It took me a while to even get the word right, and even harder was when I had to say it in Portuguese: Meliponicultura. The management of stingless bees or meliponiculture is a literally sweet and less risky business than the more known beekeeping of African bees (with stings). In addition to easing their management by not having a sting, these native bees known as meliponini produce an excellent and tasty honey. Each beehive can produce from 1 to 6 liters of honey a year, in addition to other products such as pollen, wax, and a resinous-like material collected by the bees called propolis. Traditionally these products have been used as cure-it-all medicines. They are good for common coughs and colds, as calmative and sedative against insomnia, for wounds and burnings, skin cleaning and even anemia treatment.
As a source of income, these products are helping small farmers in the south of Brazil generate additional resources on top of other agricultural crops. Moreover, the little bees have a key role in conservation of biodiversity. As opposed to their African counterparts, meliponinis are native to Brazil, and as such they help pollinate native forest species that depend on this process for their survival.
PADF, with funding from Boeing, and through a local cooperative in Guaraqueçaba, in the state of Paraná, has supported the local association of native bees ACRIAPA. The cooperative is consolidating itself as a cost- effective alternative for small producers that live in or around almost extinct remnants of Atlantic Forest. Through meliponiculture, they are earning additional income while helping protect nature and conserve biodiversity. As I savor the tasty honey that I just brought back from my last trip to Brazil, I can’t really think of a sweeter deal.