Dry season is here and the honey harvest has begun! In 2015 Pueblo a Pueblo’s Beekeeping project is partnering with coffee farmers from three different communities to create a sustainable economic livelihood. The veteran group is from a small village called Pampojila. They started with us in 2013 as our pilot program and are currently processing honey from their second harvest. Since the start of the season, Pampojila’s farmers have yielded over 120 pounds of honey and expect to double this amount by the end of March.
They are also assisting coffee farmers from the Totolya community, who has already produced 40 pounds of sweet honey in their first harvest season! Both groups are mentoring the newest community to join our producer association. These “newbies,” from the village of Panamaquip, are currently refining their technical skillset and installing their own hives and apiary equipment in anticipation for next season.
Although the groups work as separately in their own communities, they come together as a cooperative association under the name of Aj Tikonel Kab’ to sell their products. They also joined together in December to celebrate the New Year, discuss their advances and challenges, and develop their vision and goals for 2015.
Working together as an association can be difficult because it involves mutual investment in equipment and knowledge sharing but Michelle Sims, Pueblo a Pueblo’s Project Manager, shared the benefits it has for beekeepers. “There’s strength in numbers,” she said. “They’ll be able to work and learn together, produce more together, and eventually sell more honey together.”
All three community participants are glad to be working together and are excited to see the fruits of their labor from a truly cooperative and collaborative project. They now have new skills and improved livelihoods to support their families and their future.
Springtime in Guatemala is coming and our beekeeping groups are getting ready for another great harvest! Since the project started in late 2013, participating groups have produced over 250 pounds of honey that’s been sold in local cafes, hotels, grocery stores, and restaurants, and they’re hoping to do even better come November.
To get ready for the harvest our project technician is working with seventeen farmers from Totolya and Pampojila to construct three more beehives and several panels to house more bees, as well as helping to clean up the current hive sites and maintain the surrounding lands.
Perhaps the most interesting addition to the project is the plan to plant colorful flowers in order to attract more bees to the hives and to sweeten the flavor of the honey. You may not know this, but the color, texture, and taste of honey is derived from the pollen and flowers surrounding the apiary. Here in Guatemala, we are lucky to have a variety of vegetation that begins to bloom in October, paving the way for sweeter and more abundant honey harvests.
For example, over the next few weeks we’ll start to see the budding of the Acajete tree, which produces sweet, translucent nectar. Next to blossom are beautiful yellow wildflowers, followed by avocado trees. The last to bloom are citrus trees and, finally, coffee plants, whose bright red seeds transform into the coffee we all love to drink.
While the Guatemalan countryside becomes lush and colorful, bees will be buzzing from flower to flower, collecting pollen and producing hundreds of pounds of golden honey for sale by farmers in need across the region.
There is no shortage of demand for Aj Tikonel Kab’ honey!
The members of our beekeeping project in Pampojilá have now sold out of the entire stock of honey that they produced this year (approximately 250 pounds total). Their market encompassed the three neighboring lakeside towns of San Lucas, Santiago, and Panajachel, and they sold their product in various establishments including groceries, cafes, hotels, and restaurants. Local buyers are eagerly awaiting the next harvest in November, when they can restock their shelves with delicious honey.
In the meantime, the Pampojilá group has been investing a portion of the income from their sales into buying materials to expand their apiary, and is currently maintaining 25 hives—more than double the amount of hives with which they started at the beginning of the project! With those 25, they expect to significantly increase the amount of honey produced in the next harvest cycle, which will allow them to expand their market and maintain consistent sales for the entire year.
Also, now that our second apiary is active and buzzing in nearby Totolyá, we’ve spent the past couple months focusing on developing the business skills of the group. Our project staff carried out the first two business trainings with the group in June and July, focusing on topics such as planning, time management, production cycles, and the stages of business development. Members from the Pampojilá group have also been an important part of these trainings, sharing lessons they’ve learned from the past year to help the Totolyá group get off to a good start.
We have an exciting couple months ahead as we continue training with Totolyá and both groups begin making initial preparations for the upcoming harvest in November. Stay tuned for more updates!
Pueblo a Pueblo staff has already held a third beekeeping training for coffee farmers from the village of Totolya. Just two weeks prior, the group installed its apiary on a parcel of land 45-minutes walking distance from the community. Already their hives are thriving, and the group is learning to care for its new apiary.
Participants learned not only routine beekeeping responsibilities, including maintenance of the area surrounding the hives and internal panels, but also how to feed the bees during the rainy season.
For example, it’s important to keep the area around the hives clear so that others insects can’t enter; to ensure that the hives are not exposed to too much wind or sun; and to learn important indicators of hive health.
Two women from the original group in Pampojilá led the training, along with Genaro Similaj, Pueblo a Pueblo’s senior technician. Trainings include both theoretical background and information, as well as an opportunity for practical application of new skills through maintenance of their own hives.
Throughout this workshop and others, there is always a strong spirit of collaboration and teamwork. All of the participants – and especially the Totolya group – were energetic and excited to be there. We love working with such a dedicated and positive team!
The new year is off to a great start for the members of Aj Tikonel Kab’! Last month they finished bottling and packaging 120 jars of honey with their own label, and in the few weeks since they’ve sold over half of their stock to new customers in Guatemala.
With a portion of the income generated from sales, the group plans to cover the costs of future hive maintenance and product packaging, as well as expand the apiary to increase honey production for the coming harvest in April and May.
The remaining income will be divided among members, many of whom have lost over half of their annual coffee harvest income to Roya, the coffee fungus currently devastating the Guatemalan highlands. This, along with a drop in international coffee prices, has dealt a significant blow to the livelihoods of these farmers. What they make from honey sales will provide a much-needed new source of income for their families.
Meanwhile, we’re hoping to incorporate 10 additional coffee farmers into the beekeeping project cooperative.
This new group approached us earlier this year to express interest in beekeeping so that they too can become more resistent to the coffee rust epidemic. Like our current beekeepers, half of the new group members are women, and all of them are very excited about the opportunity to embark on this project.
We hope to begin training new members in late March. Our current members will guide the new beekeepers by providing mentorship and technical support, and when the time comes both groups will work together to sell the honey they produce under the Aj Tikonel Kab’ label.
However, we still need your support to help these small-scale farmers build sustainable alternative sources of income. It's not just about supporting local communities. When you donate, you also become an important part of a farmer's story.
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