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Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping

by Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Empower Coffee Farming Families through Beekeeping
Group members at a recent technical training
Group members at a recent technical training

In September, our Beekeeping partner group in San Pablo La Laguna will turn one year old. The group spent their first few months together learning basic beekeeping skills and putting their new knowledge to the test in their apiary. Since their impressive first harvest in January, the beekeepers-in-training have settled into a rhythm and will soon take on the challenges of entrepreneurship with the help of Beekeeping project technician Genaro Simalaj.

The San Pablo beekeepers have accomplished much during their first year as a collective. Because of their attentive work, the number of hives in their apiary has almost tripled since Pueblo a Pueblo made its initial donation of 10 hives last September. The group is also well-organized; its members share beekeeping responsibilities and show up consistently when it’s time to coordinate next steps. 

Genaro will lead the group’s last technical training next month. In September, at the start of the project cycle's second year, he will shift the focus of subsequent trainings to entrepreneurship. This change is coming just in time for the San Pablo beekeepers.

The collective has their product ready—the honey from their first harvest is already bottled, sealed, and labeled with their logo. They have also started building valuable relationships with a variety of potential distributors in the Lake Atitlán region and throughout Guatemala. The beekeepers have both of these key elements—now they need help linking the two.

While the group has gracefully handled beekeeping crises big and small, they are more unsure of their upcoming venture into the world of sales. Fortunately, Genaro is here to help. The most important lesson he plans to impart during his upcoming trainings in San Pablo? “The group must continue to manage its resources in a unified way,” says Genaro. “They will earn a greater profit from their product if they sell it together than if they divide up each harvest for each of the ten members to sell separately.”

Genaro hopes that the San Pablo beekeepers will soon see their product sold far and wide. He knows that it will take time, but he believes in this group. “And if things keep going well, they’ll be harvesting again in August,” he notes, “which means even more product to distribute!” Thank you for believing in the power of beekeeping to transform lives. Your support will fuel our San Pablo partners’ successful steps into the next phase of the project!

Genaro (left) addresses the group
Genaro (left) addresses the group
The group
The group's growing apiary
A bee hard at work in the San Pablo apiary
A bee hard at work in the San Pablo apiary

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The first months of 2019 have brought exciting milestones for our Beekeeping project partners in San Pablo La Laguna. In late January, Genaro traveled across the lake to lead the group in their first harvest.

As always, the group began the day by trekking up to the apiary together, carrying their tools, their protective gear, and a picnic lunch. At the top, Genaro greeted the whole team. “We’ve all been waiting for this day,” he said, “and now it is here!” He asked the group members to pay careful attention to his instructions. After all, when it comes to harvesting honey, every drop counts!

The beekeepers checked their hives, removed the frames that were most full of honey, and brought those up to the processing area. Genaro showed them how to use a knife to cut the outer layer of wax from each frame so that the honey can flow freely from it. He then demonstrated how to place frames into the group’s brand new extractor—a manual machine which works like a centrifuge to pull honey from the frames. Group members took turns selecting frames, removing their wax, and operating the extractor. Soon, beautiful golden honey began pouring from the extractor’s outlet valve.

All in all, the San Pablo beekeepers harvested over 200 pounds of honey—much more than they had hoped for! “This was an extremely impressive first harvest,” Genaro notes. “I’m proud of the group’s progress so far and I look forward to seeing what they continue to accomplish.”

A couple of weeks later, Genaro returned to San Pablo to teach the group best practices for bottling their product and processing the wax they had removed from the frames during the harvest. Their honey now in bottles, the beekeepers were faced with some big questions: how would they brand their product, and how would they present their collective to customers?

These questions led the beekeepers to an exciting new development: a brand new name! The group chose to rename their collective Batz’ib’al Juyu’ (pronounced "baht-zee-bahl hoo-yoo"), a phrase in Tz’utujil, the local Mayan dialect. This name combines the words “batz’”—weaving, “bal”—machinery, and “juyu’”—volcano, to describe the ecological fabric of their lakeside home and their role as stewards of its native biodiversity. Honey production is important to these beekeepers not only as a source of supplementary income, but also as a way of preserving local bee populations and the health of their entire ecosystem.

