Farmer-to-Farmer Trip report

The potential activities for beekeeping remain open ended due to the interest in the area.  Even though Bolivia’s honey bees are considered Africanized, many colonies are not so defensive thanks in part to the beekeepers selecting for gentleness. The interest remains strong and the market for their products is likewise.
 
My main objective for this trip was to introduce some unique technology for removing feral honey bee colonies from structures, primarily the concrete power poles all over Bolivia.  The poles are hollow and have several holes about half an inch in diameter, making them ideal locations for honey bee swarms to settle and establish colonies.  This method has been perfected by Kentucky beekeeper, Cleo Hagan.  I talked with Cleo and he offered some very useful advice on how to customize devices to suit the general situation.  
 
In the past 6 years I have combined trips to Cochabamba in conjunction with UMC buiding team trips to Potosi and La Paz Departments.  In Cochabamba Mauricio and I assist with some rural development humanitarian activities.  I raise funds from past FTF volunteers and also rural churches.  Last year we began working with a ngo, CEDESOL that manufactures high efficiency wood stoves.  The funding we have been able to raise has provided stoves to 24 of the 43 rural schools in the Anzaldo school district.  This area is part of the very needy Caine river valley region, considered to be the most needy region in all of Bolivia.  In the news it is refered to the region “North of Potosi.”  Fuel for cooking is in short supply.  Also the smoke and burning hazard is very much a problem in the region.  The school director, Ruben told us that the use of the stoves has decreased firewood use by 80%.  The stoves are provided to the schools with the idea that some of the rural families will adopt by either purchasing the stoves from CEDESOL or  copy in some way the design.  An unexpected development occurred-the municipality of Anzaldo is offering some cost share if rural families purchase the stoves.  Some of the funds raised also have been used to repair and improve the schools themselves and the living quarters for the teachers who typically commute to work in the rural areas and have to stay due to travel times.  Over the years as FTF coordinator I have been involved in many humanitarian activities.  This one by far is the most sustainable since it addresses family economics, safety and health concerns of children and adults and environmental issues in the semiarid region.  CEDESOL has recently been approved to sell carbon credits to industries in countries that approved the Kyoto accords.  Indeed at the workshop given to the nucleo directors in the school district, the stoves emit remarkably very little smoke and the smoke that is emitted is directed out of harm’s way by a 12 foot chimney.  No doubt in the years to come the adoption of this technology will greatly reduce eye health problems and burn injuries among the young children of the region. 
 
Background-Beekeepers, especially in rural areas are very numerous in the high valley regions in Bolivia as well as tropical and semi tropical regions.  Urban beekeeping also exists and the wide variety of ornamental plants available year round in altitudes that favor cool but rarely below freezing temperatures are conducive to honey harvests much of the year.  Unfortunately the bees are Africanized and residents know this so most beekeepers avoid urban regions.  Feral colonies are frequent, both in the poles and in structures.  Just as in the US, if a beekeeper has local honey for sale, it sales.  Also the Bolivian government is beginning a social program similar to our WIC program and many beekeeping cooperatives can sell their member’s honey directly to the government.  The price for honey in Cochabamba is quite good, making beekeeping a viable addition to other agricultural enterprises as well as a primary money making activity.  The diversity of a farmer’s agricultural operation is much greater for the most part in Bolivia than it is in the US.  A hobbiest sized beekeeper  by US standards in Bolivia by no means is considered a hobbiest.  Also like in the US many women are involved in beekeeping.   Unlike in the US, pollen and propolis are also routinely harvested and easily sold.  Bolivian urban society is very prone to use natural products.  For example while in Bolivia I developed a severe cough while in the altiplano.  After arriving to Cochabamba, Mauricio went to the pharmacy and asked for something natural and was given some lozenges made from propolis.
 
My specific mission was to introduce the colony removal technique.  The technique is simple and has the potential to supply the bees for the queens that are already being produced.  Therefore the queen producer does not have to weaken colonies by harvesting some bees to go along with a queen in a nucleus colony produced either for sale or for expanding the number of managed colonies within the same operation.  Since feral colonies are so frequent especially in the power poles it just makes sense to harvest the bees and if possible later more of the bees and the queen.  One operation near Tarata is surrounded by the concrete power poles and the beekeeper, Juan Carlos counted over 20 within walking distance of his managed colonies.  Harvesting feral bees also removes them as a hazard to the power company worker and the general public and reduces the competition with the managed colonies.  In time as the colonies are managed for gentleness hopefully the Africanized trait of excessive defensiveness will be diluted  both beekeepers and society will benefit.
 
The Cochabamba beekeepers association and beekeeping workers also asked me to share with them how our associations in NC operate and the type of activities we conduct.  I am not a beekeeping specialist but have started a local association and coordinated  its activities so in this sense I am able to deliver some ideas, hopefully some that will strengthen the Bolivian associations.  Extension and outreach activities that many of our US citizens take for granted were shared with Bolivian ngo workers and beekeepers as well.
 
