EDITOR’S NOTE: Our June 2014 edition of RESOLUTE features a beautiful story on a PLU team’s Study Away trip to Nicaragua to install a well in a remote village. That, though, is just one of the stories, and experiences, from the team’s journey. We’ll call this one a side trip.
By Barbara Clements
RESOLUTE Managing Editor
LEON, NICARAGUA—No bee in its right mind would be out today.
Pacific Lutheran University’s Nicaraguan team has spent the last hour travelling on a dirt road north of Leon to a honey cooperative. It’s the dry season. The land seems dipped in a sepia wash.
Wind gusts of up to 50 mph have closed down our world to about 10 feet in all directions, if that, outside the now-dun-colored van. The dust seeps through the cracks in the window, but the van lacks air-conditioning. So the choice is between choking and keeping relatively cool in the 90-degree heat.
Once the van lurches into the cooperative compound, which includes a school and community center, we learn that, in fact, no bees are out gathering honey in nearby fields. The cooperative leaders moved the hives out of the wind and grit.
The group sits in old-style ’50s classroom seats in a room decorated with childish coloring paper—“B” for burro, L for loro (parrot), etc. The leaders of the co-op explain that originally they were just gathering wild honey from colonies in the fields before starting their cooperative four years ago. In the last four months, the cooperative has produced 2,145 kilograms of honey—light amber with a malty taste. It takes its hives from field to field to pollinate groups in this largely agrarian society.
The cooperative created its business model through a loan from La Base, and eventually from the Nicaraguan government, which encourages these worker-owned cooperatives.
When La Base first met the beekeepers of Chacra Seca three years ago, they had been collecting honey from wild hives for more than 14 years. With support from the mayor’s office of Leon, they decided to form a cooperative and came to La Base for a loan. They used the $3,000 to purchase five active hives, build 25 bee boxes to house wild honeybees and obtain safety and technical equipment. They began to collectively manage this set of hives, and for the first time take control of the process of production. In doing so, their aim was to provide a more secure source of income for themselves and their families.
The president of the cooperative, Saturnino Vivas, explained through an interpreter that, “We started from zero” and now have about 200 hives. The cooperative has paid back its first loan from La Base and now is working to pay back a $34,500 loan, which is 85 percent financed by the government and 15 percent from La Base. Pacific Lutheran University has—in a microfinance loan of $1,000—contributed toward this effort. From the original 10 farmers, the cooperative has grown to 19 owners, said Vivas.
Needless to say, success has been sweet.