Once they had chosen a new name, the beekeepers collaborated with the Pueblo a Pueblo team to design a logo for their product. Their logo shows the Maya god of maize face-to-face with a honey bee, both contemplating a young corn plant. Every jar of honey from the Batz’ib’al Juyu’ collective will carry this logo to communicate the group’s basis in the Maya value of environmental stewardship to their consumers.

As the group prepares to enter their second year in the Beekeeping project, Genaro will begin to prepare them with more of the entrepreneurial skills they will need to succeed as a small business. Next up? How to divide bee hives. It’s a delicate process, but it is a great way for the collective to earn some extra cash by selling some of their bees to other beekeepers—or to increase the number of hives in their own apiary! Stay tuned for more news from this hardworking team.

Your support fuels these beekeepers’ success. Thank you for believing in the power of sustainable livelihoods to build stronger communities and preserve our beautiful Earth!

Juan holds a frame ready to be harvested
Juan holds a frame ready to be harvested
Cutting open frames to release their honey
Cutting open frames to release their honey
Placing frames in the extractor
Placing frames in the extractor
Operating the extractor
Operating the extractor

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Juan holds a frame already 60% full of honey
Juan holds a frame already 60% full of honey

“This is the most cohesive group we’ve partnered with,” says Genaro Simalaj, Pueblo a Pueblo Beekeeping project technician. “They work very well together, they are well-organized, and as a result, their hives are more stable and more successful than we’ve seen from any other partner group at this stage in the project.”

This is high praise coming from Genaro, a seasoned beekeeper himself who has acted as mentor to each of Pueblo a Pueblo’s four Beekeeping partner groups. Genario believes that while the Ecological Beekeepers of San Pablo La Laguna have a ways to go, they are well-positioned to grow into a highly successful collective.

The group, in the first year of its partnership with Pueblo a Pueblo, is likely to succeed because its members are connected in so many ways beyond their work in the apiary. They share mutual interests and activities; many are active in efforts to conserve Lake Atitlán and the local agro-ecological movement to protect indigenous food traditions and native seeds. There are also several midwives in the group who work together on a regular basis. With so much in common, and so much trust already established between group members, the Ecological Beekeepers are building their collective on a rock-solid foundation.

Group members hike up to the apiary every two weeks to check on their hives, refill the bees’ food and water supplies, and clear the area of vegetation. Thanks to the group’s careful efforts, not only are their hives in healthy condition, but they have tripled in size! Since the beekeepers started in September, they have installed two additional levels to each of their hives.

Genaro visited the group in late November to lead a second training, this time on the topic of the bee colony. He opened up the hives and showed the beekeepers-in-training how to identify the different bees that make up each colony: drones, workers, and—of course—the queen. Arriving on the heels of a cold, humid couple of weeks, Genaro imparted some strategies to help bees survive these trying conditions, showing the group how to install plastic sheets in the hives for added insulation.

According to Genaro’s latest estimate, the collective already has at least 150 pounds of honey in its hives! Most beekeepers hope for a first harvest of around 45 pounds, but the Ecological Beekeepers are on track to surpass that goal easily when they harvest later this month. They have the tools and they’re ready to go—Genaro visited again in late December to lead a training on the processing and packaging of honey and drop off the materials they will need to bottle their first harvest.

We can’t wait to see all that the Ecological Beekeepers will continue to achieve as a collective. Here’s to a successful harvest and a 2019 full of even more capacity building and collaboration!

Genaro checks the hives as group members look on
Genaro checks the hives as group members look on
Genaro (in black) with group members at a training
Genaro (in black) with group members at a training

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Genaro leads the hands-on portion of the training
Genaro leads the hands-on portion of the training

It was hard to say goodbye to Las Diez Rosas, the all-female beekeeping collective that wrapped up their partnership with Pueblo a Pueblo in July. However, we are thrilled to announce that a new group of beekeepers has already gotten started with the support of our team! The Apicultores Ecológicos (the "Ecological Beekeepers") are a brand-new collective based in San Pablo La Laguna, one of the many small towns situated at the edge of Lake Atitlán.

