With bees buzzing in and around his trade post, visiting Mr Morphat Mafu, a 69-year-old resident of Olugofe village in Yumbe Town council can be a frightening experience.

The trade post that cost Mr Mafu sh48m to set up is located just behind the Yumbe district police barracks.

It houses his office, a craft and tailoring room, honey processing facility and a shop.

Its veranda is lined up with colonised hives but the veteran bee farmer always encourages visitors and clients not to panic, insisting that you can live with bees at peace if you do not bother them.

Mr Mafu is a retired teacher and a former mechanic in the defunct Uganda Army Air Force wing.

He has pooled together his various skills to keep bees, process the honey, wax and venom into various products and uses his teaching experience to train apiary farmers in Yumbe and beyond

How he started

When Mr Mafu was teaching at Eleke primary school, he saw three pupils dropout of school due to lack of sanitary pads.

He decided to do something that could help parents to generate money to support girl-child education.

This was in 1998 and chose to experiment with three clay pots as bee hives while at the same time working for Here is Life, a local faith based organisation in Arua town.

The organisation decided to support Mr Mafu to achieve his vision by sending him to attend a workshop on bee farming.

Mr Mafu, a married man with three children and over 15 dependants from an extended family says he learnt from the workshop that apiary is one of the easiest enterprises one can undertake at little cost using local material.

He mobilised five other farmers to join him in the bee keeping project.

However they soon left him alone as the sh10,000 monthly profit discouraged them.

As Mr Mafu persisted singlehandedly, he got an opportunity for a diploma course in rural development in Britain.

While pursuing the course, Mr Mafu wrote two concept papers – one on vocational training for youths which resulted into the establishment of the evangelical school of technology in Aringa and the other on bee keeping for poverty alleviation.

After returning from studies, Mr Mafu went for two weeks training on bee keeping and honey processing by Doctor Helmot organized by United Nations Industrial Development Organisation in Nalukolongo.

He bought 20 litres of raw honey in a plastic jerrycan at sh30,000 to put his processing skills to use.

Eventually the Netherlands development agency SNV supported him with mentorship programme.

In 2003 Mr Mafu started making his own hives and training of farmers to supplement honey from his 120 hives.

The type of hives Mr Mafu uses include langstroth and Kenya Top Bar, pots and traditional hives crafted using bamboo.

Bee hives arranged under the verandaBee hives arranged under the veranda of Mr Mafu's trade post in Yumbe. PHOTO BY ROBERT ELEMA

Marketing

Mr Mafu sells most of his products within West Nile because the production is not enough to attract outside market.

His products are also attracting increasing demand from Kampala and other parts of Uganda.

The honey is packed in various quantities ranging from drinking straws sold at sh100 to one litre containers sold at sh18,000 among others. They also make propolis, cosmetics, pollen cakes, wax block, wax foundation sheets and candles.

He says in the last two financial years -2016/2017 and 2017/2018- Blessed Bee for Life (BBL) sold its products worth sh185m and shs199m respectively.

Employment

Mr Mafu employs 12 youths to help him in processing, packaging and sales.

His organisation has 903 bee farmers who are supplying the Blessed Bee for Life (BBL) Company with honey.

"Our main intention is that bee keeping in future should be employing thousands of people .We want to develop the different sectors into fully fledged departments," he says.

He says some people will be specialising in producing propolis, others will be producing and supplying pollen grains, honey, venom collection wax and shoe polish making.

He aims for a complete factory for wax, cosmetics and bread employing multi-sectorial groups of youths.

He stresses the need to strengthen the linkage between producers, buyers, processors, distributors and manufacturers.

Benefits of the project

Mr Mafu says the project as old as he is has helped to keep him actively thinking.

He is able to pay fees, afford medical services and has constructed a permanent house at his ancestral home in Eleke village.

However what he values most is the relationship he has developed with many farmers.

Mr Morphat Mafu at the hive construction roomMr Morphat Mafu at the hive construction room. PHOTO BY ROBERT ELEMA

Advice to farmers

Mr Mafu advises that farmers who have gone into bee keeping should take it as a business and plant a lot of trees.

"It is the only free thing which God has hidden for other people to see. The only season for honey is during forage formation," he says.

He also encourages people to embrace apiary because of the rich medicinal benefits of honey products such as skin ailments, muscle strains, sore throat, ulcers, wounds and alcoholic hangover.

He advocates that government should start a private, public partnership programme that should support the private players in apiculture to thrive.