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Raising bees in sustainable ways

Words by Smiley Team

Beekeepers in the Peruvian Amazon are spearheading a bee revolution by showing how humans can have a relationship with bees that benefits them and the insects.

Local keepers have started to raise a few of the area's 175 different species of stingless bees. Stingless bees produce different types of honey, which some call ‘miracle liquid’, due to its healing properties.

In the past, honey has typically been harvested from the wild from these species, which destroys the hives. Over the last few years scientists have been teaching local people to raise and keep the bees in sustainable ways.

Biochemist and National Geographic Explorer Rosa Vásquez Espinoza has partnered with scientists at the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana to better understand the bees, what they pollinate, and the biochemical contents of their medicinal honey.

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People in the tropics already use several types of stingless bee honeys and wax from their hives to treat upper respiratory infections, skin conditions, gastrointestinal problems, and even to treat diabetes and cancer. 

More investigations into the honeys’ medicinal benefits is needed, says David Roubik, an expert on stingless bees at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

Currently stingless bees are kept and raised by at least a hundred families in half of the Peruvian Amazon’s states, many of which Delgado, one of the scientists, has helped instruct. 

He teaches people to raise stingless bees in rectangular boxes that allow easy access to the bees' sugary secretions.

Raising the bees allows keepers to split nests and establish a steady source of income, rather than relying on taking honey (and bees) from the forest.

Benefits of bees

The bees are also beneficial to agriculture and a 2020 study found that when kept next to crop fields, stingless bees can help increase the yield of a native crop by nearly 50%.

One man, Córdova and his family, raises 40 hives of bees on his property, which include six different honey-producing native species. 

“Native bees are better to raise – they are more docile since they do not sting,” he says. 

“The honey is of higher quality given its curative properties... and [unlike honeybees], the native bees build their pots with wax they produce as well as with the resin they extract from trees, some of which are known to be medicinal like the dragon blood's tree resin.”

The Córdovas are one of many families that use some of the honey and sell the rest: They typically consume 20 bottles of honey, and sell 30 each year in local markets.

It’s just one way scientists say the bees are helping to preserve the life and health of the forest and its people.

Inspired to act?

GET INVOLVED: To find out 10 ways that you can help improve bee populations at home, visit The Bee Conservancy website.

DONATE: Make a tax-deductible contribution to The Bee Conservancy and help them curb the rapid decline of bee populations and bolster local communities and ecosystems.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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