The ten beekeepers have a lot in common—many of them are parents or grandparents, and all grew up right in San Pablo—but most of all, they are all members of coffee-growing families. This means that they have all experienced the instability and hardship that comes with coffee farming—the long hours of physical labor with little reward, the constant worry that drought or disease will wipe out their hard work, and the “thin months” that come when the income they make during the once-yearly coffee harvest runs out.

The Apicultores Ecológicos fight for the economic security of their families every day, and they have come to see beekeeping as a way to improve their situation. Beekeeping requires far less time and energy than coffee farming, especially when tasks and responsibilities are divided up among members of a team, so it is a good way for families to supplement the unreliable income they make from coffee.

This past month, the group came together for their first training as Pueblo a Pueblo partners. Genaro Simalaj, Pueblo a Pueblo's Beekeeping Senior Project Technician, began the session by asking the group to share their goals for the day’s training and their expectations for the project. He then invited each group member to reflect on why they had decided to participate. The new beekeepers shared their dreams for the future: they spoke about building a more stable, more secure life for their families and providing their children with an education. Many expressed hope that working together through beekeeping will help them achieve those dreams together.

Ana Maribel Quiacain Ujpan is the group’s president and the mother of a young son. She is interested in both the practical and theoretical knowledge necessary to a successful beekeeping enterprise—the physical work she will do with her hands as well as the organizational work she will do as the group’s leader. Maribel sees beekeeping as a valuable form of embodied knowledge that she will one day be able to pass down to her son. Beekeeping will become a valuable kind of inheritance for generations of Maribel’s family still to come.

Each member of the San Pablo collective is part of a family. Their families will benefit from the income they make through beekeeping both in the short term and into the future—both now, when Maribel is leading the group and checking on hives, and later, when her son may very well do the same.

Group members discuss their goals and expectations
Group members discuss their goals and expectations
Genaro leads a beekeeping lesson
Genaro leads a beekeeping lesson
Group members participate in the training
Group members participate in the training
Maribel speaks with project staff
Maribel speaks with project staff

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Ana leads the "spider web" activity
Ana leads the "spider web" activity

Our beekeeping team kicked off the month of April in Cumbre de Huicá, Huehuetenango, where they led a training with the all-female beekeeping collective Las Diez Rosas. Project manager Ana Cabrera and senior project technician Genaro Simalaj introduced the women to many of the skills they will need to function as a successful beekeeping enterprise, including:

  • Teamwork: What are the benefits of teamwork? How can we work efficiently as a team?
  • Collaborative decision-making: How do we make decisions and resolve problems as a group?
  • Strategic planning: How do we plan for the short- and long-term? What are the components of a good plan?
  • Cycles of production: What is the cycle of production for honey production? How do we use this knowledge to design a year-long beekeeping plan?

The teamwork portion of the day involved an activity called the "spider web". In this exercise, participants pass around a ball of string until it connects each member of the group to the others. "The activity makes teamwork visible by showing that if anyone drops their part of the string, the whole web falls down," explains Genaro. At the conclusion of the day, Ana and Genaro delivered the bottles and labels that Las Diez Rosas will need to sell their hard work.

Ana and Genaro traveled to Cumbre de Huicá again in May. This time, they led a technical training on best practices for bottling and quality control of honey products. The training also involved discussion of the business skills the women will need to effectively manage their income as a collective.

This knowledge quickly became necessary because the long-awaited harvest followed shortly after! The beekeepers collected over 375 pounds of honey, the largest harvest ever recorded by a Pueblo a Pueblo partner. After the harvest, Genaro led the beekeepers in dividing their hives, creating “daughter” hives from existing “mothers”. Through this process, the women turned their 17 hives into 30! This sets them up for an even more impressive yield next harvest.

We can’t wait to see all that the women of Las Diez Rosas continue to accomplish. Thank you for helping us support their success!

 

The participants exchange ideas as Genaro looks on
The participants exchange ideas as Genaro looks on
Ana delivers bottling materials
Ana delivers bottling materials
The beekeepers begin their harvest!
The beekeepers begin their harvest!
 

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Organization Information

Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.

Location: Neenah, WI - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Pueblo_a_Pueblo
Project Leader:
Andrew Wilson
Executive Director
Cabin John, MD United States
$4,365 raised of $7,000 goal
 
101 donations
$2,635 to go
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