CESMACH is a coffee cooperative of 660 member-producers in Chiapas, Mexico. Most are organic coffee farmers living in the El Triunfo Biosphere buffer zone. This area protects two important ecosystems: the cloud forest and the tropical rain forest, home to a great number of endangered plant and animal species.
Beekeeping for Food Security
To strengthen resilience in the face of fluctuating coffee prices and climate change, the cooperative wanted to create a long-term comprehensive plan for food security. To achieve this, we began working with CESMACH in 2013 with a Participatory Community Diagnostic that identified both root causes of seasonal hunger and available resources to overcome it, then started strategic planning with co-op staff, members, and their families. Together we identified a key opportunity to build better livelihoods and nutrition: commercial beekeeping. Cesmach had begun beekeeping activities several years earlier, with a grant from Heifer International, and when we started working with the co-op, 50 members had learned the basics of beekeeping. Cesmach wanted to add more beekeepers to increase honey production for export, and with funding from Counter Culture, Equator Coffee, and Vermont Artisan Coffee, we began to ramp up Cesmach’s beekeeping capacity by adding 20 new beekeepers and training from our partner Ecosur — with the eventual goal of turning it into a viable, long-term business. When the 50 experienced beekeepers heard about our program, they asked to join, and now we’re working with 82 women, men, and young people to help them build their new honey production businesses, for export and local sales.
Establishing the Community Apiary
To make training accessible and provide a support system for newcomers, we established a community apiary for teaching and skill building. This is where new beekeepers build their knowledge and confidence – because working with aggressive Africanized bees can be a daunting challenge, to put it mildly! The co-op’s experienced beekeepers also use the apiary for refresher courses and advanced training, to improve honey quality and hive productivity.
Lucas Abelardo López (left) oversees the program and leads skill building for all beekeepers, including:
- General management
- Bee feeding
- Pre and post-harvest care
- Hive division
- Hive products
- Sanitation management
- Queen bee rearing
- Food security
- Beekeeper technical skills exchanges
Financing for new businesses
After a year of training, each new beekeeper received 3 hives and purchased supplies through a short term, low interest loan managed by Cesmach.
Scaling up production for livelihood impact
The beekeeping program is now in its third year, and we’re focusing on strengthening production and small business skills for individual beekeepers and the co-op. We’ve created a guide that Lucas is using to monitor progress. In June 2018, we’ll conduct a final program evaluation.
Dalila and Juan Oriozco
Cesmach members Juan and Dalila have been working on their new beekeeping business for three years, and have made great strides in improving the quality and volume of their honey production during that time. In 2017, they collected about 1,257 pounds of honey from 18 hives, and this year, they expect to harvest about a ton of honey from their apiary, which totals 30 hives.Lucas taught Juan and Dalila how to collect pollen by making pollen traps, and in 2017 they sold about 13 pounds of this premium hive product, which they say is used for asthma and to fight infections. For this couple, beekeeping is a family affair: Dalila uses the smoker, while Juan manages the hives. They’ve been reinvesting all earnings into their hives, and also keep native stingless melipona bees, which produce a small quantity of light, citric-sweet honey. Dalila packages honey to sell in the local retail market, as well as dried pollen, and plans to start learning how to harvest and sell propolis and other hive products.