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Bolivian bees put buzz in life

Mr Luis Coca was the first beekeeper in the Bolivian village of Bella Vista: "The honey keeps us healthy and young," he says (Photo: K.Iversen)


Bella Vista, BOLIVIA -- It can help digestion, heal wounds, reduce fever, prevent insomnia, promote brain power, strengthen the immune system and make cows give more milk. And these are just a few of the good things said about honey.

"Honey keeps us healthy and young here in Bella Vista," says Mr Luis Coca, the first farmer to start keeping bees in Bella Vista near the town of Samaipata in Central Bolivia. There must be something to what Mr Coca is saying: he is 53 and has 12 children, but doesn't look a day over 40.

Although he lost nine bee colonies to the cold last winter, he continues with 11 hives and is a keen promoter of the virtues of honey. "Our honey from Bella Vista is light brown and tastes of all the flowers growing here. It is very good," he says.

Beekeeping was introduced to the area around Samaipata seven years ago by a participatory conservation and development project, managed by FAO and funded by the Italian government. It has proven a big success -- there are now 90 honey-producing farmers in 18 communities, organized into an association, ASACAPI (Los apicultores de la Cuenca Alta del río Piraí).

"We wanted to introduce some income-generating activities that at the same time could show people how to use the forest sustainably and prevent logging in the area," says Julian Torrico Salguero, 36, the project technician. He is a member of ASACAPI and has seven beehives himself. "Apiculture doesn't require much work, but it provides a good income," he adds.

Honey producers from Bella Vista at the first Samaipata honey festival in 2000 (Photo: J.Escobedo)


One beehive yields between 30 and 40 kilos of honey a year, which used to be sold at the regional market for only US$2.50 a kilo. Today the members of ASACAPI earn almost double that for their honey thanks to El Sol, a honey shop opened with the help of the project. Customers learn about beekeeping and can buy equipment and local honey.

It seems that beekeeping is here to stay. "It is easy and fun, and we get honey to eat and to sell without having to cut down the trees to get at wild hives as we used to," says Mr Coca. He doesn't even mind the bee stings he occasionally gets: "They are good against my rheumatism," he claims with a smile.

On15-16 December Mr Coca and the other beekeepers from Bella Vista went to Samaipata to participate in the second annual honey festival hosted by ASACAPI. The honey producers from the area participated. While the community of Bermejo won the prize for the best presentation of their products, the beekeepers from Bella Vista took home the prize for the best tasting honey.

20 December 2001

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