Brazil buzzing over potential of its native bees
Brazilian part-time beekeeper Luiz Lustosa lifts the lid of a wooden beehive. The reaction is immediate and angry, as thousands of bees envelop him in a buzzing cloud.
However, Lustosa is not wearing a special suit or gloves, just a light net to cover his face. These bees are stingless.
“What a miracle!” Lustosa marvels at the honey-filled wax craters in the hive as the bees attack him furiously, but helplessly – his childish amazement has not been diminished by six years of working with the insects.
Long overlooked, Brazil’s native bees are making a comeback, with people like Lustosa, a 66-year-old civil servant, joining the movement to boost their profile.
Of the 550 species of stingless bees known to live in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, about 250 are in Brazil, according to Cristiano Menezes of the Embrapa Agricultural Research Corporation.
Yet they are little known outside the rural and indigenous communities, having been relegated to a lesser place over the centuries by European and African honey bees brought to Brazil for their more productive honey and wax skills.
Most of Brazil’s honey today comes from non-native stinging bees.
‘Here to help us’
Lustosa is president of the Native Bee Institute, a nonprofit organization that plants trees to expand native bee habitats and educates people about their important role as pollinators.
“We explain to children that the bees don’t sting, that they are necessary for the environment and nature, and that they are there to help us,” Lustosa told AFP on the grounds of the institute in Brasilia, where he conducts workshops and sells native honey. .
A 2016 study estimated that about 1.4 million jobs and three-quarters of all crops worldwide depend on pollinators such as bees — a service provided for free but worth tens of billions of dollars, according to scientific studies.
Bees account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects.
Unlike their immigrant counterparts, Brazil’s native bees are choosy and eat only the fruit and pollen of native fruit and avocado trees – vital to pollination.
Beekeepers “depend on vegetation, a healthy forest” for the bees to feed, said Jeronimo Villas-Boas, a fellow Native beekeeper and ecologist.
“For this reason, beekeepers are conservation agents.”
Villas-Boas helps indigenous communities improve the quality of the native honey they produce and connects them with buyers in an effort to engage them in the “business” of the coveted sweet liquid.
“Bees enable companies to have a positive impact on society, the environment and agriculture,” Menezes says.
Native bees produce a honey that proponents claim is healthier due to its lower sugar content. The taste and acidity differ from species to species.
They produce about 30 times less honey than their stinging cousins, and as a result, native honey costs about $55 per kilo in Brazil, compared to $6 per kilo for the others.
One of Villas-Boas’ clients is Brazilian chef Alex Atala, whose DOM restaurant in Sao Paulo has two Michelin stars for its local cuisine.
Honey from the tubi native bee is a key ingredient in one of Atala’s award-winning dishes of cassava cooked in milk.
“We have a world as rich as wine to get to know,” Atala told AFP.
“Eating our biodiversity will generate value for products that are forgotten, devalued today.”
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© 2022 AFP
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