Beekeeping is nothing new for Guatemalan and Mexican regions for the practice can be traced back to ancient Mayan civilizations who used to keep the stingless bees (Melipona beecheii), as the symbol of god Aj Muzen Kab’.
Fast forward to 19th century and the Europeans were settling in Latin America. The locals then began picking up new techniques regarding bee farming to produce honey on commercial basis. But in 1950 Lain America suffered a proliferation of Africanized “Killer” Bees causing a massive loss of lives of people and livestock. As a result the honey production saw a sharp decline. With the passage of time the demand of honey went up and as more protective clothing and equipment emerged beekeeping made its way back to the local communities.
In 2012 coffee trees in Central America suffered an outbreak of leaf rust La Roya. Likewise coffee farmers struggle with economic challenges through the months that fall between harvests or when coffee plants get attacked by other pests or face some ecosystem imbalance or natural threat.
Beekeeping has proven to be a sustainable second source of income for coffee farmers and the by-products prove to be just as useful. Honey prices are generally more reliable than coffee price and bees compliment coffee farming as they already have been playing a vital role in bio-diversity for millions of years.
Arabica species are mainly self pollinating, but cases of cross pollination can also be witnessed occasionally and that is where honey bees enter the scene. Like many other insect, honey bees are (cross) pollinating agents. When cross pollination does occur, new hybrid varietals are formed.
Cross pollination is an important factor when it comes to evolving and surviving successfully because the more variation a plant exhibit, better are its chances to become adaptable to ever changing climatic conditions hence chances for its successful survival increase. This is a perfect answer to pesticides and other harmful practices that have pierced the agriculture.
Bees are kind of perfect partners to farmers. They supplement their income, don’t require too big of an initial investment and naturally provide natural balance to the ecosystem (also think of shade coffee).
To help battle through the leaf rust epidemic and financial crisis, a US based non-profit organization is working with coffee farmer communities in Latin America. The coffee farmers learn how to further extend their income by receiving training and necessary equipment under program Food for Farmers.
Food for Farmers is working with multiple farmer’s associations and around five coffee co-operatives in areas like Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. The program also helps farmers connect to honey markets and buyers from around the world.
Projects going on in collaboration with Fairtrade co-op Cesmach in Mexico and Maya Ixil in Guetamala are still young but proceeding successfully. Nonprofit investment fund Root Capital and Progreso Foundation are also on-board to provide the necessary fund while CADIA and Ecosur are helping with the training part of the program.
Coffee farmers get trained twice a week in the first year of the program at local apiary. When felt suitable they can take their hives home and carry on with their work at their own. Maya Ixil has joined forces with a honey co-op and exporter COPIASURO to help beekeepers get in touch with Fairtrade buyers from EU.