Honey Production as a Sustainable Alternative to Livestock Farming in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

Unpredictable rainfall patterns, drought and failing crops in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve has resulted in more communities are farming livestock. At the same time, the disappearance of water bodies in the reserve has resulted in unusually high densities of felids close to farmland and corresponding jaguar attacks on livestock. To protect biodiversity and avoid an escalation in conflict, farmers urgently need an alternative source of income that does not require deforestation and has no conflict with jaguar. The solution is organic honey production where native bees are attracted to hives located in the forest. Bees feed on the flowers produced by native trees and so no manipulation of the forest is required, and honey production can be more profitable for local communities than livestock farming. We are now working to establish honey production cooperatives with communities in the reserve to improve the lives of both people and fauna.

Current funding requirements: £10,000 to establish the first community managed organic honey production in the remote south of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve as an alternative to livestock farming.

“Organic honey production as an alternative to livestock farming is a win-win scenario – it is more profitable, there is no conflict with jaguar, the forest remains intact and it helps to promote native bees!”

The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (CBR) in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and the connected forests of the Selva Maya in Guatemala and Belize act as a stronghold for a wide variety of fauna, particularly felids and ungulates. There are over 400 jaguars in CBR, and this large population has remained stable for many years with virtually no conflict with human populations in the buffer zone of the reserve. However, in the last 5 years, the situation has changed. The primary source of income for indigenous Mayan communities in these reserves is crop based agriculture, but with unpredictable rainfall patterns, drought and failing crops, more communities are farming livestock. Livestock farming requires deforestation to make way for pasture, high quantities of fertilizers and pesticides to enable pasture to grow and is associated with jaguar persecution as a result of attacks on livestock. Consequently, an increase in livestock farming in CBR is a very concerning situation.

Permanent water bodies are rare in CBR due to the geologic characteristics that cause rapid filtration of the rain, and the only water sources are rain-filled lakes, locally known as aguadas. Since 2014 CBR has experienced extreme drought resulting in the disappearance of aguadas. Changes to water availability have altered ranging patterns of fauna and the Operation Wallacea long-term monitoring data has identified a mass migration of felids and ungulates into the southern extremities of the reserve. Thus, jaguar and their prey are now highly concentrated in an area experiencing high rates of deforestation and as ungulates are subject to illegal hunting, rates of jaguar attacks on livestock are increasing exponentially due to the combination of higher than normal densities of jaguar in the Southeast buffer zone of the reserve, loss of their natural prey and an increase in abundance of livestock.

Calakmul is the municipality with the highest index of social deprivation in the state of Campeche. The main economic activities in the municipality are agriculture (sustained by crops of maize, squash, yucca and jalapeno peppers), livestock farming (cows, pigs, sheep and goats), honey production and tourism. In some areas of CBR, organic honey production has been successfully established as an alternative to livestock farming. As no pesticides are used and local bee species feed on tree species that naturally occur in the forest, honey production has minimal environmental impact and promotes forest conservation and biodiversity. This project therefore aims to use the expertise from other areas in CBR to establish organic honey production in the southeast buffer zone of the reserve, specifically in the community of Dos Naciones and the surrounding area, where biodiversity monitoring data indicates the highest diversity and density of fauna in the reserve.

Economic assessment of honey production in relation to livestock farming has indicated that in areas like Dos Naciones where available land for farming is restricted due to vicinity to the reserve, honey production can be substantially more profitable than livestock farming. Honey production is cheaper in both start-up and running costs than both cattle and sheep farming, and for an apiary of 20 beehives the business can be profitable in the first year, with certified organic honey significantly more profitable that regular honey. The average annual production of organic honey from 20 beehives is estimated at 1200 kg, which yields a revenue of MXN $60,000 (equivalent to GBP £2,500) in the first year (much higher than the annual revenues obtained from cattle – MXN $16, 800 – and sheep farming -MXN $5,600). After one year of honey production, further investment is needed to grow the enterprise, but with more beehives, the production of honey increases while the costs are reduced, representing an economy of scale

We are currently raising funds of £10,000 to set up first honey production cooperative in Dos Naciones in the southern extremities of CBR, where data has shown an unusually high density and diversity of fauna that is a risk of disappearing if the community are not offered an alternative to livestock farming. A honey production cooperative consisting of at least 10 families will first need to be established and registered with the Mexican government as a legal entity. Registration of the cooperative is vital for securing government funding in the future if the cooperative wish to grow the business, but due to the associated cost of registration (£1,000) local communities are unable to register their cooperative as a legal entity without outside help. The cooperative will be required to sign a contract committing them to desist deforestation and illegal hunting. Biodiversity in each community will be monitored by Operation Wallacea as part of our long-term research and conservation project. For honey production to be profitable in the first year of production, the cooperative will require 20 hives and associated apparatus (wooden box and food to attract a queen from an existing colony in the forest, the wooden hive with 50 trays, 7 wooden trays with certified wax, smoker, protective clothing, stainless steel honey extractor, 2 phenol coated metal drums for honey collection) with a total cost of £3,500. As some hives can be lost due to infestation or invasion of insects, the recommendation for a profitable pilot study is to invest £7,000 in 40 hives as a means of ensuring profit, even if some hives are lost. The cooperative will also require technical training in honey production provided by Pronatura Pensinula de Yucatan. The training course consists of 8 topics involving theoretical and practical sessions a cost of £2,000. Honey will be sold to existing buyers from the CBR project with their unique brand of “Calakmiel”.