Beekeeping: an activity governed by nature
In celebration of “Beekeeper Day” on May 22, IIP is showing the ins and outs of honey production, work that depends on the whims of nature
In addition to its unmistakable flavor and aroma, honey is a versatile food with various benefits for the body. The relationship between this delicacy and man goes back to ancient times, Today, beekeeping is an important activity in the agricultural sector and an income alternative for many communities.
Beekeeper Day is celebrated on May 22, in honor of Saint Rita de Cássia, the patron saint of those working not only with honey production, but also with other bee byproducts, such as propolis, royal jelly and pollen. This activity not only requires profound knowledge of beekeeping and bee habitats, but also of specific care.
Beekeeping causes positive impacts in the social and economic areas and has contributed more and more to the growth of family farming generating sources of income for families living in the fields. That is the case of the beekeepers and employees at the Beekeeper Coop of the Ribeirão Preto Region (COOPERAPIS), who work in International Paper’s eucalyptus forests during the entire year, in a partnership that began in 2011 through the Supportive Beekeeping project, an International Paper Institute initiative.
In addition to creating income, the project has helped to establish the beekeepers in one place, without the need to travel great distances every day. “We are around 20 coop members plus employees and this work is a huge source of income that supports our families,” says the president of COOPERAPIS, José Antônio Monteiro, who has worked in the area for over 30 years.
He talks about how it works and the routine of coop members, as stipulated by weather conditions and nature. “We take it day by day. When we’re not in one area, we’re in another. If the weather is unfavorable, we work in the field or we’re in the shed, working with the wax. And the whole year is like this.” Production volume is also uncertain and depends on more than the work by beekeepers.
“Production depends on the year; in one we produce more, in another less. Honey is part of agriculture and agriculture depends greatly on the climate, on rain, on droughts, all of this influences our production. When we have a rainy year, like this one, it’s more complicated since the flower doesn’t hold much nectar, which the water washes away,” Monteiro explains.
Yet lack of rain can also be a problem. “When it doesn’t rain, the eucalyptus flower doesn’t open, which prevents pollination by bees and makes honey production impossible, causing the insects to migrate,” adds José. Migration of the bees is one of the most important activities in production and can guarantee their survival. “The flowering season comes and we have to migrate to an area with wildflowers, so the bees can find food. Production will only occur again starting in September,” he adds.
Monteiro points out that this work requires certain standards. “You have to have impeccable hygiene. We always stand on a sawhorse, off the ground. Extraction is done in an appropriate room.” He also explains that experience working is very valuable in this profession, but it is fundamental that beekeepers never stop studying the topic and taking part in courses whenever possible.
The income José Monteiro and the other 24 beekeepers make is the result of a very important partnership, signed in 2011, between International Paper Institute and two coops. The project, entitled Supportive Beekeeping, fosters honey production in International Paper eucalyptus forests in the cities of Luiz Antônio, Mogi Guaçu, Altinópolis and Brotas, all in the state of São Paulo.
Without the program, the beekeepers at COOPERAPIS would have a very different reality. “This partnership added value to our production, which even has its own brand today. Without the IP partnership, we wouldn’t have the eucalyptus forest to place the bees in and we would have to migrate to distant regions. Today, our work is positive and we have great support from IP. They always give us a lot of attention with everything we need; there is always a lot of conversation, which is fundamental to our work.”
In addition to creating income for the region’s beekeepers, the project also offers a chance for coops to sell honey to distributors as well as at the company itself. Supportive Beekeeping has already shown significant results since it was implemented, with over 40 tons of honey produced.
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