Fundação Grupo Boticário de Proteção à Natureza

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Amazon Nectar – Biodiversity in a spoonful

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Posted by Joao Meirelles on 15-11-2016 - Last updated on 22-11-2016

1. About the bees: On a recent field visit to a family agriculture in the Amazon, a four-year-old girl stood next to her mother, watching a training session around a native bee hive. After listening carefully, she turned and looked up at her mother who was expecting her next child. She wanted to know whether they could raise a hive for her new sister. This child had understood the essence of native beekeeping. The new hive would represent an investment for the future in which her sister would be born. The bees, naturally stingless, would be a safe and gentle presence in the baby’s life. She and her sister may well be a part of the new generation of Amazonian youth making their living from the forest and helping to ensure its continuity in a sustainable way. 2. Food – Most of the food we eat is produced thanks to pollinators. Globally, the economic value of bee pollination is estimated at 1/10 of the value of agriculture – US$ 153.10 billion [Gallai et al, 2009]. Scientists estimate that there are 25,000 species of bees in the world. Among them is the Melipona family (stingless bees), with 600 species worldwide. Brazil has 244 named species and 89 species not yet described, among which are 114 species in the Amazon [Pedro, 2014]. 3. The problem: a. Bees are disappearing worldwide; between 1947 and 2005 in the United States, domesticated honeybee colonies decreased by 60% [Meet our prime pollinators – Nature]; b At the same time, in the last 50 years, global agriculture that depends on animal pollination increased by 300% [Aizen, M. A. & Harder, L. D. Curr. Biol. 19, 915–918 (2009)]; c. In the Amazon, if wild bees disappear, local biodiversity will be seriously compromised. Major crops will also suffer¬–all palms including açaí (Euterpe olereacea), Brazilian nut (Bertholletia excelsa), cocoa (Theobroma cacao), cupuaçú (Theobroma grandiflora), peppers (Capsicum spp) and most fruits; d. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), created to monitor global loss of biodiversity, alerted for the importance of the connection between pollinators, pollination and food production. 4. Native bees as key to conservation in the Amazon: a. Fighting deforestation – Native beekeeping generates forest-based income for traditional populations. In this way it discourages forest fires and deforestation while providing an incentive for the conservation of forest biodiversity. b. Putting a value on environmental services to help combat climate change – Through REDD mechanism (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), Peabiru Institute believes that native honey production has the potential to prevent an equivalent of 16 kilos of carbon for each kilo of honey from native bees [PEABIRU, 2014]. c. Same investment, bigger harvest – Encouraging pollinators can increase the efficiency and yield in agricultural and non-timber forest production. The açaí market, currently booming and enjoying growing demand worldwide, depends on ongoing pollination. c.1. In the Amazon, just one fruit - the açai value chain equals an annual income of US$ 1 billion, involving more than 400 thousand people. It represents more than 70% of income in traditional communities [CONAB, 2013]; c.2. Açaí (Euterpe olereacea) depends on meliponini as major pollinators. In the Amapá National Forest, 17 species of bees were linked to açai [Frazão, 2009]; c.3. Each community, whether indigenous or afro-descendent, can offer a different honey with a different story. Flavor profiles reflect the characteristics of each region of origin (the concept of terroir). 5. Keeping traditional families in the forest: a.Community-based development – native honey production is, at it its heart, a community-based enterprise. In this context, local associations and family involvement are vital. b. Local income and job generation – According to Peabiru’s field research, in some regions, 1 kg of honey (US$ 20 to 30) can represent 30-50% of average monthly income per capita. It can provide an anchor to rural youth, thus helping to stem regional urban migration. c. Money in the hands of women – native honey production provides a source of income accessible to women and compatible to their daily activities. Women’s income can have a direct impact on the security and wellbeing of rural families. d. Bees are the best environmental educators – Raising native bees provides an effective lens through which traditional families can consider environmental impacts and outcomes, from logging and burning to better forest management. 6. The whole forest in a spoonful: a.In the Amazon forest, up to 90% percent of native trees depend on bees as prime pollinators [KERR et alii, 1996]; b.In turn, bees depend on forest. An old growth Amazon forest can carry many dozens of species of Meliponini bees; in degraded pastureland this number drops to 0-2 species; c.Native bees are generalists in their searches for nectar and pollen. The honey they produce can be said to bring together the whole forest in a spoonful. d. This is a new product in a budding market. Commercial pathways are still to be developed, but in just the last ten years the price has risen tenfold. What was once only used medicinally in rural interiors is now highly valued by chefs and discerning consumers alike. 7. Who we are - Peabiru Institute – Our experience and approach: Our work spans the past 10 years, during which diverse institutions have funded diverse initiatives in traditional Amazonian communities. These have included the BNDES (Brazilian development Bank - Amazon Fund) which is funding us now; the Dutch Embassy in Brazil, ABN AMRO Foundation (in partnership with The Royal Tropical Institute - KIT, from Holland), Petrobras and The Nature Conservancy.At the moment we work with more than 110 producers from 28 communities in different areas of the Amazon and 4,000 bee boxes will be producing by 2017. Among the groups involved are Indians, African-Americans (quilombolas), traditional fishermen and family farmers from river communities. We estimate that this initiative will help to protect over seventeen thousand hectares of Amazon rainforest, savannah and floodplain. 8. Today's challenge: we have funds from Fundo Amazonia until middle 2017 to expand the production. We need funds to launch the product in the market. It means investing in marketing, propaganda, promotion, commercial structure and an internet shop. In the first year we expect to commercialise the first ton. of wild honey. 9. The 20-year dream: There are more than one million families living in rural underdevelopment in the Brazilian Amazon. How powerful it would be if each of these families worked to raise native bees. We envision every Amazonian home garden flourishing under the enterprising activity of these small workers. We see the Amazon Nectar initiative as a pilot project with the potential to eventually reach a greater population, an incentive to sustainable agriculture, preparing the forest farmers of the future.

