A sweet alternative to protect the tropical dry forest

Esta publicación también is available in: Español

Translator: Ariana Hernandez

It’s 10:10 am on a Friday in September. The sun burns over a farm in the Paso del Mono Aullador (Howler Monkey Passage) organic corridor on the outskirts of the town of Cañas.

Daniela Robleto, a 26-year-old entrepreneur from canasshows me the place where we should walk while taking advantage of the nobility of the only shade we can find.

We don’t quite appreciate it at first glance, but if we look closely, we can see some green and white boxes in the distance. They are home to thousands of bees and are the real reason we are here.

In bees Daniela found a way to financially benefit from nature while protecting natural resources.

In 2021 she founded miela, a brand of bee honey inspired by the biodiversity of the tropical dry forest and the first venture to bear the seal of the Paso del Mono Aullador Biological Corridor. This award is given by the local committee responsible for the corridor in recognition that: her project is in line with the objectives of the corridor to serve as a connection point between ecosystems.

She graduated as an agricultural engineer from Earth University’s Guacimo campus in 2017 and has since returned to her hometown of Cañas with one idea in mind: to use what she’s learned to be part of her community’s sustainable development.

The university education has always been about being a local change agent, but from there to the reality of going back to a rural area where opportunities are quite scarce, I think it’s quite a challenge,” explains Robleto as we walk the path that leads us to her apiary.

Despite the challenge of returning to Cañas, after a few months Daniela started producing organic chan with two other producers to sell it across the country. However, due to production costs, they were unable to continue the project.

Nevertheless, in these cultivated fields her admiration for the work of bees blossomed.

“I noticed that the lives of plants and their pollinators are so closely linked that they cannot live without each other. So I said, ‘Well, what if I start developing a business that’s different, that matches the type of medium I’m in, to get differentiated products out of the ecosystem?’” Robleto adds.

Smokers should be used to calm the bees while checking the hives of the apiaries.Photo: Ruben F. Roman

More than satisfying the palate

Bees are nature’s invisible hand, Daniela notes as she begins the ritual of preparing to open the 20 hives she has on this property. She has 20 more on another farm.

What Daniela comments on is a silent reality: Bees pollinate 70% of the 100 crops that supply 90% of the world’s foodaccording to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

In other words, the food you have on your plate probably ended up thanks to these insects.

Each bee collects enough pollen for its own food and also for the needs of the hive. In one day, a bee can visit thousands of flowers, collect nectar and pollen, and spread the grains on other flowers.

Now Daniela lights the smoker with coyol seeds. The device expels smoke and helps to reduce flight and stinging behavior of the bees. A large part of them even move away from the place for a while.

We then don the protective suit and Daniela proceeds to open the lid of a beehive.

Immediately, the buzzing sounds that can be heard generate an initial adrenaline rush that is difficult to explain. The endless amount of bees that are beginning to surround us is terrifying and at the same time absolutely peaceful.

This time Daniela is limited to checking her hives and showing them to me. At other times, she collects the honey that she takes with her to her production facility, where she packages it to later sell it from her home.

Two years ago, Daniela founded Miela, a beekeeping company that takes advantage of the richness of the tropical dry forest.Photo: Ruben F. Roman

Harnessing the power of bees to benefit the forests

Daniela chose the Paso del Mono Aullador Biological Corridor as the ideal location for her project. The corridor surrounds part of Cañas, Abangares and Bagaces and is key to the connection of the tropical dry forests of Guanacaste.

In addition to a rich floral diversity, the main purpose of the corridors is to provide connectivity between protected natural areas, landscapes, ecosystems and habitats, to ensure that biodiversity and ecological processes are maintained.

Paso del Mono Aullador is just one of 44 biological corridors across the countryestablished by the National System of Conservation Areas (Spanish acronym: SINAC) National Program of Biological Corridors.

However, there is a whole social and economic dynamic in them. They are not like protected natural areas, which are mainly devoted to conservation and research. People live in the corridors and most of the territory they cover is private.

Steven Fernández Cabezas, Agriculture Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG), explains that the threats facing this biological corridor intersect with those from bees.

“Basically, the main issues currently affecting these insects and the corridor are climate variations, pesticide use and wildfires,” he adds.

Despite the difficult conditions for the ecosystem, Fernandez believes that beekeepers are good allies to conserve and sustainably use forests.

That is exactly what sustainable development is about, that we can use the resources, but without depleting them and also without affecting future generations,” adds the expert.

Robleto explains that she not only wanted to focus on the products that bees give us, but also wanted to be more aware of what was around her in order to try to preserve that.

“I wanted to help confront those threats to ensure the survival of not only the forest and the bees, but our own,” she added.

There are 1,749 apiaries in Costa Rica, according to data from the 2022 National Bee Census by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.Photo: Ruben F. Roman

Integrate the community

When she decided to start the business, one of the questions she constantly asked herself was how to get started if she didn’t have a farm or a large place to put the beehives.

“One of the limitations that young people have in rural areas is that they have access to land. Land ownership is not in the hands of young people or women,” says Daniela.

Frustrated by the situation, Daniela decided to approach two farmers from Cañas.

“I spoke to them about the importance, not only to me, but also to the ecological importance that bees can have on their farm. And to explain to them a little more about pollination itself and what the project of preserving those native species of flora in Guanacaste is all about, they agreed to lend a small piece of their land,” she says.

According to Fernandez, this kind of agreement is very common among farmers in this ecosystem.

“The people who agree to lend their land can benefit from the pollination of their trees and increased biodiversity on their farm, and in turn the beekeeper benefits, because that’s where the honey is produced,” he emphasizes.

There are 1,749 apiaries in Costa Rica, according to data from the 2022 National Bee Census by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.Photo: Ruben F. Roman

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