Sweet rewards: Reduced risks in beekeeping help farmers in Colombia

By May 25, 2023

Cali, Colombia – In the vast plains of Colombia’s Vichada department, farmers and researchers are working together to reduce risks and open up opportunities in a relatively new sector: beekeeping.

Vichada is one of Colombia’s 32 departments with the highest levels of multidimensional poverty (according 2021 stats from Colombia’s statistics agency DANE), but farmers in the area found that the addition of bee hives on their farms can increase their income. 

Photo: Beekeeper in Vichada. Credit: Lizeth Castro

According to the Colombian Federation of Beekeepers and Bee Breeders (Fedeabejas), there was an 8 percent increase in the installation of beehives at the national level in 2022, with a production of about 7000 metric tonnes of honey

Lizeth Castro Mercado, a doctoral student in Engineering with a focus in Industrial Engineering, and part of the Logistics and Production Research Group of the Escuela School of Industrial Engineering at the Universidad del Valle (Univalle) explained that although today there is already a logistical chain to market honey to other parts of Colombia, there are many challenges for each stage of this chain. 

“A robust and resilient chain is important for people to have a secondary activity in their family economy; and the important thing is to create tools that can detect risks,” Castro said.

The research

In the scientific paper  “Production Analysis of the Beekeeping Chain in Vichada, Colombia. A System Dynamics Approach,” Castro and her collaborators published their research on modeling bee production in the Vichada region of Colombia. 

The bee present in the area is a hybrid between an African honey bee Apis mellifera scutellata and the honey bee (A. mellifera).  

The researchers used a causal diagram to explain the interactions between bee breeding, wax production, honey production and processing. 

Simulations were then conducted to determine the behavior of inventories with respect to production and demand.

“Empirically, we examined along the chain what factors can impact each step, including unexpected events,” Castro said, adding that this model highlights system dynamics and supply chain management and is presented as a useful tool for predicting production-demand scenarios in the beekeeping sector, where similar studies are scarce.

Bee swarms and spider bites

Castró traveled many times to Vichada, to experience first-hand these risks and to work together with farmers in the region.  

Photo: African bees. Crédit: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Wiki Media Commons

“We want to know all the risks and concerns we have here in the company,” said Pablo César Rondón, a beekeeper and leader of the Beekeeping line of the Casa Nacional de Profesores (CANAPRO); and mentioned why it is important to belong to the operational risk management project in the honey chain.

“I think it is very important for us as beekeepers to expose all the risks that we have here in the company because we see every day that we are in the apiaries and we find spiders,” Rondón said, adding that solutions are always sought in the face of the daily threat.

Beekeepers are also attentive to avoid swarms of bees, which can cause painful stings. 

“It is good to have someone to give us a solution for those little problems,” Rondón said.

Future ambitions

Castro explained that a sustainable economic future in the region depends on the diversification of activities and a collaboration between academia; industry; and local government. 

“For example, if a farmer already has forest or cashew trees or has cattle, they can add bees to pollinate their crops and also obtain derivatives from the hive such as honey, which together help to have an alternative income,” Castro said.

As future research, it is recommended to include the economic nature of the products in these types of models in order to be able to propose scenarios that help beekeepers make demand-driven production decisions and develop inventory policies.

“We want to generate alerts on, for example if there is a spider attack, the local Health Secretariat is informed immediately,” Castro said.

This article originally appeared on the Faculty of Engineering (Universidad del Valle) website here and was reproduced with permission. It is authored by Andrew James (NCC/Univalle).

If you would like to contact the researcher or learn more about the project, please write to the Communications Office, Faculty of Engineering: comunicaingenieria(at)correounivalle.edu.co.