Unlike in the US, at least for high valley agriculture, the requests for pollination services are not common.  Very likely the reason is that plantings of crops that require insect pollination are much smaller than in the US and the background pollinators are sufficient.
 
Activities and Observations-I have traveled to Bolivia 18 times and the 2012 trip was by far the most rainy.  Rain disrupted some of our activities but we were very fortunate to accomplish what we did.  Three of the trap hive devices were installed.  One of them was on a power pole in urban Cochabamba, another on a hollow tree outside of the justice center in Tarija and the third on a hollow tree adjacent to an orange grove in the rural community of  Emborozo (Tarija Dept.)
Nabor Mendizabal will follow up on the one in Emborozo and try to reinstall the one in Tarija (it was stolen!)  For the one in Cochabamba Julio Ledo will continue to monitor.  The trap device is installed in 2 stages.  First the trap mount is placed over the entrance of the feral colony and left for several days so bees can be accustomed to coming and going.  Then a small hive body with at least 2 frames of brood without bees is placed on the trap mount.  Since the hive bees are attracted to the brood they leave the colony through the entrance hole and settle on the brood.  Several “starts” can be made this way from strong colonies by removing the hive with bees and adding a queen.  When the majority of the bees have been trapped and removed a one way conical or Porter bee escape can be used to trap out the remaining bees and finally in most cases the colony queen.  We used a cardboard nucleus hive since it is light weight and can better be placed up on the power poles.  I took 8 devices to Cochabamba and left with Greby Caillavy, Nabor Mendizabal and Julio Ledo.  I had intended to work with Juan Carlos since he has so many feral colonies adjacent to his hives.  But to my surprise and delight Juan Carlos got a good job with a ngo working in a tropical region of Bolivia.  The cardboard nucleus hive I took generated much interest and in the US several types are available.  There was much interest in these nucleus hives and one of Nabor’s friends knows of a paper company and they are making plans to fabricate locally.  Beekeeping supplies typically do not have a patent so no issue if the nucleus hives are copied.  The bee escapes are typically available locally from sources in Argentina.  For all 3 attempts to trap it was amazing at how gentle the colonies were.  Not sure if this was by chance but I feel it will be desirable to trap the queen to retain the genetics.  I was most amazed at the colony in the tropical Emborozo region.  The colony was huge and obviously a survivor colony.  Putting these genetics to use will be very desirable.  Just like in the US getting locally adapted genetics from survivor colonies is an important endeavor. 
 
Prior to the field activities we conducted several short meetings to explain the devices.  The first was in Cochabamba and included Julio and Nabor, the next was in Tarija with the leaders of the Tarija association and the third was in Emborozo with leaders of that local association.  The way the device works was explained and picture accounts of the activity itself was given.  All agreed that trapping feral bees out of the poles and other structures will greatly benefit Bolivian beekeeping. 
 
I was asked to be the speaker at the Cochabamba beekeepers association.  Thanks to the wonders of digital cameras and the ppt program I was able to show the devices in action.  The one in Cochabamba was successful in removing a start for a nucleus colony while I was in town and we were able to show these promising results.  The attendees also were very interested in the cardboard nucleus hives.  Extension techniques and association activities were somewhat received with excitement, especially my version of the colony collapse disorder that is in the news in the US.  NC has not had a single confirmed case of CCD so I explained that some if not most of the CCD news was media hype. 
 
One other activity we had planned but not able to follow through on was introducing new strawberry varieties.  Two of these are started from seed and some others available from daughter plants.  The varieties offer much better taste than many of standard varieties selected mostly for yield and berry size.  I left the seed of the 2 seeded varieties with Mauricio and he was to take to a friend and organic producer in Punata when the weather improved.  We are conducting a variety demonstration in my area with a strawberry producer of about 10 day neutral varieties.  These should be very adaptable to conditions in the high valley region (cool but rarely below freezing).  The producer’s wife is also planning on making jams and marmalades suitable for diabetics and we will share this information and experience also.  Diabetes is common in Bolivia due to the high carb diet.                 
 
Recommendations- My main advice which I am sure will be heeded is to by all means get those bees out of the poles or wherever and thus turn a problem for society into an asset for beekeepers.  As we were installing the device in Cochabamba a lady stopped by and asked us to set a trap at her home.  Nabor who sells nucleus colonies indeed agreed that by harvesting the feral bees it will reduce the stress on the managed colonies since not near as many bees will have to be removed to go into the nucleus hive.   It is a doable proposal and with very little trial and error will provide results.  I also think the local production of cardboard nucleus hives will be very beneficial for beekeepers who sell nucleus colonies since it will reduce their costs.  I have sent plans of other types of cardboard nucleus hives so the beekeepers do have several options to choose from.  I have personally tried 2 of the types and offered my suggestions on how to custom design to meet individual situations.  I feel confident that this activity will materialize.  Mauricio points out that involving the power company and search and rescue teams (SAR) will very likely occur.  As an example if the colony’s exit is in the pole portion that is hazardous, the power company can route a PVC exit for the bees to a section of the pole safe for the beekeeper to work. 
 
