News from Bolivia

Many of you are aware that I winter 3 months in Bolivia, South America where my wife Nieves hails from. While here I do some bee classes and apiary visits. We have class beginning this Saturday in fact (it is summer her). I just finished an intense week of coarse and field work. Kerry Clark president the of the British Colombia beekeepers was here on a Canada outreach project. Kerry has completed other teaching assignments in Ethiopia, Tanzania (both with Africanized bees) and another in the Phillipines. The latter two included stingless bees.

A recently completed survey of Bolivia bees has found all regions of Bolivia have Africanized bees. Along the southern border beekeepers import, illegibly, European queens from the south of Argentina (and lots of contraband honey, more on this below.) When one of the colonies headed by these queens is opened the difference in bee stock is immediately evident. European queen headed colonies are ripe with EFB, have terrible (irregular) brood patterns, virtually no honey or stored pollen and a reduced adult population. Alongside them colonies of Africanized bees are likely prospering. No EFB, frames completely full of brood of the same age – side bar to side bar, top bar to bottom. At least 7500 of the 9000 cells of a standard frame completely filled.  Honey is found on the outer frames, unless recently harvested, and bee bread fills the cells of the brood frame not occupied with a developing brood. Impressive.

And of course the bees are defensive – unless they are nucs with new queens. Our workshops last week were about rearing replacement queens of selected stock. Standard method is to divide a box of an expanding colony if it does not rush out to attack when opened. The frame with the queen and one other is put in a nuc box and moved aside. Two nucs are set on the stand of the colony to be divided and half the brood is put in one and rest in the second. Each are given equal parts of the bee bread and honey in so far as possible. If any developing queen cells are discovered they are put into one or both of these queenless nucs.

The nucs beekeepers make in January are to requeen “hot” colonies and the rest left to build. This part of the world has two honey flows. The spring one of September (lots of Eucalyptus, fruit trees, locust (“living” fences to confine animals) . As we now near  end of rainy season there will be a wild flower flow. Bees can store surplus if we get 2-3 nice days then rain overnight. We weekly harvest the outer frames if bees don’t abscond, which they will now increasingly do.

So now the NEWS FLASH: Here in Bolivia the country  is the largest honey company. They have 4 state-of-the-art honey extracting/bottling facilities. Last year they “bought” capped honey frames (or beekeeper extracted honey) for 35Bs ($5 per pound). Currently going price is about 18B ($2.50) for contraband honey from Argentina. The current price offer to beekeepers is 21 Bs ($3 per pound). So whats the beef?  Well none of the beekeepers were paid last year the 35Bs for their honey and now they are not buying honey. Only one of 4 plants are functioning (at nowhere near capacity) buying contraband honey from Argentina (on good authority – not merely a rumor). The wholly owned state company “sells” honey to a student breakfast/lunch program (package about ½ teaspoon in individual sachets, not straws but flat plastic sacks)  and to the Subsidio program (mothers with infants (up to 9 months supposedly but nobody is strict) buy in-country foods (quinoa, milk, pasta, dried fruit, cooking oil, ugly flour cookies, sugar,  plus other food  stuffs).

You should know that Bolivia has the HIGHEST number of street protests, as measured  by some UN agency) of all the countries of the world. That now includes the beekeepers. They are taking nucs, smokers, their coveralls and march In front of the ministry demanding to be paid for last years honey, they want the use of contraband honey halted and finally they want EBA (the state-run honey company to buy their honey at a fair price (21Bs is not fair). So far not much response. Rumor has it the state wants to privatize their honey business. They never should have gotten into hone in the first place. Could get nasty like too many of the protests here seem to go.  I plan to keep my head down.