“Bees are extremely intelligent insects”
In the central plains of Venezuela, Ligia Elena Moreno Veliz gets up at 5:30 am to meet her bees. She likes to go when it is dark out when the bees are less active; so she either goes first thing in the morning or in the evening after nightfall.
After a 40-minute walk to the beekeeping centre, she and her colleagues dress from head to toe in their protective garb, prepare the smokers, which are used to calm the bees, and enter the apiary. After that, they clean the hives, monitor the health of the bees, quarantine any sick ones and do the procedures to extract the honey.
From once being afraid of these stinging, flying insects, Ligia Elena now treasures these creatures that have given her a livelihood for the last 17 years.
At 39 years old, Ligia Elena has lived almost all of her life in the village of La Fé. She is now married with two daughters. Over the years, she has become a figure and leader in the community because of her beekeeping talent. She hopes to pass these skills down to her own daughters, teaching them from an early age to respect and not fear bees.
Ligia Elena remembers when she made that mental switch herself. It started with an FAO programme that came to her village.
“When FAO came to my community, I was just finishing high school,” she describes.
She was paying her way through school working as a nanny and hairdresser when FAO began the Special Programme for Food Security (PESA) in her community. FAO’s PESA programme was created to reduce hunger and malnutrition in the country by increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers. This was accomplished by introducing relatively simple, economical and sustainable technological changes to their farming.
In 2004, Ligia Elena was selected to participate in the programme along with some 600 families from other communities. 17 years later, FAO’s training is still fueling her livelihood and daily life.
She recalls FAO’s motivational workshops and training. “We learned artisanal practices to obtain seeds of beans, corn and vegetables and to raise chickens. We even learned how to prepare the soils and received agricultural tools.”
But what really fascinated her was the beekeeping activities. “As I showed a lot of interest, I was selected to travel to Barquisimeto [Veneuela] to specialize in beekeeping. Through an FAO scholarship, I attended the Centro Occidental Lisandro Alvarado University,” says Ligia Elena with emotion.
There, she specialized in queen bee breeding and, upon her return, she passed on her knowledge to others in her community.
Ligia Elena’s perspective totally changed: “I learned to love bees. Before I was afraid of them, but now I know their temperament. I know when they are sick, and they know my mood. If they sense fear, they get stressed and upset. If you are calm, so are they.”
“Bees are extremely intelligent insects,” concludes Ligia Elena. “They are beautiful animals.”
Fifteen beekeepers centres were born from this FAO training and received their first bees, suits, veils and gloves.
“While we were doing all the procedures to harvest honey, I continued my activities as a nanny and hairdresser. When we got the first harvest, we started selling the honey. That’s how I started earning income from the sale of honey,” says Ligia Elena.
Although it seems inconceivable, says the Venezuelan beekeeper, “In 2005 and 2006, it was still said in my community that beekeeping was a trade of men, not women. But FAO believed in me and supported me.”
That was 17 years ago. “Today, in La Fé alone, we are 30 beekeepers,” she says. Only four of them are women, but the taboo in the community is gone.
Persistence above all
Her beekeeping journey hit a fork in the road in 2009 when she had to temporarily move out of her community. She left her bees in the care of a colleague, but when she returned, a year and a half later, she learned that her hives had caught fire in the middle of a heat wave. “I was back to zero… But I did not allow myself to get depressed, and I immediately set to work to get my bees back.”
She prepared a project proposal in no time at all and presented it to the regional government, requesting financial support to restart the work. With the money she received, the beekeepers of her community created a Honey Extraction Room and started the community company, La Miel Beekeeping Center.
In the first two years, the community company produced 600 kilograms per year. “Then the production dropped to 200 and even 150 kilos per year, and that reduction is due to climate change, which caused a decrease in the bees of this area.”
She explains that because of climate change, bees behave differently. Climate instability, inconsistency in tree blooms and pollution cause bees to have new patterns of behaviour, adapting to the changes in flowering times. Ligia Elena and her co-workers have planted new trees to attract bees again.
Currently, the La Miel company employs many of the families in Ligia Elena’s small town. “We in La Fé,” discovered beekeeping as a livelihood,” she says. “It is the work with which we bring sustenance to our homes.”
“Beekeeping is my way of life. It is the livelihood of my family and an activity that I hope my daughters will continue to do in the future,” concludes Ligia Elena.
FAO stated it has proudly worked in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela since 1992. In these three decades, the Organization has provided technical support to strengthen national capacities. It has also offered communities the knowledge and skills that stick with people for a lifetime, like in the case of Ligia Elena, a lifelong beekeeper and a local food hero.
Source: the FAO News and Media office, Rome
– global bihari bureau