19 | OCT | 2019
Mexico’s beekeeping industry is at a breaking point
A bee feeding on honey from a honeycomb – Photo: Sascha Steinbach/EFE

Mexico’s beekeeping industry is at a breaking point

Mexico City
Yazmín Rodríguez
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Once the top national and international producers of honey, beekeepers from Yucatán are facing the most difficult time of their history

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The times from 2008 to 2012 that put Yucatán at the head of the national production and exportation of honey seem to be farther each time for state producers assert they are facing one of the most complicated moments of the last 50 years.

According to beekeepers, they are currently facing factors such as the lack of flowering caused by increasing deforestation; the presence of plagues such as varroa (a mite that affects bees); the fall of honey prices, and international competition from other kinds of sweeteners, such as beet sugar, created in China.

From producing a record of 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes of honey a year on its best times, this year, Yucatán could produce, at best, from 4,000 to 7,000 tonnes.


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In addition, beekeepers from the region feel discouraged because they have no funding or support, and have barely been able to keep just a few hives.

“There is concern, almost desperation, we have not only lost positions in international markets, but also on a national level. Yucatán fell from the first to the third and fourth place in honey production to states like Jalisco and Veracruz,” asserted Nelly Ortiz Vázquez, present of the Yucatán’s Agricultural Engineers College and counselor of the state’s Beekeepers Association.

“We don’t know what could happen in 2020; there is no flowering, no nectar, no supports, nor how to care for or keep our bees,” she warned.

According to official numbers, in Yucatán, approximately 11,0000 honey producers depend on the beekeeping sector.


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Natural factors
Nelly Ortiz Vázquez promotes a project of tours to know more about bees and the plants that generate flowering called “Bee Planet” (Abeja Planet), in the San Ignacio Tesip highway in Yucatán.

“We want to create awareness about beekeeping and what it represents, and also about the serious problem caused by deforestation in Yucatán, and the lack of plants that supply nectar to our bees,” she asserts while she shows the vegetation they are growing by themselves. They are plants like tajonal, dzizilché, jabín, and xacá, among others.

Ortiz Vázquez points out that in the last 10 years, the whole state has faced severe deforestation of all kinds of plants.

“In Merida, for example, although they talk about planting trees and reforestation, urban growth and concrete are bigger each time because of housing units. In rural areas, fires, indiscriminate logging, the lack of care, etc., have caused the death of even traditional plants,” she explains.


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China, the great imitator
One of the main markets for honey from Yucatán is Europe, where from 2005 until 2010, big quantities of the product were sold, but with time, the orders for the product started to diminish and they detected it was because, in China, they started to commercialize orange blossom honey, a derivative of beet, which is cheaper.

“The Chinese imitate everything, even the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and now with this beet honey, which they are commercializing massively and [which is] very cheap, they are taking over foreign markets, the European, for example; that is affecting not only Yucatán but Mexico in the exportation of [honey],” alerted the beekeeper.

On top of that, there has been a fall in the price of honey per kilogram: It has gone from MXN $50 to MXN $12. President of the Mayan Beekeeper Society Miguel Lara Sosa, said that they had never lived moments as critical as now.

The business leader explained that the main reason for the fall of prices is a severe reduction of the exportations of Yucatán honey to the European Union, linked to the proliferation of Chinese beet honey.


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Looking for solutions
Yucatán’s government and the Rural Development Ministry (Seder) announced the installation of 28 farms of amplified queen bees in the entity. They are specimens from Italy that will be farmed in apiaries, away from communities for the protection of people. It is a kind of test to improve the genetics of bees in Yucatán and to look for greater honey production.

Head of Seder Jorge André Díaz Loaeza commented that in this procedure, the local government will invest approximately MXN $20 million.

Meanwhile, beekeepers are already working in the production and breed of bees from different species, such as Melipona bichir and Xunancab.

This production of new queen bees has the objective of improving the hives, thinking of making them more resistant to climate changes and plagues. It is a matter of culture and persistence; beekeepers are looking for alternatives to keep apiaries and the production alive, said Nelly Ortiz.


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