A Sweet Step Forward for Guatemalan Beekeepers

COPIASURO bees beekeeping visit in 2015

From left to right: one of COPIASURO’s technician; Alvaro Almengor, the General Manager of COPIASURO; Mario Ardany de León, EcoLogic’s Program Officer for Guatemala; and Gabriela González, EcoLogic’s Regional Program Director, visit beehives in Ixcán, Guatemala

It was a quiet afternoon in Ixcán, Guatemala, and you could hear the buzzing of hundreds of bees. In late January, Gabriela González, EcoLogic’s Regional Program Director, and Mario Ardany de León, our Program Officer for Guatemala, were at our Indigenous Peoples for Thriving Ecosystems in Northern Guatemala project site to meet with representatives of an internationally-recognized honey cooperative. The group gathered to discuss the next steps for a new and successful beekeeping initiative. But first, they donned beekeeping suits and hats to visit the hives.

In 2013, EcoLogic partnered with Heifer International to bring beekeeping to the communities we serve in Ixcán. The success of that pilot initiative connected us with the Integral Production Beekeepers’ Cooperative of the Southwest in Guatemala (COPIASURO is its Spanish acronym), who produce and distribute certified fair trade Guatemalan honey to international markets. In the spring of 2014, EcoLogic staff met with COPIASURO to discuss the possibility of forming an official partnership to support the beekeeping families in Ixcán. In January 2015, inspired by the dedication and enthusiasm of the Ixcán beekeepers, they agreed to make the partnership official.

The swarming bees that Gaby and Mario saw in Ixcán—too many to count!—were already proof of the beekeeping initiative’s success. EcoLogic’s initial project in 2013 helped 92 families to acquire beehives of their own, as well as basic training in honey production. As we learned during our last meeting with COPIASURO in Ixcán in 2014, a queen bee alone costs about $100 USD—a huge investment for farmers who often make less than $4 a day. But, the aspiring beekeepers in Ixcán recognize that selling honey on the international market will be a source of significant additional income for their families, and are convinced they have made a good investment.

Other families took notice of the original beekeepers’ success and decided to invest in bees on their own. Currently, 185 families in Ixcán have beehives, with more than 600 hives between them. According to COPIASURO, that’s enough for those families to produce about 38,000 pounds—or 19 tons—of honey each year. As members of COPIASURO, they will be guaranteed a fair trade minimum price for their honey, which is currently set at slightly more than a dollar a pound. EcoLogic also recently helped the beekeepers buy two honey extractors, which are devices that extract liquid honey without destroying the comb, and will make honey production in Ixcán even more efficient.

Bees are also not only a source of income for families in Ixcán—they also are helping the environment thrive. Bees are important pollinators—both of food crops and wild plants. Bees are said to “be responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat,” based on research done by Michigan State University. Most crops grown for their fruits, nuts, and seeds need to be pollinated by insects. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 80 percent of all flowering plant species in the world depend on pollinators—mostly insects, including bees—and that tropical regions like Central America are even more dependent on insect pollinators than the rest of the globe. And with threats like bee colony collapse disorder jeopardizing these vital pollinators, the people of Ixcán are forging a critical link in agriculture and the health of their natural ecosystems—which depend on bees.

In Ixcán, the cooperative plans to establish three “honey schools” in 2015. These “schools” will be home to 50 hives each, and COPIASURO’s technicians will use them to train people in Ixcán in beekeeping and honey production techniques. As members of the cooperative, the honey produced by the Ixcán beekeepers will be certified as fair trade, which allows the honey to sell for a higher price internationally—bringing more income directly to families.

COPIASURO has been recognized locally and internationally for the quality of their honey. In 2009, they won a bronze medal at the Apimondia International Apicultural Congress, the largest annual gathering of beekeeping professionals in the world. And in 2013, they were honored as Exporter of the Year by the national Guatemalan Association of Exporters.

At EcoLogic, we are excited about the great promise that beekeeping holds as a source of sustainable, reliable income for such a rural part of Guatemala. And we are all looking forward to trying some delicious honey!

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