at least 900 kilograms of honey per year. They have a good quality product and the co-operative model helps them sell it. Because the co-operative has been so successful, some village men are now interested in learning about beekeeping and have joined the co-operative.

As the members enjoy their new income, they remain enthusiastic about beekeeping. Uwera Josée is also a beekeeper. Income from honey sales allows her to pay her children’s school fees. She appreciates the other kinds of help the co-operative provides. For example, if she needs a cash advance for her business, the co-operative can provide a small loan. She can re-pay it after she sells her honey.

Beekeeping brings Ms. Muhayimana 40,000 Rwandan francs per month (65 US dollars). With this income, she purchased two new fields where she grows vegetables such as cabbage and carrots for sale. She also bought a dairy cow. She sells the milk and uses the manure in her fields.

Ms. Muhayimana has no plans to slow down. In her daily routine, she works in her fields in the morning. In the afternoon, she walks two kilometres to tend to her beehives. She plans to get even more beehives to earn additional income and expand her house. By combining farming and beekeeping, Ms. Muhayimana is creating a better life for herself.