Apis mellifera in the Incas' country (2002)
 Gilles Fert

With its big honey production potential, Peru has a promising beekeeping future. Its various climates along with its vast and diverse nature free from industries and pesticide treatments, allow the abundant gathering of varied honeys of high-quality. Situated on the western coast of South America, Peru has a land area of 1285,216 square kilometres, that is more than twice the size of France, with a population of 25 million inhabitants.

incas 1

Three main natural regions are distinguishable:

  1. in the west, the coastal zone along the Pacific shore where most professional beekeepers live;
  2. in the middle, the Andes, consisting of plateaus which lie at altitudes reaching up to 4,000 metres high;
  3. in the East, the Amazon rainforest that spreads out on more than one half of the country

The coastal plain is certainly the region with the highest number of beekeepers. A dense network of streams gushing down the Andes towards the Pacific Ocean make the irrigation of numerous cultivations possible. Orchards of citrus fruits, avocado trees, medlar trees and mango trees provide bees with nectar flows since August, that is in the Winter in the Southern hemisphere. The north of that coastal zone, bordering the Ecuador, is the region where the most important honey yields are harvested. Following the blossom of carob trees (Proposis sp.), harvests that can amount to 45 kg/hive have been noted. It is also the region where beekeepers practise transhumance.

The plateaux of the Andes give a nectar flow right after the wet season. There is family beekeeping. A mere apiary with more often than not a few beehives can be a valuable profit source. This region, with a temperate climate, has a big production potential. In the region of Cuzco, famous for its Machu-Pichu, beekeeping is largely widespread. The spreading of the blossoming period depending on altitude should favour beekeepers’transhumance, but unfortunately, the bad condition of roads make moving bees a difficult task. Some micro-cooperatives, often run by women, pave the way to beekeeping popularization and ease honey marketing.

Beekeepers
A few beekeeping figures in Peru:

  • 25 million inhabitants
  • land area: twice the size of France
  • 10,000 beekeepers
  • 25 kg of honey/hive/year
  • 3.5 Euros/kg of honey in retail prices
  • 230 Euros/kg of pure royal jelly
  • monthly farming salary: 200 Euros
  • 1 hive on 4 frames: 40 Euros
  • 1 bare hive: 38 Euros
  • 1 kg of waffled wax: 7 Euros
  • 1 kg of sugar: 0.7 Euro.

Honey versus coca...
The Amazon forest offers nectar flows all year long except during the wet season. Several beekeeping development projects are carried out. The local farmers from that region are traditionally used to growing coca seedlings. The hard drug chemically extracted from their leaves can be traced to the international market. For the last ten years or so, the United Nations have set an agricultural development scheme aiming at replacing that crop by other productions. Beekeeping holds a major role in that challenging project. Over 2,000 beehives have just been spread in the Huallaga valley. Moreover, all these bees contribute to coffee, cocoa an papaya pollinization. The task is not an easy one, knowing that farmers make big profit from selling coca leaves. However, several encouraging examples show one more time that beekeeping is a quite viable alternative. In a country where the drift from the land is a matter which proves to be more concerning every year, beekeeping can participate in helping local people stay on the land.

Let’s mention that Peru shows a deficit in honey and imports between 100 and 150 tonnes each year from Chile and Argentina. The import prices of a kg of honey are approximately 1 Euro, while local honey is sold 1.5 Euro.

A difficult census...
The total number of beekeepers is estimated to range between 10,000 and 12,000. Most of them are amateur beekeepers with a dozen of hives. Only half of them have a technical knowledge on bees. Professional beekeepers represent less than 5%. Six bee-farms of the coastal zone own more than 1,000 hives. The hives are of Langstroth type with Hoffmann frames. The average production per hive amounts to about 25 kg. The latest harvests show a lower yield with a dozen kg only.

Some beekeepers make royal jelly. The local market is booming, with the kilo of fresh jelly selling at 30 Euros and 10 grammes at 8 Euros. The hives are sometimes set on roof-tops, so as to reduce the high risks of theft

Beekeeping, a will of the government...
After the climatic phenomenon ‘el Nino’ which mostly raged in the northern regions, the government launched three years ago a vast programme of beekeeping development. Over 2,000 beekeepers were granted subsidies to extend their apiary. 30,000 hives have thus been spread in the provinces of Tumbes, Piura and Lambayaque. These hives also favour the production of tangerines, mangoes and cotton. Now, this programme is loosing some ground, and the goals are far from reached. Today, beekeepers, are taking their fate in hand.


