The Amazon's Meliponiculture

While modern civilizations get their honey mostly from European honeybees, indigenous tribes in Peru’s slice of the Amazon get theirs from stingless bees, which seems like a much cleverer idea.


Honeycomb tray with dozens of stingless bees on it
Credit: Cesar Delgado

But it’s more than just smart, it’s absolutely essential for people like the Kukama-Kukamiria, who now use it as food, a source of income, and medicine for everything from skin cuts to bronchitis.


Now, scientists working with these tribes are beginning to understand the benefits this traditional bee husbandry, or meliponiculture, can have for people like the Kukama-Kukamiria, and the world at large.


Scientists such as Cesar Delgado Vasquez at the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon, are working with indigenous groups as both teachers and learners; teaching them how to keep and raise stingless bees to produce their own honey without damaging wild nests, and learning about the immense value of this liquid medicine.


For example, significantly boosting the tribes' income. Delgado conducted a field study with three separate communities and four separate species of stingless bee to evaluate the physicochemical and microbiological characteristics of the honey they produced. They found that the humidity and sugar content didn’t change much between honeys, but the analysis of the high-quality chemical contents identified was able to lead to an increase in the unit price from $3.00 to a whopping $27.00.


Tribes use meliponine (stingless) bee honey to treat colds, cuts and abrasions, skin conditions, upper-respiratory tract infections, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, pneumonia, burns, arthritis, and even cancer - and all these effects can be generated or amplified depending on the bees’ diet. For example, the honey from bees that feed on the pollen of the araza plant is being evaluated for anti-cancer properties.


“For conservation, it is necessary to prevent people from cutting down the trees to obtain honey, as well as to increase production yields. It is also necessary to provide information on honey quality parameters and improve the incomes of small producers or family farming, making it a profitable activity,” Delgado wrote in his study.


Delgado was the chief author of another paper that found when indigenous communities practiced horticulture or agriculture - and kept bees next to their fields - providing they were cropping native species such as camu fruits, their yields would increase a staggering 44 percent.

 

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