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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Bees Besieged"

A post written by VCWA Board Member, Bill Mares, from back in 2014 for a VPR Commentary.

For half of my 40 years in beekeeping I have taught the craft to other beekeepers, a total of perhaps 600 people.   Most were newbies, who were concerned about the health of the bees,  who wanted a little honey and wanted to pollinate  their  fruits and vegetables.   Making any  money was the last thing in their list.  I love to teach them about these marvelous creatures which are neither domestic nor wild.

            What a contrast it was recently to work with 50 similarly novice Guatemalan beekeepers who wanted nothing except to earn some money to supplement their inadequate wages from coffee.   How different, also, it was to be in a land, beset by the scourges of war, climate,  the mercurial  market for coffee, and a recurrent coffee disease called La Roya.      
         Unlike in Vermont,   I was  not in charge of the class but merely a gofer for a  Mexican beekeeper-teacher  who did the training.   Over six months   Alfredo Contreras who was both articulate and  had a warm hive-side manner  taught the farmers everything from building  their own equipment to raising own queen bees, to selling both honey and a variety of the other hive products. like propolis, royal jelly and pollen.   

       Our work took place  in an strikingly beautiful  area called the Ixil Triangle.   Behind its handsome scenery  however,  lay a horrific past.  This area  was the epicenter of a civil war and genocide that ultimately killed an estimated 300,000 people.  I could not erase from my head that everyone in this class had probably lost at least one family member in that orgy of murder and mayhem.                                                                                                                      
        It was a joy to watch the students'  intensity.    They ranged from 11 to 60,  and it was fun to see the youngest hold their own with the eldest. There was  no skylarking.   They had questions, galore and Contreras, with the patience of Job, answered every question as it came.     In the field they were fearless in working with the peppery Africanized, or killer, bees. 
Since many spoken only Mayan,  Contreras'  Spanish had to be translated.   

           A 50 year old farmer who had been producing both coffee and honey for five years told the group that last year La Roya, wiped out his entire coffee  crop.  But,   with a smile that warmed the room, he said he was  able to sell enough honey to make up for that entire loss. 

In Vermont, my beekeeping students wanted to help the bees to survive;  in Guatemala, the farmers  wanted the bees to help themselves survive.


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