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Environment

Meet the Fairtrade honey producer in Mexico empowering communities through beekeeping

EDUCE is one of Shared Interest’s long standing customers. They receive loans before their honey harvest, so they can pay the beekeepers all year round

beekeeping

A beekeeper checks one of the bee colonies. Image: EDUCE

For Mayan communities, bees and their honey have always been sacred. The Mayan word for ‘bee’ is ‘kaab’ and this can also be translated as ‘world’, ‘land’ or ‘force’. The bee itself is recognised as a symbol of fertility and abundance with many communities in the region holding ceremonies to ask bees for permission to harvest their honey. They then thank the bees for their generosity. But for the Mayan producer-members of the EDUCE co-operative, honey is both their cultural heritage and their livelihood.

Mexico is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of honey, and therefore the socioeconomic implications of beekeeping in the country are far-reaching, with roughly 43,000 beekeepers producing around 61,000 tons of honey annually, equating to a commercial value of $67.9 million. This is reinforced by the high demand for Mexican honey on the international market, with European countries such as Germany, Belgium and Switzerland unable to meet production demands for their population.

Anselma María Rejón gets ready to enter her apiary while her husband, Diego Jesús Colli, prepares the bee smoker. Diego is the leader of the local co-op and has been also a mentor for María and those interested in becoming beekepers. Image: EDUCE

EDUCE are a honey co-operative, working with almost 1,000 beekeepers in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. This area is known for its production of high-quality honey, particularly from the Melipona bee, which is native to the region. These bees are stingless and are known for their unique honey, which is prized for its medicinal properties and distinct flavour.

The honey produced in the region is harvested using traditional methods, which involve using small wooden boxes called “cajas” to house the bees and collect the honey. The cajas are placed in areas with abundant flowering plants, and the bees are left to forage and produce honey at their own pace.

Once the honey is ready it is extracted using simple tools and techniques with minimal disruption to the bees and their habitat. However, honey pricing is volatile and can fluctuate from season to season. Consumer demand can drive these changes, and ultimately it is the beekeepers who suffer when the price is low.

Diego Colli and María Rejón inside María’s apiary. They are both beekeepers and each one has their own colonies to take care of, but they find times to work together and help each other. Image: EDUCE

EDUCE’s honey is organic and Fairtrade certified, and the co-operative told us that certifications enable EDUCE to stay competitive in the honey market and achieve a higher price for their produce. EDUCE general manager Miguel states that for each kilo of honey marketed as Fairtrade, an additional 20 cents are paid to the farmer through the Fairtrade Premium.

General manager Miguel Ángel Munguía Gil, said: “The certifications have been key for our beekeepers to obtain better prices, and consequently to have access to more social satisfactions, such as education for their children, health and home improvements.”

For many producers in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, beekeeping is one of the main sources of economic income. Other activities such as cornfields and family gardens are present, however, they exist for subsistence. One of the key challenges that beekeepers face is the commercialisation of honey at low prices.

In Mexico, there are 40 UNESCO World Network Biosphere Reserves which function as long term refuges for biodiversity. According to the United Nations, climate change is playing an increasingly important role in the decline of biodiversity, altering marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems around the world. Specifically in beekeeping, changes in rainfall patterns and drought events, interspersed with an increased frequency of natural phenomena such as hurricanes and storms, represent a destabilising factor for beekeeping because flowering periods are becoming increasingly unpredictable.

This unpredictability makes it increasingly difficult for beekeepers to harvest the same amount of honey each year, as they must coordinate and anticipate the flowering time to ensure that hives are ready for honey harvesting. This poses a serious challenge to the farmers, who are threatened with losing a significant portion of their income.

Anselma María Rejón smiles for a portrait. Two years ago she became part of the first generation of female beekeepers in her local town of Xanabá. Image: EDUCE

María Colli has been an organic beekeeper for four years. She lives in Izamal in the region of Yucatán, Mexico. She said: “The motivation why I was interested in in joining with EDUCE was the price. It’s a good price for us. And the other thing is that they give us workshops, they run workshops for us on gender and on the environment.”

Maria continued: “EDUCE have shown us how to diversify our products, make other uses of our products and more than anything, it’s given an opportunity as women specifically, before you didn’t see any, there was no such thing as a woman beekeeper. But now there’s myself and my group, we’ve been the first and there’s another group forming as well.”

María told us that the impacts of climate change are a challenge for the beekeepers. She said: “The climate is a challenge, hurricanes especially. It’s an annual thing that’s always been there. Over the last five to 10 years, it has got worse. The droughts are longer. The effect is a lot.

“The bees need water to drink water, and there’s no water nearby. We have to carry big plastic containers every couple of days to the hives and we put it in troughs for them, because otherwise they die. Lots of them have died already. The other thing is flowering. There’s no flowers on the trees because of the drought. You can see where the flowers are budding and trying to come out but they just dry up.”

EDUCE are one of Shared Interest’s longest standing customers, and have been working with us since 2002. They receive loans to pre-finance their honey harvest, enabling them to pay the beekeepers all year round.

Shared Interest forms the vital link between UK social investors and fair trade organisations in 45 countries. The organisation works hand in hand with farmers, artisans and communities to strengthen enterprises, increase employment opportunities and implement innovative methods of sustainable production. 

You can open a Share Account with £100 and start investing in a fairer world. Find out more here.

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