Business is Buzzing for Apicola Honey Cooperative

30 July 2012

The beekeepers of Cooperative Pueblo Apicola are spread across Uruguay, but they have one thing in common: they all live in rural areas, and as a result have limited commercial opportunities. Before they formed the co-op, the combination of poor rural roads and limited information meant that beekeepers had to depend on local middlemen to buy their honey. In a weak bargaining position, they were often forced sell their honey at a fraction of the real value.

Now the producers of Cooperative Apicola determine their own future. Founded in 2006, the co-op became Fairtrade certified in 2010. Apicola means apiary, or honey producer. Working together, the 30 members, all family farms, are able to cut out the middlemen and receive higher returns for their products, which they export abroad, primarily to Europe. Apicola is the one of a dozen Fairtrade honey producers worldwide, and the only Fairtrade certified cooperative in the country.

The Honey Business

Uruguay is one of the largest honey exporters in South America. The country exports a total of 8,200 tons of honey annually, with a value of 23.3 million USD. In the rural areas, honey offers an important opportunity for income as many people migrate to the cities searching for work.

Most of Apicola’s 6,000 beehives are situated within a eucalyptus forest over an area of 180,000 hectares. Because the honey is produced in the forest, it takes on a citrusy eucalyptus flavour. The cost of land is high, so the cooperative jointly rents the land they keep for the beehives.

Preparing honey for export is more complicated than scraping it off the comb into a jar. There are strict quality restrictions for storage and transport and small producers typically lack infrastructure to differentiate different types of honey.

Once a year, Apicola beekeepers don protective clothing and smoke the bees out of the hives. They collect the raw honey combs in crates and load them into trucks, which are then taken to the co-op’s processing facility. There the honey is extracted, decanted, filtered and then packed into drums to be shipped to Rotterdam or Hamburg.

The co-op exports two to three containers of organic honey per year. They also export pollen, wax, propolis and royal jelly. The products can be used for traditional medicine as well as ingredients in candles, polish, and skin care products.

More security and better access to market through Fairtrade

"Fairtrade brought trading security to our business, gave us access to pre-harvest financing of contracts, and improved the quality of our products".

Timoteo Teixeira, Secretary of Pueblo Apicola.

Becoming Fairtrade has given the co-op important international opportunities with foreign importers and access to loans. Apicola receives almost no support from the government and local banks, so Fairtrade offers a valuable support system of networks and resources.

"We now have loans available for producers that makes it easy to collect our harvest every time,” said Juan Carlos Leiva, an Apicola producer. “Thanks to Fairtrade Standards, our clients offer pre-financing of contracts, and the co-op passes that money onto the members".

Since becoming Fairtrade certified in 2010, Apicola has received over 14,000 euros in Fairtrade Premium money. So far, they have used the Premium to improve the administration of the co-op and to participate in international trade fairs, giving them a good platform to market their products.

The co-op offers trainings to members in organic system of production, honey production and fire risk mitigation. The resources provided to farmers have helped them improve quality of their product, and negotiate higher prices. After the EU set new rules for importing honey, Apicola was able to share compliance information with its members, making them the only co-op in Uruguay exporting to the EU.

"Fairtrade brought trading security to our business, gave us access to pre-harvest financing of contracts, and improved the quality of our products ", said Timoteo Teixeira, Secretary of Pueblo Apicola.

The co-op members work closely together, and are all involved in the day-to-day business, which means that the feeling of ownership is shared across the organization. Members meet three times per year; at the start of harvest, for a general assembly and for training.

The co-op prides itself on offering equal opportunities for women, who are part of all bodies of the organization, including the board, joint body and committees. The co-op’s President is also a woman: Miriam Caraballo was elected to the post in 2010.

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