How Emelyne turned failure into a sweet success: A woman’s beekeeping journey

Have you ever felt the sting of failure? Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-familiar feeling that can drive us to alter our course and take paths previously unexpected. That’s exactly what happened to Emelyne who failed her state exam and decided to turn disappointment into sweet success by embarking on a male-dominated business venture of beekeeping.

Emelyne kaburo, a native of Nyarurambi zone, Muriza commune in the province of Ruyigi, the founder of the Young People Collaborated (YPC) organization, checking the apiary.

It is a gorgeous, sunny Saturday morning. However, the chores seem to be strenuous enough for Emelyne Kaburo. Dressed in her non-“beekeeper attire” of a gray skirt with white checked squares paired with a white elbow-length blouse, she is at the apiary, monitoring the newest added beehives.

 “My colleagues and I, every Saturday, undertake an inspection of our beehives to monitor the progress,” she said, with a smile on her face.

The 28-year-old woman from Nyarurambi zone in Muriza Commune, Ruyigi within the eastern part of Burundi (renowned for its profuse milk and honey production) is unafraid of bees. Discussing her intrepidity, she unveiled her well-thought tactic: ”I abstain from using scented body lotions or perfumes when I intimately mingle with bees. Because the aforementioned products may give me the aura of smelling like flowers

Emelyne embarked on her beekeeping journey in 2006 after she did not pass the State Exam. This marked the end of her aspiration to attain further qualifications at the university level and establish an acclaimed career.

In addition to disappointment about her thwarted hope of studying, the burden of being jobless lingered over her delicate frame for a period of more than two years.

Concurrently, her older sibling welcomed a new baby girl. Subsequently, she had abdominal pain which is arguably the most frequent illness experienced after giving birth. Treatments locally used to cope with this are either naturally-made honey or modern-brewed beer.

Despite the hefty price tag, Emelyne trekked more than a marathon’s worth of ground to purchase some honey for her sister. Tired from wandering so far and wide, she started to think about becoming an apiarist.

So, Emelyne shared the idea with her former classmates who, just like her, failed in the state exam, and were similarly languishing in unemployment. They staked to oppose a longstanding social prohibition barring female participation in the typically male-led specialty of beekeeping. In Burundi, it is considered taboo for women to approach bee hives while they are menstruating as superstition deems this likely to produce an insufficient honey yield.

Emelyne founded the Young People Collaborated (YPC) organization in collaboration with twelve women. Despite having completed their secondary school, start-up capital was a high and vast mountain for them to climb. 

They returned to farming undervalued by degree holders to earn the necessary capital to launch their startup,  and cope with the impoverished plight., 

They collected a total of 60 thousand Burundian francs (BIF), which is the equivalent of $20. Then they spent BIF 5,000 each on 12 traditional beehives.

Despite a hard-earned and promising commencement, a wildfire burnt down all of the beehives a few months later, forcing them to recoup funds to begin again. It did, however, discourage them.

Jeanine Ndayisaba, a member of YPC

“Watching other women of my generation put on nice clothes and smelly body lotion, I wondered why I would not follow in their footsteps”. Jeanine Ndayisaba who joined YPC four years later noted.

On my part, visible successes have been achieved with the incorporation of this campaign. The disbursements attained from our combined investments allowed me to commerce four goats,” Jeanine reported. “Now I can order whatever dress I want. Moreover, due to earnings acquired from the honey transaction, I no longer need to request funds from my boyfriend to pay for essential sanitary items or other fundamental necessities.”

Melchior, the individual at the helm of YPC, stated that aside from generating jobs for their members, their naturally-sourced honey offers a plethora of benefits for people’s lives, especially when faced with the threat of sugar shortage some months back; locals drew upon their stocks as a substitute. Apparently, having it enjoyed with toast has medicinal properties to remedy vision-related ailments.

Brother Silas Nimpagaritse, an expert on beekeeping from the Congregation of the Bene-Yozefu Brothers, noted that apiculture had been practiced across Burundi since ancient times. He explained how honey was primarily revered on ceremonious occasions since it could be changed into a palatable beer that was reserved solely for industry elites or top-ranked figures. More notably, concerning its own flavor, Inturire (a milk sugar beverage earlier made out of honied)

Despite his joy at the recent surge of interest from the younger population and especially from women, an industry expert laments that apiculture has failed to modernize to lead a production increase adequately. He lamented, “I’m struck by how traditional practices and low-quality equipment continue preventing institutionalization of this field; individuals overwhelmingly opt for hives commonly used in centuries past, as opposed to modern options proven-yielding more positive results  that can generate anywhere from 20 to 40 kilograms of honey

Burundi is home to 12 million people, who reside in an area covering 27,834 square km. Since trees serve as the primary sources of fuel for cooking, wood, and charcoal, this leads to large amounts of deforestation. Yet bees need a quantity of nectar and pollen from forest plants to prosper and create quality, honey. Human meddling harms forests, lowering the number of flowers; both nectar and pollen suppliers are essential for beekeeping-related activities that result in decreased honey production.

The operation manager at YPC corroborated the challenges regarding beekeeping and honey production that were mentioned previously. During unfavorable weather conditions such as overwhelming rain, traditional beehives constructed out of greenery become easily susceptible to ruin due to their inflammability. These rudimentary beehives do not comprise customizable and repeatable honeycombs like cutting-edge hives. Therefore, it takes more time for the bees to fabricate beeswax honeycombs without them.

Modern beehives mixed with traditional ones

According to the Environment and Biodiversity Scientific Bulletin of Burundi, “The more diverse honey sources, the more honey produced and the higher the quality of the honey. Thus, a natural environment provides more opportunities for the development of beekeeping activity, and better supervision of beekeeping activities in protected areas can help conservation measures succeed”.

Recently, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provided YPC with 200 advanced beehives, making a total of 280 beehives (80 archaic hives). Output ranged between 10-30 kilograms per month with a price tag of fourteen thousand Burundian francs or $6 per kilogram.

Intrepid Emelyne is an enumeration of women who endured unfavorable conditions as a result of persistent social taboos which promoted poverty and dependence on male figures.

By Avit Ndayiziga.

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