'Killer' bees, Bapt. relief efforts help farmers
COPÁN RUINAS, Honduras (BP) -- The buzzing grows louder as the small group climbs the mountain toward the bee hives. Decked out in protective gear, the group approaches carefully. They've heard the stories of these bees -- Africanized "killer" bees who swarm aggressively and whose painful venom can damage human tissue and even lead to kidney failure and death.
"The bees are a very different type of work. Sometimes it's fun but also sometimes a little scary," says Obando Velásquez, an agricultural extensionist with the Chorti Agricultural Development Center in Cabañas, Honduras. The Chorti are a Mayan people group who live in western Honduras and eastern Guatemala.
Velásquez -- whose work is funded by Baptist Global Response, in part with resources provided by Global Hunger Relief -- learned about three years ago that Africanized honeybees could be captured and colonized to produce honey. Now he is teaching others in western Honduras to do the same as part of a sustainable livelihood project sponsored by the Chorti center.
Africanized bees -- first introduced into the Americas in the 1950s as part of an experiment by Brazilian geneticist Warwick Kerr -- are a genetic hybrid of the more docile European honeybees and the hearty African honeybees that thrive in tropical climates. Since their introduction, biologists say, Africanized bees have gained the reputation as one of the most invasive bee species of all time. By 1990, populations of Africanized bees had saturated South and Central America, including Honduras and Guatemala. Today the bees also are present in the southern and southwestern United States.
Africanized bees are one of the most aggressive bee species. They will attack unprovoked and respond more aggressively to disturbances -- like being robbed of their honey -- than their more docile European cousins.
Still, Velásquez and a friend believed a bee project could help provide supplemental income for Chorti subsistence farmers.
"We thought it could work, and we had a suitable place to start a project with bees," Velásquez says. "So we started with one box and went to the forest to find a hive. We took the hive back to the plot to begin working with it.
"We saw that it was very interesting to evaluate, to be able to study the life and the functions of the bees. So, we started with one, and then we went looking for more (hives) in the forests, in faraway plots."
Velásquez learned that bees not only produce honey, which can be sold, they also pollinate plants, which helps increase crop yield -- important benefits for subsistence farmers dealing with deforestation and drought.
Word of the bee experiment and its advantages spread. In 2014, six Chorti farmers approached Velásquez about the possibility of being taught to work with the bees.
So, has Velásquez been stung by the bees?
"Yes, many times!" Velásquez says. "Last year they attacked us. I got stung by 20. Twenty!
"It was a very strong attack for me, but such is life."
Global Hunger Relief is a channel for helping people because 100 percent of each donation goes directly to meeting the hunger need. Nothing has to be withheld for overhead expenses because Southern Baptists already have covered those costs by their contributions through the Cooperative Program.