Promoting Sustainability Through Local Queen Production in Chiapas, Mexico
Queen Production in Mexico: Though rich in ecological diversity and cultural tradition, Chiapas is one of the most economically disadvantaged states in Mexico. The majority of small producers in Chiapas farm less than 3 hectares of land and earn a meager monthly income of 1500 pesos per family. Many of these campesinos rely on beekeeping as an additional source of income and would benefit substantially from further improvement of their beekeeping practices.
In order to maintain healthy and productive bee colonies, it is common practice for beekeepers to introduce new queen bees every couple of years. However, at approximately 100 pesos per queen, the cost of ‘re-queening’ is too expensive for many beekeepers. Moreover, beekeepers in isolated farming communities have limited access to new queens. In the 2-3 months it can take to receive a queen from a commercial breeder, the struggling bee colony may diminish or die.
Not only are queen bees expensive and difficult to obtain, but commercially produced queens can also be detrimental to the health and diversity of local bees. Currently, many commercial breeders import queen stock from the United States, believing these bees to be of higher quality. However, imported varieties lack the natural resilience of Mexican bees, and they often fare poorly in Mexican climates. In recent years, bee disease in the United States has escalated to extreme levels, resulting in the death of approximately 30% of colonies annually. As long as beekeepers continue to import queens from the United States, Mexican bees will be exposed to foreign pathogens, and the genetic diversity and natural resilience of local bee populations will decline.
In order to improve access to locally adapted queens, decrease the threat of disease transmission, and conserve local diversity, beekeepers in Mexico must learn to select and produce their own queens. Some beekeepers, including a group of youth, ages 13-20, from the cooperative Maya Vinic, have already begun to experiment with queen-rearing techniques in their own apiaries. These youths strive to further develop and share their skills, but they lack the resources to establish a long-term queen-rearing system. It is important to support these young leaders as well as other beekeepers as they cultivate sustainable practices. Therefore, in collaboration with Ecosur and Maya Vinic, and with the support of the Fulbright Social Engagement grant, I propose to (1) implement a participatory workshop to teach technical queen production skills to a cohort of young beekeepers and (2) support that cohort with tools and resources as they share queen production programs with their home communities.
Project Plan: The queen-rearing workshop will be held at Maya Vinic, a prominent coffee and beekeeping cooperative in the highlands of Chiapas. Maya Vinic includes over 600 members from 7 different communities, the majority of which are indigenous. In the past, Maya Vinic has partnered with Ecosur to host various training workshops in its classrooms and apiary in Acteal. Maya Vinic is ideally suited to host the queen-rearing workshop because of its central location, accessible teaching facilities, long-standing relationship with Ecosur, and the growing interest of the Maya Vinic youths in sustainable queen production.
The workshop will be designed for beekeepers that have previously demonstrated initiative in queen-rearing projects. This will allow for in-depth training, so that beekeepers can fine-tune their own techniques and focus on the implementation of queen production projects in their communities. A total of 12 beekeepers will be selected to participate, primarily from Maya Vinic and potentially including neighboring organizations. The diversity of the group will promote the exchange of experiences, which will foster peer-to-peer education and instigate the growth of regional queen-rearing networks. The small group size will facilitate a participatory group dynamic and allow me, as facilitator, to provide individual instruction throughout the course and during follow-up field visits.
I will work with beekeepers to build a curriculum best suited to their needs, coordinate the workshop, and conduct follow-up field visits. The beekeepers will be involved in all stages of the process, from planning the workshop to constructing a queen-rearing manual to be shared with broader beekeeping communities.