The Gorilla Honey Project aims to conserve the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas and their rainforest habitat in the great Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, by providing a sustainable income and livelihood to smallholder beekeeping communities living along the edge of the Volcanoes National Park.
Mountain gorillas have long been an endangered species in the region mainly due to the local communities that poached them and sold their feet and hands for a hefty fee on the local and regional market. Beekeeping, one of the most popular activities practiced by the neighboring local smallholder communities living along the edge of the park also posed a threat to the gorillas. Beekeepers chopped trees and branches to better position their hives and attract the bees, and the presence of people in the park increased exposure of these mountain gorillas to human pathogens and diseases. However despite the presence of rebel groups in the region, with increased government and international efforts in conservation, the threat to mountain gorillas has reduced considerably and now the issue remains on how best to alleviate the neighboring communities’ dependence on the rainforest resources and to enable them to live interdependently with the gorillas.
The Project came out of a need to help the local smallholder neighboring communities mainly beekeepers, realize the economic value of beekeeping and honey production by connecting them to a regional and global market, thus alleviating their dependence on the rainforest resources and ultimately enabling the conservation of the critically endangered mountain gorillas.
About the Project
The Gorilla Honey Project is a pilot program of Gorilla Honey Ltd, a new start-up social enterprise based in Kigali Rwanda that I helped to develop last year. The project aims to produce and export small jars of honey internationally from Rwanda with a sole mission of promoting mountain gorilla conservation in the greater Virunga region encompassing Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC.
Our ambition is to introduce and share with the rest of the world small limited edition jars of Virunga forest honey, sourced exclusively from the local smallholder beekeepers living at the edge of the Volcanoes National Part in order to;
- Provide a sustainable income and livelihood to the beekeeping communities sharing the rainforest habitat with the mountain gorillas by connecting them to a global market. By preserving the identity of the honey through traceable, safe and high quality processing standards, we hope to enable the beekeepers to gain access to the regional and international markets and compete favorably.
- Support the continued gorilla conservation efforts of our partner, the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) in the region. By donating part of the proceeds from the sales of the jars towards the direct protection and conservation of the mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, the project will increase IGCP’s capacity to track the family groups of mountain gorillas, secure the park and educate the bee-keeping communities on gorilla conservation.
As Interim Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme based in Kigali, Rwanda, Anna Behm Masozera puts it “Gorilla honey has the potential to fuel economic development for the beekeepers and in turn fuel the conservation of mountain gorillas.”
Honey and smallholder beekeepers
Honey from this region is all-natural and varies in color from a clear golden yellow to a dark brown with a strong taste of the mountainous rainforest region based on the various eucalyptus and clover plant species.
The local smallholder beekeepers are organized in groups called cooperatives based on their location. These cooperatives on average make up 30-50 members with more than 6 collective apiaries. The beekeepers range in age and gender from some as young as 13 years old to 80 years! This is also mainly a male dominated business but with time, more and more women have become involved especially as key administrators of the cooperatives.
The honey is carefully harvested from hollow cylindrical shaped traditionally crafted hives that are unique to this region. Traditional hives have a hollow basket or cylindrical shape which allows for the bees to regulate the temperature inside the hive and are crafted using the local forest wood that allows the bees to easily adapt to the hive. Traditional hives also produce only a limited amount of honey due to their structure and it is for this reason that the jars will be produced in small batches.
Gorilla Honey enthusiasts and supporters are now able to order and purchase a jar of Gorilla Honey from the Indiegogo platform by pledging funds to the online fundraising campaign. This campaign is way to help fund the production run of our very first batch of honey jars this coming second harvest season and allow us to scale up operations so as to improve on production, train the beekeepers, build a local factory in Rwanda to handle processing and export and create a sales network to fulfil customers orders and make the business sustainable.
At the moment, the jars are only available to US based customers as Rwanda enjoys favourable trade preferences with the US under AGOA and mainly because Rwanda is not yet on the list of countries eligible to export honey to the EU or UK. However the government is working towards this and we hope to ship out the jars to our potential customers in Europe and Asia soon. This will also enable us to engage other small holder beekeeping communities living along the greater Virunga region in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
About the Author:
My name is Hortense Mudenge. I am Rwandese and I live in the capital city, Kigali. I am passionate about wildlife, adventure and people. Currently I divide my time between working with a small group of bee-keepers living along the edges of the Virunga Mountains as the key person in charge of Gorilla Honey Ltd and helping to create small but socially inclusive and impactful local enterprises in agribusiness.