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Beekeeping in the Amazon

propolisBees, the authors of propolis, the active ingredient in Herstat’s cold sore treatment, may also be the “greatest ally we have in the fight against rainforest destruction” in the Amazon, according to a report this month in The Guardian newspaper.

Neida Pereira, who has spent her entire adult life as an environmentalist with Casa Familiar Rural working in some of the most under-threat areas of the Amazon in the north of Brazil, commented, “Bees are everything to me. They help me to protect the forest. They help the trees to stand tall, to produce fruit and to be strong,” she says, tears welling. “The bees are much more important than me for the environment.”

It has long been known that bees are essential to the world’s ecosystems. However, it is only recently that scientists have begun to appreciate just how integral they are at every level of existence. Bees do much more than simply pollinate; they also offer an alternative to the harm of Amazonian soy plantations, mining, slash-and-burn and cattle ranching.

The Amazon is under greater threat than it has been at any time during the past decade, with mining, fishing, hunting and logging companies invigorated by Brazil’s authoritarian president Jair Bolsonaro. In this climate, those who are engaged in rainforest conservation have faced increasing threats and violence.

However, without economic possibilities like those presented by beekeeping, the inhabitants of the rainforest face poverty and as well as the destruction of their habitat. One positive has been the advent of Amazon’s first beekeeping business, which was opened this year and offers meaningful pathways to those living in the Amazon basin. It is a partnership between Global Greengrants Fund and the CASA Socio-Environmental Fund.

Beekeeping is an art and requires real expertise. However, it has minimal overheads and offers the possibility of a real living income, with beekeepers able to sell honey, propolis, bees wax, royal jelly and other bee-made products.

So far, the initiative is primarily local, with the bee products only available in markets in the area; however, with increasing numbers of local people training in bee-keeping, it is perhaps only a matter of time before the products go global. Who knows, perhaps we will one day see a partnership that results in an Amazon-sourced propolis cold sore treatment cream?