MayaIxil_streetview_mountains_walkingMaya Ixil is a coffee cooperative in Nebaj, part of Guatemala’s Ixil triangle. The organization was established in 1998 with 28 members, and now has 190 coffee producers. Maya Ixil coffee is certified organic (BCS, OKO), and is fair-trade certified (FLO-CERT). As with all of our projects, we started this one by establishing a relationship with the community that reflects our belief that we are working for the cooperative. All partners — the community, a local implementation organization, and Root Capital, the funders, beginning with Root Capital — have complementary principles and goals, and together we want to create long-term positive impact for Maya Ixil producers and their families.

Alfredo Contreras, of CADIA, teaching beekeepers-in-training about processing products from the hive, such as propolis.

During the first phase of work, which ran from 2013 – 2015, we worked with CADIA (Training in Apiculture Development and Innovation), an organization that specializes in sustainable agriculture in Mexico and Central America. Funding was provided by Root Capital, a leader in the nonprofit social investment arena, which funds and trains agribusinesses to grow rural prosperity in economically and environmentally vulnerable places around the world.

Through our process, Maya Ixil producers identified beekeeping as a key strategy  for their community. Seven Maya Ixil producers were already engaged in beekeeping, but only one had received any technical support or training in basic beekeeping. As a result, their hives received little attention and maintenance, and bee colonies were lost. They were using conventional production methods, which did not align with their focus on organic coffee production. These coffee producers wanted to pursue beekeeping for supplemental income, but didn’t have the resources to do so. The cooperative needed support to improve and amplify this strategy to improve producers’ livelihoods.

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New hives are set up near coffee plants. Bees pollinate plants within a 3 km radius.

Beekeeping Background Beekeeping generates income for families, complements agriculture, and promotes environmental resiliency. Beekeeping is a valuable strategy that benefits the environment, contributes to pollination and flowering of coffee plants, shade trees, crops, and native plants within a 3 kilometer radius of the apiary. Beekeeping does not require a significant time investment, and can serve as an important support for coffee producers affected by coffee rust and other production challenges. Pollination by bees stimulates coffee plants, and it’s been reported that this can augment production by more than 30%.Honey is a rich source of nutrition, especially for families in rural areas, and contributes to food security. Beekeeping is an activity that can be led by men and women equally.  

PROJECT ACTIVITIES: Training

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Marcela (right), Food 4 Farmers Program Director, gathering community perspectives on the benefits of the beekeeping project in the community.

Participatory Community Diagnostic completed with 130 coffee producers All our projects begin with a Participatory Community Diagnostic. This diagnostic identifies information about the level of food insecurity, available resources, regional, social, and geographic characteristics, and the primary challenges that the community faces as they work to achieve healthy and sustainable livelihoods. The diagnostic is used to create a base line and to identify the time line of the project, reference points, and to eventually evaluate the results of the project. We established 2 experimental apiaries with 20 hives each. Maya Ixil already had established 2 experimental apiaries. 50 producers were trained, and 43 continue to engage in beekeeping after 3 years on their own. 

Beekeepers-in-training learn together at community apiaries.

Beekeepers-in-training learn together at community apiaries.

Training module implemented and validated. Training modules are 5 days each and include: • Establishing nucs (small bee colonies) – April 2014 • Basic Beekeeping • Best Practices • Diversification and Commercialization of Products Derived from the Hive • Rearing Queen Bees  Approximately 4,800 pounds of honey were harvested and processed through the local beekeeping cooperative, COPIASURO. We’ll continue to evaluate the training module and adjust implementation.

From Pilot Project to Family Enterprise

During the current phase of work, we’re partnering with Ecosur, an college based in Chiapas, Mexico, with extensive training and research expertise in beekeeping and pollinator populations in Mexico. Remy Vandame is a world-renowned expert on pollinators.

A Maya Ixil beekeeping specialist visits each pilot apiary regularly, to give instructions on hive maintenance to producers. Most honey produced is sold through Maya Ixil. Maya Ixil provides low interest loans to producers, to acquire between 3-5 hives each and necessary materials. The apiaries are productive within the first year of installation and are a short-term recoverable investment. 

MayaIxil_womanbeekeeper_hivemaintenanceSkill Building  program participants have been trained to: • Evaluate the health and economic impact of their apiary • Assess the influence of difference hive maintenance strategies • Judge the safety of beekeeping products and tools 

Implement Individual Apiaries Each producer has made an investment plan according to their economic situation. Maya Ixil is supporting each trained producer in establishing at least 10 hives each and will facilitate financing through their Internal Credit System.  Loans typically have 2-3 year terms. To guarantee the monitoring of the apiaries, a trained tecnico supports beekeepers to ensure good performance and high quality honey according to established specifications. Because processing equipment is expensive, equipment is purchased between 5 beekeepers, who take turns using it during the harvest. This lowers their investment, encourages teamwork, and strengthens their beekeeping knowledge.

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Beekeeping is a avenue to enrich producer knowledge, diversify income, amplify family health and nutrition, and contribute to community resiliency.