A Taste of Honey: Stingless Bee Breeding Commences in Kwamalasamutu
By Ayrton Vollet-Neto, ACT consultant
In Suriname, ACT has sought to identify alternative sustainable livelihoods to strengthen the income of indigenous and semi-indigenous families living in the Amazon forest. A recent path of interest to both the Trio and Maroon villages and ACT has been the introduction of honey produced by native stingless bees.
Stingless bee honey has an appreciated taste in Suriname, with a high aggregate market value. Thus, it has the potential to provide an alternative to unhealthy and environmentally degrading activities such as gold mining and logging while additionally providing stable revenue for families in the community. Further, stingless bee breeding encourages forest preservation, since bees produces honey from the nectar of flowering trees.
In the Trio indigenous village of Kwamalasamutu, the first attempts of the locals transfer colonies from hollow tree trunks to hive boxes failed, perhaps due to the great diversity of stingless bees in the region, many of which are unamenable to breeding. Thus, an important first step was an assessment of species diversity, the species with highest potential for breeding, and the current practices during colony transfer and maintenance.
Finding a bee nest in the middle of the jungle is incredibly difficult for non-locals, but some Trios are very skilled in their location. They listen acutely for wing fanning, can visually perceive the traffic of bees, and know the tree species that more frequently have nests.
Fortunately, the ACT team enjoyed the expertise of Keeng, an ACT-trained indigenous Amazon Conservation Ranger who has lived in Kwamalasamutu for about 30 years. With his knowledge of GPS and mapping, acquired during his Ranger experience, Keeng created a map with the location of more than 40 stingless bee nests.
After a long survey expedition in December 2016, Keeng brought the team to a tree with five different colonies nesting inside at considerable elevation, including at least two nests of a species that produces very high quality honey and belongs to a genus that is well managed in hives in Brazil and Mexico.
The next step required great precision: a window-like opening must be gently carved in the tree trunk from which the bees and other structures can be removed without harm; Keeng did so with relative ease.
Challenges remain with placement of this initial population of colonies—especially because the bees’ navigation systems dictate a return to the original nest entrance—and with their adaptation into hives. But once achieved, the team will be able to apply known techniques to multiply the number of hives. A first taste of honey has made all hungry for more: both the ACT team and the Kwamalasamutu villagers are enthusiastic about surmounting these challenges now that so much visible progress has been made.