Beehives on the roof of dwellings to prevent theft and vandalistic acts

The Africanized bee
Introduced in Brazil in 1957, the scutellata bee from South Africa crossbred with the Creolian bee. The result of that cross-breeding dominates the Creolian bee, along with all the European strains introduced -Black, Italian-. the numerous swarms which come from these hives colonize new territories every year. Today, that cross is present up to the south of the U.S.A.. Its aggressiveness makes hive running much more difficult, if not impossible in urban areas.

They organize classes with colleagues from all the different regions. Beekeepers from the neighbouring countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador are also invited to attend these classes, because beekeeping faces the same problems there.

The Creolian bee
The American continent had had no Apis mellifera bees before the arrival of Europeans. Traditional beekeeping and gathering were done with a small bee with no sting called mellipona. Still today, some tribes gather honey from the local bee. They credit this ‘palo honey’ with some specific properties and prefer it to honey from European bees for traditional rites. For example, the local mead called ‘chuchuwasi’, a well-known aphrodisiac beverage, is made from ‘palo honey’ in which plants macerate. All over the Amazon region, the rearing of mellipona bees in hives made from small wooden boxes is booming. 


The Queen Rearing class

These small harmless bees can produce up to 5kg of honey per colony. They are hardy, well adapted to their environment and unlike European bees, they are not prone to any sanitary disease requiring treatments. That makes it the ideal bee for the development of underprivileged areas. For some farmers, they are a first contact with beekeeping.

The main melliferous and polleniferous sources

  • Carob trees  Prosopis sp
  • Cotton plants Gossypium sp
  • Eucalyptus E. globulus
  • Tangerine trees Citrus nobilis
  • Mango trees Mangifera indica
  • Medlar Eribotrya japonica
  • Orange trees Citrus sineensis

After getting used to working with the insects, the ‘melliponicultors’ can go ahead with the next step which consists in working with Africanized or European bees. The first Spanish settlers imported the black bee from Europe. Since then, numerous supply of Italian and, to a lesser extent, Creolian bees have contributed to the making of that so-called ‘Creolian’ bee which can now be found in the country. For some years, the region along the boundaries of the Ecuador and the Amazon rain forest are being progressively swarmed over by the Africanized bee. The latter has the fault of being very aggressive, but its good quality is to be more productive. Moreover, breeding Africanized bees does not require anti-varroa treatment. Except for varroase disease, Peru seems to be free from bee diseases. There are only some trouble with European foulbrood at times when pollen is scarce.

Fabian Huaman and his Creolian bees

The Creolian bee has a very developed natural cleaning behaviour. Cleaning tests with frozen brood carried out by breeders have proved its cleaning qualities. For ten years or so, varroase disease control was performed with the fluvalinate molecule, but a growing number of beekeepers use with perfectly satisfactory results the method from Argentina which consists in putting cotton cords soaked with petroleum jelly over the frames. So as to counter the progress of the Africanized bee, queen rearing practice is developing in the coastal zone. The renewing of queens and the reproduction of the least aggressive and most productive colonies thanks to modern breeding techniques make it possible to keep a bee relatively unpolluted by the Africanized bee.

The colours of the year

  • Blanco : 1 6
    (white for the years finishing by 1 and 6)
  • Amarillo : 2 7
    (yellow for the years finishing by 2 and 7)
  • Rojo : 3 8
    (red for the years finishing by 3 and 8)
  • Verde : 4 9
    (green for the years finishing by 4 and 9)
  • Azul : 5 0
    (blue for the years finishing by 5 and 0)

Bee bread loaves at the Kechuas’...
In the region of Apurimac, in the south of Cuzco, people are used to improving their everyday diet with a dish which is as delicious as original. Indeed, a wild bee, 4 times bigger than our mellifera, is subject to relentless research. The well-known and impressive ‘moscardon’ -’huayronjo’ in Kechua- makes a much appreciated bee bread loaf. after having dug a gallery in the dead trunk of the Cabuya ‘maguey’, a plant measuring about 6 m high, it lays down in its nest a series of pollen pellets bigger than hazelnuts. Each nest contains around 250gr. of pollen -’misqui’ in Kechua- and is particularly rich in vitamins and protein. That gathering beekeeping is practised everywhere the moscardon lives, that is in the mountainous zone situated between 1,000 and 2,800 m high.

Selecting queens among the best cleaners

References

  • Atlas du monde, 2001 MediaObs.
  • Davila-Noriega (M.) – Principios de apicultura, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Lima-Peru, 1982.
  • Llaxacondor-Vilca (J.) – Manual de apicultura para campesinos, Abejas SAC Lima-Peru, 1995.
  • Llaxacondor-Vilca (J.) – Crianza de abejas reinas, Abejas SAC, Lima-Peru, 1997.