|Image courtesy of Gus Harper, artist|
Dating back to the time of the Great Pyramids, humans have practiced beekeeping, and, as Gene Kritsky writes, "in the millennia since, we have continued to study and improve upon beehive designs, making beekeeping the modern science it is today." He's right. Urban beekeeping is on the rise in the United States. Bee doctor Noah Wilson-Rich, PhD is helping city dwellers plant rooftop and other gardens to provide habitat for foraging honeybees. And yesterday CNN's Next List introduced us to Andrew Coté of Bees Without Borders, dedicated to poverty alleviation through beekeeping.
In Nicaragua, we're alleviating poverty and protecting biodiversity by reviving the ancient tradition of meliponiculture, the management of Melipona and Trigona bees, as practiced by the Mayans. Wild bees, which nest in hollow trees and ground cavities, are brought home by beekeepers who maintain healthy bee colonies and harvest honey and other hive products.
Our intern, Sarah Rudeen, is headed to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico to join Nicaraguan biologists at a conference and workshop organized by the Mexican university Eco-Sur to learn about native beekeeping and commercializing bee and honey products for the benefit of communities. Not only does the honey provide a valuable source of calories in a an area where food security is not always completely stable, it provides a means of income for the beekeeper and his or her family. In addition, bees provide valuable ecosystem services.
Native bees maintain year-round pollination services in dry tropical forests, like those found in Nicaragua. While the nesting and breeding seasons of large bees match the blooming seasons in dry forests, small bees visit and pollinate flowers throughout the year. Bees pollinate valuable cash crops in rural Nicaragua, and provide an estimated 50% of pollination in dry forests. We might say the importance of bees to the biodiversity of Central America is immeasurable, but we're actually working on ways to quantify the value of the ecosystem services bees (and other pollinators, like bats) provide.
When our newly trained team of meliponiculturists return to Nicaragua, armed with information from Mexican beekeepers and entomologists, they will revive a rich cultural history and help individuals and local cooperatives save local ecosystems and launch new business ventures to economically empower rural communities.
We are grateful to the Turner Foundation for their support of our beekeeping program.
If you are interested, you can also make a contribution to our efforts to restore the ancient practice of meliponiculture for poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation.