August 28, 2019
Min read

Honey Is a Beautiful Product

Kigali, Rwanda
Michelle Boise

“Honey is a beautiful product,” says Wibabara Angeline, the Managing Director of ATIC Limited, an agri-tech innovation and consultancy group that partners with development agencies that support farmers. It does this by providing agricultural equipment and training for mastering beekeeping.

Portrait of Wibabara Angeline Kountable SME partner and managing director of ATIC

She spills a golden line of honey from a stick. It pools on a piece of white paper. “If it is good honey,” she says, “It will not leave a mark.”

She lifts the paper above her head. “See,” she says, “It’s dry.” Wibabara returns the stick to the pitcher. “The quality is good.”

She goes on to explain the markers of quality honey: low water content is one of them, no more than 20%. “Another parameter of quality in honey is density,” says Wibabara. “We also have other [and] a bit more sophisticated parameters like the HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural) [test], where we can determine if there’s no sugar added in honey, or if it has been exposed to high temperature.”

An ATIC worker smoking out bee hives

Then there’s the issue of smoke — especially with honey from Africa — since traditionally it’s used to disarm the bees in order to extract the honey from the hive. When used in large quantities or improperly, the smoke can decrease the quality of the honey due to the strong odor it leaves behind. Wibabara’s team trains master beekeepers and teaches them the art of using smoke but without damaging the end product.

“If it is handled correctly, if it is done professionally,” says Wibabara, “honey can be of good quality with a small quantity of smoke. We teach people how to use the smoker and not put the smoke directly into the hive so that we can also preserve the quality of the honey which is our primary concern."

Though in small quantities, Rwanda is producing some of the best honey in the world, and Wibabara’s company is at the forefront of determining that quality.

ATIC operates in 13 districts and assists more than 80 cooperatives in the country. With experience working on the Rwandan Standards Board and being in charge of agriculture quality control, Wibabara comes highly qualified.

She got into the bee business though with her work at SNV, Netherlands Development Organization, that focuses on the sectors of agriculture, energy, water, sanitation and hygiene.

“When we were inspecting shops and supermarkets,” says Wibabara, “[I noticed] they were having a big problem of honey coming from different producers, so I got interested to help them improve on quality. When I was working with [SNV], I saw that the problem was not only on quality but also on quantity. With my company now, we are helping both in quantity and quality.”

One reason for decreased production of honey is believed to be linked to beehives in proximity to farmland and consequently pesticides.

A group of bees on the end of a tree stump

According to The New Times, “The current practice where crop production is mixed with bee farming, farmers argued, was exposing the bees to dangerous pesticides, leading to massive deaths of bees and low output of honey.”

Last year, in response to this problem, the Rwandan government permitted beekeepers to use state forests to increase the yield of honey. Another reason for low yields is from deforestation and forage removal that the bees depend on for pollination and honey production.

“More trees mean more forage, or food for the bees. This results in richer honey harvests, providing a financial incentive for maintaining an ecosystem,” (BBCFuture).

Deforestation along with erratic rains brought on by climate change, are also causing deadly flooding in the region.

Beekeeping not only offers people employment and economic stability but also environmental sustainability.

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“Bees are so beneficial for life,” says Wibabara. “If I want to keep my field, if I want to keep my flowers, if I want to keep my maize, I need something to help me on pollination. If pollination is artificially made it’s so costly, but when you have bees around, they do that job for us and they don’t even ask you to pay.”

“Bees are so important in agriculture. If bees are no longer on this earth,” she adds, “there would be no life. If you see what bees can do, you also have to take good care of them.”

A group of bees on the exterior of an ATIC bee hive box

Teaching her community to care for the bees is what Wibabara and her team do best. They do this in partnership with development organizations such as World Vision Rwanda and the ADRA Strive Foundation among others.

“We are not only delivering equipment to people,” she says, “we are giving the beekeepers time to know how to use [that] equipment. We give them Master Beekeepers.”

ATIC’s target end user is primarily youth cooperatives. Her business goes beyond appreciation for the bees and professional training in beekeeping; she also helps in manufacturing and even bringing the product to market as a middle person.

“We teach them to manufacture different product from bees, especially from honey and wax,” explains Wibabara. “We teach them to produce cosmetic products to use on the skin […] while they’re waiting for the honey to mature for harvesting. We help them to find something else they can that’s linked to their business.”

In addition to cosmetics, beekeepers sell honey as medicine, a cough suppressant, especially for children. ATIC also buys honey directly from the beekeepers.

“When we get that to market, the honey is going to be from farmers that work together and then it’s going to be sent to the USA market. This is one of our milestones.”

An ATIC beekeeper wearing his protective wear while biking down a dirt road toward the hives

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Since ATIC started this work, growth for the company and its beneficiaries has been huge. It wouldn’t have been possible though without additional partners, one of which is Kountable, a for-profit company that assisted ATIC with purchasing the bee equipment when traditional bank loans were taking too long for World Vision’s contract deadline.

“Since I’ve started to work with Kountable my portfolio has increased between 10 and 15 times, because now I’m not afraid to take a deal of $200M RWF (218,000 USD),” says Wibabara, “I have grown a lot. Normally, we get purchase orders and submit them to Kountable, and then they help us to buy equipment from our suppliers, and then they pay the supplier and the transporter, and then it’s our responsibility to take the products to market.”

Kountable connects SMEs with contracts from large organizations who are looking to purchase high tech goods. This partnership freed up ATIC to take on multiple contracts and bigger ones; of the five she submitted, the largest has been nearly a half a million USD. The business prosperity is then trickling down to the entire community.

“Our business is also increasing because people are learning from others. If we start with one cooperative in a district, other cooperatives see and start requesting to do the same.

“So, our business is getting bigger and it’s also improving the life of people that are working with us, […] especially because they’re learning. They’re not supposed to stay [in the] field — they can also do beekeeping.”

When asked why she does this work, Wibabara explains, “I wanted to change some things, especially in [the] agriculture sector. Even if I’m still in beekeeping, I see some other areas to go into. Maybe with the help of Kountable we’re going to [have] some other business opportunities [in the] export of fresh Rwandan produce to different markets.”

A portrait group of beekeepers in their protective wear around the beehives in Kigali, Rwanda

Wibabara’s business is making huge economic and environmental impact — it’s also changing the outlooks of women, bringing new opportunities and ideas as to what is possible for a woman in the workforce.

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“We don’t have a lot of maybe gold or other precious resources but we have people, and we have bright women.”

“[Some] tend to think that women in Africa are not working,” says Wibabara, “actually we’re working, [and] we’re very hardworking. We are also encouraging other ladies, other women, other girls to join us, especially when we’re in a production like beekeeping. Before our culture was not permitting girls to come in, [but] when a Master Beekeeper is a lady, it encourages other ladies just to come in.”

Wibabara’s staff is comprised of women as well who she encourages to come into business, to be self-reliant, to be educated both formally and informally so that their lives can be improved. She tells them not to fear business and to seek tenders, and partners like World Vision and Kountable. Wibabara points out the proud example of 60% of women in parliament as a demonstration of gender equality in her homeland and one of the principal reasons for Rwanda’s recent and rapid growth.

“We don’t have a lot of maybe gold or other precious resources,” she says, “but we have people, and we have bright women.”

“And I can serve [as] an example because I started from a very low level and I can go [anywhere] I want, because I have been working with good partners, I have been motivated. I can describe myself as an entrepreneur, as a business woman, as a motivator, as a mentor. I mentor a lot of ladies, especially young girls, to be self reliant, to be productive, to change the world because it’s possible.”  

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