Rural Women Find Sweet Success with Honey
SAN GABRIEL DE TURRUBARES– With a few thousand dollars in donatedfunds, know-how from Universidad Nacional(UNA) and a million bees, housewivesin this rural area of Costa Rica are learningto become successful businesswomen.Their business is honey and they areusing it to supplement their strugglingfinances in this agriculture-dependentarea. One year after UNA’s Center forTropical Beekeeping Research (CINAT)initiated the project, those involved arecalling it a sweet success.“We have left the laboratories and ourresearch is being put to use in communitiesthat really need it,” said Luis Sánchez,of the research center. “These are the seedsof the transfer of technology.”THE project is part of a program inwhich 134 people – including 76 womenfrom 11 organizations in Puriscal, southwestof the Central Valley, and Turrubares,near the central Pacific coast – have beentrained in beekeeping.The goal is to bring a sustainableindustry to women in communities thatsuffer from poverty and low employment,according to Rafael Calderón, of CINAT.“The men can plant all the cropsthey want, but then to harvestthe crops costs a lot of moneyand (the money) they get forthe crops is so little, it’s notworth it. So they just letthem go to waste,” saidYolanda Moreira, presidentof the San GabrielBeekeeping Association.“So it is great we canhelp our husbands a littlebit,” she added.WHEN CINAT completesits involvement in thetwo-year project – meant tobe self-sustaining – projections saythe organizations will make about $5,000profit each a year. This does not includedmoney that will be reinvested in the businessesto continue growth, said CINATengineer José Ramírez.The Costa Rican market has plenty ofroom for growth, he added.Costa Rica imports 400 metric tons ofhoney – about 50% of the honey it consumes(TT, Oct. 31, 2003). The 11 organizationsof the CINAT project are thereforetargeting only the local market.They have already starting selling theirproduct at local pulperías and on the UNAcampus in Heredia. A one-kilogram bottlesells for ¢1,000 ($2.25).The organizations are considering forminga cooperative to sell their product undera common brand. Honey-bottling companiesmay also buy their product and bottle itunder a different name, Ramírez said.This positive outlook has providedhope where there was skepticism.“LOTS of people in the town said thisproject wouldn’t work – there are alwaysnegative people – so we are very proud ithas worked so well,” Moreira said. “Ourchildren, our spouses have seen what wehave done.”Association member Silvia Pérez saidher children, ages 4 and 8, sometimes askher not to go to work.“But I tell them I want to go. What amI going to do, stay in the house and not doanything?” she said, adding that thedemands and schedule of beekeeping haveallowed her to balance her role as a motherwith those of an apiculturist.During the feeding season, from Juneto October, the women work one morninga week. During this time, they feed thebees sugar. This is not used in the bees’honey-making process – in which onlynectar and bee enzymes are used – butrather to provide sustenance for the bees.The harvest season, from January toApril, requires an entire day of work aweek, or more.While the time demand is not huge, it isimportant for the program’s participants tothink of beekeeping as not just their job, butas their business, Calderón said.APPROXIMATELY80% of honey productionin Costa Rica is in thehands of small apiculturists,Ramírez said.With an estimated800 apiculture facilitiesand 28,000 commercialbeehives, the countryhas nearly recoveredfrom the blow it wasdealt in the mid-1980swith the arrival of theso-called “Africanized” honeybees fromSouth America.Africanized bees – also known askiller bees – become more upset with lessreason and attack in greater numbers thanthe relatively tame European bees.Beekeepers could not control Africanbees the way they had the European bees.In just a few years, Costa Rica’s apiculturesector, which once included 960independent honey producers managing32,000 hives, was decimated (TT, Oct.31, 2003).A new generation of beekeepers hasemerged, Ramírez said, using new techniquesto control the Africanized bees. Thisvariety also has its benefits, as the bees areharder workers, produce more honey and areless vulnerable to disease, Ramírez added.Their aggressive behavior is controlledusing smoke, a technique CINAT projectparticipants learned in workshops. TheCINAT training has also included hivemanagement, apiculture administration,control of disease and parasites andimprovement of queen bees.THE San Gabriel women haveapproximately 75 hives. CINAT officialshope each community will have at least100 hives by the conclusion of the projectnext year. Each hive contains between60,000-80,000 bees.The project – which was funded by a¢75 million ($168,000) donation fromHolland – also includes business and marketingtraining, with a fundamental goal ofproduct diversification.“When people think of apiculture, theythink only of honey, but they need todiversify; there are many other products,”Ramírez said.These products include honey witheucalyptus, royal jelly, pollen and skincream.Beekeeping also contributes to theregeneration of forests, through the pollinationof flowers and plants, particularlyimportant in Turrubares with the nearbyCarara National Park, Ramírez said.
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