Seeking new markets for honey; diversifying income & bolstering food security

  • Aldea Santa Avelina, Guatemala
  • Partner since 2014
  • 205 families

Maya Ixil is a cooperative of 205 small-scale indigenous coffee farmers in the Ixil Triangle, a grouping of communities in the northwestern highlands of Guatemala. The organization was established in 1998 by 28 farmers seeking better access to markets, and applying agro-ecological practices on their farms.

The Opportunity

When our partnership began in 2014, Maya Ixil had suffered devastating crop losses from La Roya, a fungus that kills coffee shrubs. The co-op was looking for a way to quickly diversify and bolster income in the communities they serve. 

Though the farmers of Maya Ixil produce highly sought after organic coffee, their farms are quite small. This only provides families with $900 per year in net income on average, or $0.44 per person per day – far below the Global Poverty Line of $1.90. June through October are the most difficult months, when coffee income runs out and families are unable to cover their basic food costs. 

To address these chronic shortcomings, some Maya Ixil members attempted to diversify income through beekeeping, but only one received technical support or training in basic beekeeping. As a result, their hives received little attention or maintenance, and their bee colonies were lost. 

The Diagnosis

Beekeeping was identified as a strategy that had not been sufficiently explored previously due to a lack of resources. Because beekeeping generates income for coffee-farming families, fits well into the landscape of the farm, promotes environmental resiliency, contributes to food security goals, while requiring a modest investment of time – coffee farmers usually work weekends as beekeepers – it can serve as a safety net for families affected by coffee rust, low coffee prices, and high food costs. 

Key Strategies

  • Farmers and co-op beekeeping promoter are trained in best practices and hive management. 
  • Each beekeeper develops a business plan according to their economic situation.
  • Become organic-certified for honey, which brings a higher price. 
  • Support for branding and market development.

During the first phase of the work, which ran from 2014 – 2016, we helped Maya Ixil establish two community teaching apiaries and conducted training for 50 coffee farmers. The first honey harvest in 2015 increased beekeepers’ income by 23%. Funding for this project was provided by Root Capital, a leader in the global social lending arena.

For the second phase of the work, which began in 2016, we brought in Ecosur, an ecological research college based in Chiapas, Mexico, to help Maya Ixil grow and professionalize their beekeeping program. Maya Ixil is now a licensed exporter of honey, and has access to international markets. They’ve increased honey production by 109% since 2016. The cooperative purchases most members’ honey, and beekeepers say honey is now their second most important source of income, after coffee.

Community Highlight:  Domingo de la Cruz Toma

Domingo is Maya Ixil’s Apicultural Technician and beekeeping specialist. He monitors each apiary, and supports beekeepers through group training and one-on-one follow up. Domingo ensures that hives are productive and healthy, and delivering high quality honey.

Domingo has worked for Maya Ixil since 2015 and understands the community well. Through his stalwart support and enthusiasm for this venture, he’s gained the trust of the communities he serves, and now has professional experience in apiculture, thanks to his role in our beekeeping program.