Paul Jeffrey

Beekeeping Takes the Sting out of Economic Uncertainty

“My husband was desperate when we lost our coffee crop. The bees have given him and our family hope and self-esteem.” —Teresa, member of Maya Ixil cooperative

Beekeeper with hive

In San Juan Cotzal, Quiché, Guatemala, farmers from five small indigenous villages make up the Maya Ixil coffee cooperative. These farmers carry on long family traditions of harvesting coffee. But the work is seasonal, and between harvests, the farmers and their families face high food prices, scarce jobs and dwindling food stocks. Many are hungry for a third of the year. A recent outbreak of rust fungus made matters even worse, wiping out many coffee crops. Struggling farmers had to leave their farms temporarily, seeking work on larger farms just to provide for their families’ basic needs.

Last year, with support through the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the Maya Ixil co-op expanded their operation to provide a new, year-round source of income for its members: beekeeping. The 39 farmers in the co-op now have access to two apiary schools and a total of 20 beehives. Participants are trained in beekeeping by their own apiculture technician, who teaches them techniques for setting up and managing hives, capturing bees, harvesting honey and more. After initial training, the technician provides ongoing support for the farmers’ beekeeping operations, helping them to sustain and grow their businesses.

Pollinating New Opportunities

Participating farmers have increased their monthly income by 23%. Honey is now their second-highest income contributor after coffee. Honey production at the co-op is improving each year, thanks to continued training and technical support.

One participant’s wife, Teresa, said, “My husband was desperate when we lost our coffee crop. The bees have given him and our family hope and self-esteem.” Teresa and her husband look forward to providing their community with healthy, nutritious products like honey and pollen from their hive.

With ongoing support, the Maya Ixil co-op hopes to expand the beekeeping program so farmers can purchase more hives and continue reliably supplementing their coffee harvest incomes.