Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about bees—and not all of it’s good. Around the world, honeybees are dying out. But what does this really mean—and how are agricultural businesses addressing this crisis?
The tropical regions of Latin America where Root Capital works are home to a variety of bee species. This is a good thing—different bee species populate different plant species in different seasons, and a diverse bee population ensures that an equally diverse crop of plants can thrive throughout the year. Most of these bees live in forests, where they can find nesting habitat and food year-round.
But due to a changing climate and a rise in human-led deforestation, many of these forests are disappearing—and bees are disappearing with them. In the coffee-producing regions where many of our Latin American clients are located, bee diversity is expected to drop sharply over the next several decades. Hundreds of plants need these bees to survive—and it’s those plants that will start to disappear if bee populations decline. For the people who grow those plants for a living, this could spell disaster.
The rural businesses we work with depend on the land and the crops that grow on it. They recognize that a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem is key to the long-term sustainability of their business. And they recognize the vital role that bees have to play in strengthening that ecosystem as it weathers the effects of a rapidly changing climate. Across Latin America, our client businesses are finding ways to harness the power of bees to promote thriving natural ecosystems—and improve livelihoods for farmers.
Frutalico Antonio Piedrasanta, COPIASURO coop member, among his 59 beehives.
Agricultural businesses are helping small producers become professional beekeepers.
In some cases, they’re connecting people who have been working with bees for years to the markets they need to make those ventures successful. In 1993, 22 beekeepers in the rural highlands of Guatemala came together to form the COPIASURO cooperative, with the goal of increasing their incomes and improving their livelihoods. Nearly 25 years later, the cooperative has grown to 250 members. They’re fair trade certified. They’re exporting consistently high-quality honey around the world. And they’ve launched reforestation projects all over southwestern Guatemala—forests that they use their own bees to pollinate.
Other clients train farmers who have never worked with bees, to start making honey. By 2050, at least half of the world’s coffeelands are projected to disappear due to environmental factors linked to climate change. Some studies place that number as high as 88 percent. This will drastically affect the 125 million farmers who depend on coffee production for a living. While some of these farmers will be able to relocate to regions better-suited for growing coffee, many won’t. Businesses like our clients Maya Ixil and Pangoa have identified honey as a potential route for coffee farmers to diversify their incomes. From Guatemala to Peru, Root Capital has facilitated donor-funded workshops on income diversification that offer businesses like these a platform to share their expertise and learn from one another. Diversifying into honey will help vulnerable farmers ensure that they have a source of income should coffee go south—and will ensure that other plants that depend on pollination can survive.
ASOBAGRI producer Magdalena Juan picks shade-grown coffee on her small plot of land.
Rural businesses are also employing coffee trees to create habitats for bees. Rather than clearing land to cultivate full-sun coffee, businesses like our client ASOBAGRI produce shade-grown coffee. This coffee is often higher-quality, and can fetch farmers better prices. It enriches soil, captures rainfall, and prevents erosion. And it ensures that forest-dwelling native honeybees have a place to live—and that they can continue to pollinate indigenous plants. Read this blog to learn more about the benefits of shade-grown coffee, and click here to see a list of coffee brands that sell shade-grown beans.
It’s great for bees. It offers security to vulnerable farmers. And it strengthens ecosystems threatened by a changing climate. As it turns out, investing in honeybees can be a pretty sweet deal.
Whether it goes towards a loan to a certified organic coffee cooperative or an advisory workshop that empowers agronomists to train farmers in climate-smart farming techniques, donations to Root Capital help support sustainable agriculture around the world. Click here to make a contribution.
Photos © Sean Hawkey