Beekeeping Helps Support Coffee Farming Families

 
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Training in La Libertad for new beekeeping group
Training in La Libertad for new beekeeping group

Recently, Pueblo a Pueblo’s Beekeeping project solidified a new partnership with a women’s coffee cooperative in La Libertad, a small community outside of Huehuetenango. This group of coffee farmers is part of La Cooperativa Crédito Esquipulas, a larger organization that works on savings and loans for local farmers and businesses in Guatemala. Despite the diversity in their services, this will be La Cooperativa’s first endeavor into beekeeping!

However, this new beekeeping group will look somewhat different from our three existing projects in Atitlan. First, our existing farmers work together as an association to market and sell their honey, sharing the profits among themselves. The new group, however, will market and sell their honey through the cooperative.

Secondly, whereas half of our current beekeepers are women, our partnership with La Cooperativa Crédito Esquipulas will consist entirely of women, thus continuing our mission to support gender initiatives in rural Guatemala.  

Earlier this month our project technicians conducted their first visit with the new cohort of beekeepers. During this visit they formally met the new members, introduced the basics of beekeeping, and developed a timeline for future trainings and apiary installations.

Michelle Sims, the project manager for Pueblo a Pueblo’s beekeeping project is very excited about this new expansion and looks forward to “initiating honey production within La Cooperativa Crédito Esquipulas and hopefully expanding this opportunity to other members of the cooperative as well." We at Pueblo a Pueblo, hold the same hope as Michelle and are excited to see how our new partnership evolves!

Genaro teaching the basics of beekeeping
Genaro teaching the basics of beekeeping
Our newest beekeeping members!
Our newest beekeeping members!
Our beekeepers collecting sweet honey!
Our beekeepers collecting sweet honey!

Though the looming rainy season signifies the end of the honey harvest, there’s still plenty of buzz surrounding the Beekeeping project at Pueblo a Pueblo.

Aj Tikonel Kab’, the local association of beekeepers, produced over 600 pounds of honey since the season started in December. As a comparison, last year’s honey harvest yielded only 250 pounds.

The reasons for this rapid growth are two-fold. First, a new participating group of coffee producers from Totolya added their harvested honey to the total product.  Second, the association members from Pampojila used their income from last year’s harvest to invest in expanding their apiary from ten hives to 25!

The association’s new goal is to produce enough honey to sell year round and it seems attainable as next year will bring even more growth with the introduction of a third group of honey producers from Panimaquip.  

Recently, a group hailing from St. Paul Episcopal Church in Bellingham, Washington visited the project and apiaries. The group, composed of 18 volunteers, was in Santiago Atitlan for a week and provided hands-on support to various projects at Pueblo a Pueblo. One of the most important activities they completed was the construction of ten bee hive boxes for our program participants.

These hive boxes are essential for honey production. Depending on their placement, the boxes can either be used as spaces for bee reproduction, where the brood (bee eggs) are held, or as “honey super boxes”, where they serve as places for bees to store new honey. Either way, these ten new boxes will ensure the beekeepers a head start going into next year’s honey season.

As this year’s harvest winds down, the association will focus on looking for new buyers and expanding their sales market but, above all, they’ll be keeping the bees healthy and maintaining the colonies so they’ll be ready for another productive honey season next year!

New bee hive boxes standing proudly in Panimaquip
New bee hive boxes standing proudly in Panimaquip
Beekeepers working hard to retrieve honey
Beekeepers working hard to retrieve honey
Beekeepers meeting for end-of-the-year celebration
Beekeepers meeting for end-of-the-year celebration

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.  

Beekeepers discussing 2015 goals
Beekeepers discussing 2015 goals
Training in Panamaquip
Training in Panamaquip
Our project technician with a honey panel
Our project technician with a honey panel

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.

Returning from the hives!
Returning from the hives!
Group members look on during a training
Group members look on during a training
Members from Pampojila lead a training in Totolya
Members from Pampojila lead a training in Totolya

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!

The Totolya group crowds around a hive
The Totolya group crowds around a hive
Building teamwork within the Totolya group
Building teamwork within the Totolya group
The final product
The final product

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Project Leader

Rosemary Trent

Executive Director
Cabin John, MD United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Beekeeping Helps Support Coffee Farming Families