The benefits of bees and trees: Three stories from Mbale

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By Jake MacMillan, Joanita Mbabazi, and Anna Harris

As millions of trees are planted each year in Mbale, the local community enjoys a more stable climate. However, the trees also provide sustainable means to support local livelihoods in the area.

In addition to tree planting, the Mbale Trees Programme construct and maintain beehives to promote alternative livelihood options. It also runs an education programme to ensure beekeepers can sustain this work independently well into the future.

This initiative is thanks to the Mount Elgon Tree Growing Enterprise (METGE), a Ugandan NGO that co-ordinate and deliver much of the tree programme’s work in Mbale, in collaboration with local partners.

Farmers being taught how to harvest honey
Photo: Farmers being taught how to harvest honey (Credit: Godmercy Kamende, METGE)

METGE supports local people to produce and harvest organic quality honey, propolis (used for medicinal purposes), and wax. These products are either sold at local markets or used to create artwork. This provides a new viable and sustainable source of income, reducing dependence on activities that cause deforestation, such as logging, and furthering the shift to a more sustainable economy.

Meet Charles Wabumba
Charles Wabumba on the Mount Elgon hillsides
Photo: Charles Wabumba on the Mount Elgon hillsides (Credit: Anna Harris, Size of Wales)

Charles Wabumba is a hillside farmer in the Bududa district near Mbale. Not far from his home and farmland, a landslide has torn a chunk of land through the community. The frequently occurring landslides in Mbale underline the need to plant more trees in the areas surrounding Mount Elgon, to increase the soil’s stability and its nutrient retention.

Charles was previously a beekeeper within the Mount Elgon National Park, but since the tree planting programme came to Mbale, he plants tree seedlings on his land. He now has hives in many of his trees which enable pollination to support tree growth and establish a more stable hillside.

Having benefited greatly from the Mbale Trees Programme, Charles says

I appreciate you people and the Welsh Government who have brought this project of tree planting that has really opened my eyes as far as the environment is concerned… I love you Welsh so much!

Bee Hives on Charles’ farm
Photo: Bee Hives on Charles’ farm:
“I have many beehives planted in these trees, also in every tree of mine.”
Gidudu Ismail’s beekeeping journey

An hour north of Charles’ farm in the village of Bumayose, local beekeeper Gidudu Ismail has been farming since the age of 12. He could not afford school fees so instead began keeping bees. He has since been on a rewarding journey, from a first harvest worth approximately £12, to one worth £400 in 2019 after he added more hives and honed his skills.

Gidudu Ismail training others to set up a beehive
Photo: Gidudu Ismail training others to set up a beehive
(Credit: Godmercy Kamende, METGE)

Ismail had challenges with colonising the hives with bee populations. However, after receiving training from METGE, he now achieves 90% colonisation. He has also been given essential equipment like bee suits and harvesting tools. Ismail plans to continue this journey:

I am planning to plant more trees provided by METGE, to increase the nectar and pollen for my bees

More than just honey
Anyango Aida and Masaba Florence with products made with beeswax.
Anyango Aida and Masaba Florence with products made with beeswax.
(Credit: Kalaz Media)

In the small village of Nambasai, honey isn’t the only product that bees help to produce. Masaba Florence creates arts and crafts, such as blankets, where beeswax is used in the tie-die process to make them more marketable. These products are sold at local markets and support Florence and her family financially.

Florence’s story is an example of how beekeeping plays a vital role in supporting women’s livelihoods. Anyango Aida from the nearby Kolonyi Beekeeping Group hopes to use the trees to increase the benefits bees bring:

In future [we hope] we can have all these forests with hives. About 1000, that is our target.

Learn more about how the women of Mbale benefit from beeswax and propolis.

The beekeeping project has helped locals thrive through growing more fruit and vegetables, stabilising hillsides, creating artwork, and producing honey. Tree planting provides numerous benefits, but most importantly it creates a healthy ecosystem to sustain a local population for many generations to come.

To learn more about the Mbale Trees Programme and support its work, visit this page and donate.


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