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A Long Journey: EcoLogic Team and Community Travel 600 km to Learn About and Transport Queen Bees

Take a look at a highlight from our fieldwork in 2022, when field technicians and local partners in Ixcán brought 75 new Queen bees to repopulate our community hives with a gentler, more productive subspecies.

EcoLogic’s work to establish sustainable beekeeping and agroforestry practices in Ixcán, Guatemala is a cornerstone of our goals to enhance the economic well-being and sustainable livelihoods of the communities with whom we work. Last June, our partnership with apiology experts at MOSCAMED gave us the opportunity to bring new Queen Bees into our hives — requiring a 600 km journey from MOSCAMED headquarters in Suchitepéquez, Guatemala to Ixcán.

Noted in our last update, in 2021 EcoLogic has assisted 47 beekeepers and added another 30 in 2022 in communities across Ixcán, including Santa María Dolores, Santa María Tzejá, Cimientos de la Esperanza, San Antonio Tzejá, Machaquila II, and Nuevo San Lorenzo in establishing sustainable beekeeping practices that are constantly supported by trainings, learning exchanges, and technology transfers.

We spoke to two of our field technicians in Guatemala, Elmer Urizar and Antonio Reyes Montejo, as well as a Guatemalan program officer Mario Ardany de León, who told us more about the trajectory of their work in Ixcán.

Since 2019, Elmer and Antonio have been working on establishing a network of local partners and enhanced collaboration between community beekeepers in order to build a stronghold of resources and access to knowledge. In 2021, at a workshop hosted by a network of cooperatives in Ixcán, they were introduced to Dr. Jorge Luis Ibarra of MOSCAMED, an expert in apiology. In 2022, Dr. Ibarra was a key advisor to Elmer and Antonio in introducing best practices to the beekeepers.

EcoLogic collaborated with MOSCAMED to tackle a key issue affecting the ease and productivity of the beekeeper’s work. Elmer and Antonio explain that across Guatemala bee species are increasingly ‘Africanized,’ which is a specific subspecies of bee that have spread across the Americas. Africanized bees are more aggressive and less productive overall for the purpose of honey production, as they are not well-adapted to changing seasons and are far more reactive than the Western honey bee.

The solution is to introduce a new gene pool to the hives, through the introduction of a new queen bee. The desired species for honey production is known as the Caucasian honey bee or Apis mellifera caucasica. The goal is for the Western honey bee to introduce a new, gentler, and more productive gene pool, leading to a population of bees that will be characteristically gentler and more productive as a whole.

Our partners at MOSCAMED produce queen bees for the purpose of genetic enhancement, and have standardized a careful practice for their transport to communities. MOSCAMED’s Center for Beekeeping Technology Transfer and the Beekeeping Committee of the Guatemalan Association of Exporters AGEXPORT developed a detailed plan for the transfer of the queen bees to new hives. The process requires meticulous attention to detail and careful maintenance, as introducing a new queen bee to a hive can be unpredictable and the worker and drone bees must choose to accept the new queen.

The Journey: 600 km from Suchitepéquez — Ixcán

It was an experience that was really beautiful and really new [for me]” - Elmer Urizar

The bees are transported in plastic containers with a barrier made from sugar (denoted as the ‘candy’ barrier), to keep the bees fed on their journey. More importantly, the candy barrier functions so that when the time comes the queen bee can be selectively freed by the hives.

Left: Field Technician Elmer Urizar Prepares Van for New Bees

Right: Transport Containers for the Bees (with 'candy' barrier)

The starting point was at MOSCAMED’s Beekeeping Technology Transfer Center (CTTA) in Suchitepéquez, Guatemala – 600 km away from Ixcán. At this stage, the bees are extremely fragile and require careful maintenance. After being gently placed in their cages, the queen bees were transported to Ixcán where they would be greeted by our eager beekeepers after a long journey. Elmer and other technicians stopped every 2 - 3 hours to spray water onto the cages, and ensure that as many bees as possible would be delivered gently.

Click here to see how Elivario Marciel, one of our beekeepers in San Antonio Tzeja, introduces a new Queen into his nucleus.

Looking Forward

This learning exchange enabled the collaboration of many of the beekeepers across the region, as many of the community beekeepers had never been in one space together before. Elmer and Antonio describe two beekeepers Moíses Pérez (Nuevo San Lorenzo) and Marciel (Santa María Tzejá), who are both passionate and motivated about their work. The two of them met for the first time during the training and their interactions provoked some friendly competition and conversation about who ‘knew more’ and ‘better’ about their bees.

It goes without saying that community is at the crux of EcoLogic’s work. The journey of this new installment of queen bees to our communities goes beyond the physical journey but represents a step forward in our work to create a stronger network of resources, knowledge, and collaboration for the sector.


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