A refuge for honey bees in Chaco

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Según la FAO, la Argentina está entre los tres principales exportadores de miel en el mundo. Según la FAO, la Argentina está entre los tres principales exportadores de miel en el mundo.

Silvia Godoy loves bees. Every day, she and fellow members of the Apiarian Cooperative in the Chaco region in northern Argentina, promote a very special activity: scaleing up honey production from a native type of bee, only found in the forests of Latin America.

As a Qom woman, Silvia has encouraged the broader involvement of her local indigenous and criollo communities, by facilitating communications and helping to set up workshops to broaden the reach of the Cooperative which aims to improve small producers’ access to new markets.

According to FAO, Argentina is among the top three exporters of honey worldwide.  However, bees are succumbing to un-sustainable land use practices that bring about habitat loss, and promote harmful agrochemicals, among other threats like climate change and invasions of alien species. This disrupts the bees’ critical work as pollinators.  The continuing decline in populations of pollinators affects rural livelihoods, food security, and nature conservation.

To promote environmentally friendly activities in the landscapes surrounding some of the natural protected areas of Argentina, the Rural Corridors and Biodiversity Project supports beekeeping as part of the Sustainable Development Subprojects financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the National Parks Administration of Argentina.

As part of Rural Corridors project, the “Mieles Para Conservar” (Honey for Conservation, in English) initiative promotes beekeeping and specifically, the breeding of native bees.  The Melipona, a newly recognized and non-stinging bee, is a source of both economic and biological hope.  The smaller and hardier bee (compared to the European bee) produces a high quality honey that has the potential to provide alternative sources of income for the Criollos and Qom people of the region.

“Mieles Para Conservar” aims to generate a market for this rare honey by providing training to local communities in two main areas: the biological underpinnings and the technical side of honey production.  With co-financing put forward by the Chaco Province, the GEF project seeks to deliver over 400 hives (cajones) to the beneficiaries (estimated at 120 individuals, of which 50% are women), and the construction of an exposition center where small producers will sell their honey products. 


La iniciativa de ?Mieles para Conservar? promueve la apicultura y, más específicamente, la cría de las abejas nativas.

Photo: Carlos Javier Balcazas 

While honey production itself is not an innovation in the area, the native bee (Melipona Bee) is at home in smaller more compact “cajones” that are more portable and easier to maneuver. These features have drawn the attention of many women in the communities like Sylvia who are attracted by the increased “manageability’ of the hives. 

One key goal has already been achieved: the honey itself has been authorized by the National Administration of Drug, Food, and Medical Technology of Argentina. This means that the honey, which some value at US$8,5/kilo, has been declared eligible for sale for consumption. The local communities that are a mix of Criollos and Qom (an indigenous population) already know that beekeeping is important to biodiversity and have taken ownership of the process.

As a local population with limited options for income, this new potential revenue stream both reduces pressure on the forest as it replaces (some of) the need to make a living from fuel woods, a practice that can both deplete the forest and cause harmful heath side effects for the producers, and strengthens local biodiversity buy supporting the bees’ work and habitat. 

While the true potential of the native Melipona honey bee remains to be seen, its important and economically relevant role  as a pollinator is undeniable. This critical “messenger”, along with the local communities that seek to scale up this valuable and traditional product, is a key component in the GEF Corridors project. This local Melipona honey may prove to be viable source for new and sustainable flows of funds for some of Argentina’s poorest communities .  If successful, the “Mieles Para Conservar” initiative will be scaled up and replicated in other communities expanding the impact of improved livelihoods and biodiversity protection. 


Erin Conner

Operations Analyst

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