Beekeeping in Costa Rica: how UNDP protects bees

TACOMA, Washington – Costa Rica has one of the lowest poverty rates in Latin America. This is mainly the result of a proactive cooperation with wealthy nations willing to buy Costa Rican exports. Thanks to wise political decisions and social investments, the Central American country was also able to avoid the many harmful effects of foreign loans. One of the exports that brought Costa Rica to the status of an upper middle income country was the sale of honey products. However, deforestation and deadly pesticides have reduced bee populations. The coronavirus pandemic has also strongly impacted export revenues. In response, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is working to tackle economic hardship through beekeeping in Costa Rica.

Importance of bees in Costa Rica

Jobs in the primary sector, such as beekeeping, explain majority of employment in Costa Rica. Ground-floor jobs like these encourage foreign investment and provide food for Costa Rican families. In addition to honey, bees also help boost other primary jobs, such as farming. Bees are essential for pollination and are therefore also responsible for plant production. Since a large part of the country’s economy is based on agriculture, protecting bees is crucial to maintaining healthy crops.

In an interview with UNDP, the National University of Costa Rica reported that “65% of the plants on the planet need pollinators, and among these, the most important are bees”. Bee-dependent crops, including coffee, strawberries and tomatoes, bring in $ 250 million each year to the Costa Rican economy.

The decline of beekeeping in Costa Rica

Unfortunately for Costa Rica, bees are disappearing and farmers are facing a pollination crisis. More than 1,000 Costa Ricans make a living collecting more than 50,000 beehives, according to the UNDP. However, the amount of honey Costa Ricans consume annually – 1,200 tonnes – in addition to export demands, exceeds supply. Currently, the supply is particularly low. Bees depend on trees and plants for nectar to produce honey. But, due to deforestation, the cultivation of chemicals, and rapidly changing agricultural practices, bees are struggling to survive.

How UNDP provides support

Through support and supplies, the UNDP Small Grants Program is focused on restoring beekeeping capacities in the watersheds of the Jesus Maria and Barranca rivers. These are two of Costa Rica’s most degraded watersheds and, as such, are in need of support the most. In the field, UNDP works directly with 24 beekeepers who collectively manage more than 1,000 beehives. In partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the program aims to teach beekeepers how to harvest honey more efficiently and sustainably. To facilitate a smooth transition to the plan’s new practices, UNDP is providing supplies such as sugar, honey extraction units and new combinations.

Beekeeping in Costa Rica will continue to face new challenges as climate change and unsustainable development threaten the trees and plants essential for making honey. However, initiatives like this one from UNDP are opening up new opportunities for these farmers and the bees they cultivate. On a larger scale, protecting bees has the potential to greatly benefit the Costa Rican economy.

– Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr

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