From María Helena Latorre, director of the Chamber of Producers of the National Association of Entrepreneurs of Colombia (ANDI).
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 75 percent of the world’s crops rely on animal pollination. Pollinators can, to some degree, increase the production of 87 of the 115 main food crops. Aware of this reality, beekeepers and farmers are working together in Colombia to increase crop productivity and protect honey bees. In Colombia, this collaboration has been possible thanks to the efforts of the National Association of Entrepreneurs (ANDI), an entity that brings together the companies that produce and market crop protection products.
Bees are very important for agriculture due to the pollination services they provide. According to FAO, 5-8 percent of global crop production, with an annual market value of 235-577 billion US dollars, is directly attributable to animal pollination. The protection and conservation of pollinators involves, among other factors, the use of good agricultural practices that range from the appropriate management of agrochemicals to better training of producers and the use of increasingly-innovative solutions in the field.
Here in Colombia, there is a growing concern regarding agricultural sustainability among the various agribusiness players in the different regions of the country. As an association that supports the advancement of agricultural production, ANDI is always looking for alternatives to create alliances that can contribute to that sustainability.
One of our ideas was to bring together beekeepers and farmers. We have noticed that these two very important stakeholders for the world’s food rarely communicated with each other. Based on an economic study, we saw that pollination services could bring productivity gains to farmers and could be offered by beekeepers, expanding their business portfolio. In addition, by acting in partnership for their mutual benefit, both could apply more sustainable practices to protect honey bees. We had, however one challenge: How to bring the two stakeholder groups together?
In July, ANDI organized the fourth CuidAgro training workshop, connecting farmers with beekeepers and showing them the benefits of working together.
As we began putting our idea into practice, we found that beekeeping in Colombia was not a particularly well-recognized or organized activity. We did not know where the beekeepers were – they did not exist on the map as there was no central information base on them. Therefore, our first step was to identify them and generate a baseline using different official sources and a national beekeeping table to obtain data from beekeepers. We then organized a series of one-day workshops to unite the beekeepers and farmers. By bringing the stakeholders together, we could evaluate the most significant opportunities for them to work together. Following seven hours of beekeeper and farmer engagement, several points were highlighted from the workshop: the first was that the participants are often neighbors; the second was that they could work together and the third was that they can share each other’s best practices to identify how they will work together from then on.
To create connections for a sustainable agriculture, ANDI members, are traveling across different regions of the country, carrying out workshops to bring more farmers and beekeepers together. In each meeting, we teach about pollination and productivity – for the farmer and the beekeeper, as well as providing opportunities for them to share their experiences and good practices so that they can adopt a more sustainable behavior in their activities.
Of course, we are not working on this alone. We have the support of our partners, currently comprising of fourteen companies, including Bayer. Industry participation is very important, as it provides the innovations in crop protection, cutting-edge knowledge and best practices, so that we can keep farmers and beekeepers up-to-date.
Together, each year, we are managing to expand this work. In 2017, we trained over 340 farmers and beekeepers in Cundinamarca, Quindío, Valle del Cauca, Caldas, Bolívar, and Risaralda. In 2018, we interacted with 600 beekeepers, promoting the workshop to encourage them to work together as allies. This year, we expect to visit 22 municipalities, reaching one thousand people, including beekeepers and farmers, signing economic alliances and establishing new business models.
Creating alliances that can contribute to sustainability, in 2019 CuidAgro planned 30 activities in 11 regions in Colombia.
With the support of our partners, we would like to strengthen the relationship between these two important stakeholders across Colombia, to break the disconnection that has existed for so many decades. On the one hand, agriculture needs honey bees to pollinate crops. On the other hand, beekeepers need to expand their business opportunities and find additional food sources for their honey bees and one of the ways to achieve this is by offering pollination services to farmers. The synergy between both reflects in sustainable practices in the field, which contributes to the preservation of honey bees. The result of the effort has a positive impact on everyone: farmers, beekeepers, associations, industry, the environment and above all, consumers, who enjoy safer, higher-quality food that is produced in a sustainable manner.