Next Steps-The high valley and adjacent regions  of Bolivia is wide open for beekeeping educational support.  Each location has its own special conditions and problems.  For example the Emborozo region does have threshold levels of Varroa mites and it will be a good idea to see if treatments can be justified and if they pay off economically.   The synthetic miticides have never been available in Bolivia and in the US mites have developed resistance.  We are now using biomiticides such as thymol formulations.  We feel there is a very small chance that mites  will develop resistance to the biomiticides and also since these natural products do not cause any known adverse effects to the bees, that a trial to see if production improves with treatment is indeed valid.  Previous travelers Don Hopkins and Jennifer Keller worked with Varroa mite issues on a late 2011 trip.  They also gave extensive instructions and workshops on queen rearing.  Julio and Nabor both commented that they each learned some things to refine their queen rearing techniques.  The fact that Greby, Nabor, Juan Carlos and another early beekeeping “student” Jorge Guzman are now ngo workers with emphasis on beekeeping indeed points out the success of the beekeeping project and how the volunteer’s efforts has expanded to others that they did not directly contact.
 
While in Emborozo Nabor  told several beekeepers about our past work with locally fabricated hydraulic ram pumps.  One beekeeper who also raises fish (carp and pacu) was very interested in this concept since his operation is near a river and the river has enough of a drop to operate a pump.  The lift will not be too much so it is possible that indeed this will be a viable way to pump water to his ponds for aeration and replenishing water.   
 
Personal Reflection-Even though in the news the relations between the US and Bolivia seem strained, all our volunteers report that they are well received and of course feel safe.  David Whitfield the founder of CEDESOL responded to my comment on a desire for our 2 countries to once again have ambassadors.  He told myself and an intern with the organization that Mauricio directs that we as volunteers are the true ambassadors.  Working in rural areas is indeed an experience many POA volunteers do not have and we as FTF volunteers are indeed fortunate.  Working alongside a farmer, beekeeper etc. is a true educational experience.  In Emborozo after trudging up a jungle hillside to the “bee tree” and having the beekeeper remove a stinger from my sweaty neck even though it does not sound like a good experience  was truly rewarding.  Joking with my counterparts always is a blast.  This year in particular I joked that as critical of the US as is the Bolivian national government,  they seem to be copying many of our social efforts like the WIC and school lunch programs. 
 
I was in Bolivia during the challa celebrations.  Different aspects of giving thanks and requesting continued blessings are highlighted different days.  For example while in Emborzo we observed at the beekeepers shop and farm the giving of thanks and asking for continued blessings for that business.  I asked and Nabor told me that was the day for businesses.  Another day was for the ability to purchase vehicles, this was observed in the altiplano and we saw about a dozen vehicles on a hilltop.  This trip was very enlightening for learning more about Bolivian culture and religious beliefs.  We saw a family dressed in funeral clothing burning the deceased person’s belongings.  Obviously they had been to a Catholic service but honored the tradition that part of a person’s spirit is in their belongings.  Many Chrisains may find this objectional but tradition also plays a part in US Christianity.
 
While I was in Cochabamba Eva Marcus passed away.  She was a long time POA activist and played many roles in Cochabamba such as striving to get a SAR unit started, getting trees planted on Tunari above the city and working many volunteer hours at the Viedma hospital pharmacy.  The POA emblem was present at her service and SAR volunteers stood at the front.  Looking outside I could see the trees on Tunari.  I also attended the memorial for Viki Ramirez, Mauricio’s mother who had passed away a month prior.  It was very moving to see the diversity of the people at her service including several native American ladies who Viki had helped and were employed by her at the home.   I assured the family that Viki lived on in the minds and hearts of many from NC.  Viki always helped out in the rural humanitarian work in the Anzaldo area.  She was fluent in Quechua and well respected by the campesinos.  She indeed made and still is making a difference.
 
Reflections on the technical side of the trip mainly involve us as US beekeepers getting more familiar with the Africanized honey bee.  From my standpoint I feel the problem might be overestimated.  Indeed many times I asked “Are you sure these bees are Africanized?”  I could tell a difference but working the bees with skill can result in bees that seemingly are as gentle as many of ours.  Don Hopkins sets the best example of working bees to avoid defensive behavior.  Also in NC beekeepers do have individual colonies that seem almost as defensive as some of the  defensive colonies we have worked in prior trips.   If we get the Africanized honey bee in NC very likely they will be less defensive than areas in the more southern part of the US.  
 
The spinoff activity involving the high efficiency wood stoves was very rewarding.  I was happy to hear that some of the campesino families are purchasing the stoves on their own based on what they saw at the schools.  This project is so easy to administer since the ngo, CEDESOL does the training, etc.   I hope that when all the Anzaldo district schools have the stoves, hopefully by next year that we can start with the other Cochabamba municipality in the Caine river valley.   
 
In summary as always the trip was extremely rewarding and it is so good to have Mauricio and the others who were active when we were officially funded still involved.