Jean de Dieu Kwizera, the CEO and founder of Beegulf Ltd, started his business with five beehives in 2019. He is now making a fortune from beekeeping, a business he runs in Gasabo and Gisagara Districts.
Doing Business caught up with him when he was exhibiting a project that conserves nature and bees during the first-ever African Protected Areas Congress (APAC) that took place in Kigali, from July 18 to 23.
His business idea started when he was at the University of Rwanda-College of Science and Technology. Upon graduation, he found a mentor who equipped him with skills in the beekeeping business.
Later, he also started training other people. "From the fees which trainees paid me, I bought five modern beehives which I started with. I bought each at Rwf40,000. That is why I requested the city of Kigali to give me an opportunity to leverage one of the state forests for beekeeping in Gasabo," he said.
"I was always pondering what I could do to create a job after graduating. It is not necessary to start with huge capital to do such business. I started with five modern beehives and I currently have 50 modern beehives. I also have over 100 traditional beehives because they are not expensive."
Kwizera harvests between 1.5 tons (1,500 kilos) and 2.0 tons of honey every year, with one kilo sold at Rwf8, 000. He earns between Rwf12 million and Rwf16 million, annually.
"My business plays a role in increasing the bee population since bees are pollinators in biodiversity and then make money from honey production and value addition. There are business opportunities in nature-based projects for the youth," he said.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a third of the world's food production depends on bees through pollination. The bee populations have been declining globally due to habitat loss, intensive farming practices, changes in weather patterns and excessive use of agrochemicals such as pesticides.
Kwizera trains farmers on organic farming so that agrochemicals do not kill bees. "I also train youth and women on starting beekeeping business. I have so far trained over 300 of them."
His beekeeping business focuses on three components including apitourism which involves educational tours for beekeepers and people who want to invest in beekeeping. Then there is value addition to honey as well as making basic materials used by beekeepers. "I have started to make different products from bees such as candles, soaps, cosmetics and others using bee wax."
Manufacturing modern beehives, bee suits
The entrepreneur also fabricates modern beehives and supplies them to beekeepers across the country. So far, he has supplied about 500 modern beehives, selling each at between Rwf40,000 and Rwf55,000 and making total sales between Rwf20 million and Rwf27 million.
"I train people who buy my modern beehives on how to make beekeeping a viable business," he said. His firm also makes bee suits; the protective clothes that beekeepers wear, and has also produced a sample of small honey filtering machines.
"Normally one filtering machine goes for between Rwf150, 000 and Rwf400, 000 which is not affordable to smallholder farmers. "That is why with my innovation, I am producing affordable small honey filtering machines made of available materials such as wood and bee waxes. It is a creative solution because people were using mosquito nets that are not safe," he said.
Currently he is working with 150 beekeepers across the country. "They supply the harvest to me, and I process it for the market. This season they have already supplied two tons."
Kwizera told Doing Business that he secured a €3,000 grant in June during competition. "I am using the money to expand my business in Gisagara District. I installed 20 traditional beehives there and plan to install at least 100 modern beehives. There is both a local and export market opportunity."
Figures from the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) indicate that the current production of honey is estimated to be only 5,600 metric tons per year against a demand of 17,000 tons.
In June 2014, Rwanda got accreditation to export the product to the EU after its honey was found to meet required quality standards. However, low output continued to deny the country of potential foreign exchange revenue.
Figures show that in the fiscal year 2019/20, Rwanda exported 3,319 kilos of honey to the EU, generating $14,035 (about Rwf13 million).