Commercializing the wild honey from Amazon forest native stingless bees will offer poor families a complementary income, targeted as US$ 1,000/year /family (considering 50 hives/family, 1 kg honey/hive, at US$ 20/kg). That represents a significant proportion of their income (from 30% to 50%).

More bees in the area represent a significant increase in the fruits production (more success in pollination), and these families will have more income from cocoa, açaí, coffee and other fruits (increase estimated at an average of 30%). Less deforestation will also mean clean water most of the year, biodiversity conservation and helping combat climate change. In the future these families may also participate in selling carbon credits (REDD+BEES).

The funds will be used to launch the product in the market.


  1. mikkk mikkk

    É um projeto muito bacana! Adorei! <3

    Já imagino um dia poder ter uma caixinha de abelhas no meu quintal, e quem sabe uma app, ou um curso online que me ensinha como fazer isso em segurança! 

    Muita sorte para vocês! 

  2. mikkk mikkk

    If you are thinking to start a "bee culture" even out of Amazon, and maybe give the possibility to anyone to have his own little breeding of bees, maybe you can join to the Vertical Farming Idea, or with the São Paulo group, and try to came out with something very outstanding! Innonatives is also this: meeting contacts and joining knowledge in order to get the best solution..! Good luck! 

    1. Joao Meirelles Joao Meirelles

      Yes, Vertical Farming as well as other forms of agriculture are fully compatible with the Amazon Nectar. In fact, all the projects addressing native bees are somehow connected. But, at the moment, the focus is to put the product in the market shelves. Thank you for the coment.


  3. fernandaforminform fernandaforminform

    Very nice project! May you should consider including a participative design thinking process to develop Brand and packaging. It is necessary!

    1. Joao Meirelles Joao Meirelles

      Sure, that is a great tool to involve the producers in the process of commercialization. Thank you for the comment.