Organic, Artisanal … and Sweet!
By: Yessica Pastor
Since ancient times, honey has been considered a special product due to its extraordinary flavor and its many medicinal properties. Although in Guatemala, the production of artisanal honey with native stingless bees dates from pre-Columbian times, currently there are very few producers and farmers that work with these species, preferring the Apis mellifera (coming from Europe, Africa and part of Asia) for their capacity to produce more honey compared to species native to this region.
Besides, Apis mellifera is preferred because of the vulnerability of native bees to environmental change, which creates greater worries and cares for the producers. Also, finding a market for this type of honey is extremely difficult because its price is much higher than that of conventional honey. Evidently, producing honey from native bees in Guatemala is, therefore, not convenient for farmers.
The demand for this honey is low because it is a little-known product and its high price prevents it from being commercialized on a large scale, limiting it, in many cases, to family and/or local consumption. Considering that in Guatemala honey is considered a luxury item, the honey produced by native bees (in general the most commercialized is that of the genus Melipona) is even more so.
Now then, why is it so difficult to compete with honey prices in the global market? One of the reasons is that, in the honey industry, there is a perverse and dishonest competition that allows honey to be adulterated with cheap additives. Considering that due to the global loss of bees, the production of honey falls drastically every year, that on the contrary the demand for this product is rising, this is an indication that there can not be a reasonable balance in this process.
Fortunately, day by day, natural products are becoming more relevant and more people are interested in knowing the origin of the food they are consuming. This creates an opportunity for meliponiculturalists (producers of Melipona honey), who currently face many challenges to maintaining their hives and their production. The threats facing bees in Guatemala and globally come from the loss of habitats due to deforestation and urbanization, death from insecticides, scarcity of food for monocultures, and increases in predators due to changing ecosystems.
That’s why it is so important to call for reflection and realize that as responsible consumers we can also make changes. The consumption of artisanal honey is more than obtaining a natural and healthy product; we can also support small producers and contribute, indirectly, to the conservation of a species so important to humanity. Bees not only allow us to taste the extraordinary flavor of honey, they also carry out the pollination process that is indispensable to agriculture and food production.
May 20th is World Bee Day, created to raise awareness of the importance of these animals as principal pollinators, as well as to bring attention to and underline the threats they are under. Bees and other pollinators are indispensable to the food supply, nevertheless, the constant loss of biodiversity and the degradation of their habitats are causing dramatic reductions in bee populations. Meliponiculture allows us to maintain indispensable native bee species. Therefore, the next time you eat honey, try to inform yourself about how it was produced. Dare to be a responsible consumer!