Christine Ogwang, who lives and works in Kampala, became interested in the idea of buying honey from the rural area of her original home in 2007. Although she could see that buying honey from villagers and selling it in Kampala would be one way of alleviating poverty in the rural areas of Uganda, she did not know where to start. However, she was given some information and advice by the Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) and The Uganda National Apiculture Development Organisation (TUNADO), both partners in the Comic Relief Honey Trade Project 2007-2008. In April 2008 UEPB and TUNADO facilitated meetings between beekeepers in Lira District and Christine Ogwang. The purpose of the meeting was to forge the first link in the market chain between supplier and buyer. She also attended a training course for honey packers, organised by the Project in May where she learnt about managing finance for trade. The rest is history.
Gates Honey is now a popular brand of Uganda honey found in supermarkets and hotels in Kampala. But there have been challenges along the way. At first the honey which she bought from beekeepers was not of the right quality, but Christine took the trouble to explain to the beekeepers exactly what she was looking for, and now she has no problems with quality. The honey she buys is sourced from bees foraging on the Sheanut Butter tree and is considered a delicacy in Kampala. Packaging materials are of poor quality in Uganda and the plastic jars which can be obtained easily often leak and this is one of the reasons why some consumers still opt for imported honeys. Christine has overcome this challenge by buying a silver foil sealing machine from Nairobi so that Gates Honey never leaks! The sealing machine is a simple piece of equipment and operated manually.
Christine is now buying honey from four beekeeping groups and has to explain to her suppliers that the further they are away from the main road the less she can pay for their honey. The cost of transport is one of the most significant costs of the business. Christine has found that rural farmers have enough business acumen to understand the cost implications and despite the fact that she has been forced to lower the price she can offer to the most distant beekeepers her biggest fear now is that she will be offered much larger volumes of honey and is worried that her cash flow will not be sufficient. Christine feels that whilst price is clearly a factor for villagers they also value reliability “By interacting closely with them, I have learnt that they need somebody they can trust to rely on as long as he/she keeps her word”.