and rural development in Brazil
Dr. Vera Lucia Imperatriz-Fonseca
Ecology Dep., Biosciences Institute. POBOX 11461 . CEP 05422-970
Brazil and its
Brazil is an
extremely diverse country. It is also very rich in bee species (http://www.cria.org.br/db-list?bee).
Most are pollen bees and lead solitary lives. However, several social
bee species are also native to Brazil. The social bee population
includes a few species of bumblebee (Bombini), as well as various
members of the stingless bees (Meliponini). The honeybee, Apis
mellifera, was introduced in the 19th Century and is currently
in abundance in all of Brazil. It has adapted very well and a huge
feral honeybee population now exists.
sustainable rural development is a real challenge, because most
of the country's population is concentrated in the urban areas.
The quest for sustainability is a priority for rural family farmers.
Improvements in environmental conditions, family incomes and opportunities
for women and children can be achieved through breeding bees.
ecological benefits provided by bees have been considered in an
economic context. From an ecological point of view, bees pollinate
flowers and contribute to better fruit and seed yields. This is
essential in nature, where fruits and seeds are at the bottom of
the ecological pyramid. In agriculture, pollinators are important
for several crops (http://gears.tucson.ars.ag.gov/book/index.html).
Bees and rural
When most people
think about bees and rural development, images of beekeeping and
honeybees come immediately to mind. Beekeeping techniques for honeybees
have been known for centuries, allowing for management under a variety
of ecological pressures.
Brazil, the introduction of African bees in 1956 had the primary
objective of improving production of honey, at that time considered
the most important product of honeybee colonies. The dispersal of
African honeybees throughout the Americas was unexpected. The Study
case 01 (Review on Africanised honeybee in Brazil), describes
how scientists and beekeepers dealt with the problem of handling
a different (more aggressive and migratory) kind of honeybee. Recently,
honey production, as well as production of the more profitable products
(pollen and propolis) has increased considerably. However, the role
of feral honeybees as crop pollinators is also significant, e.g.
for the coffee harvest in Panama, as discussed by Roubik (http://www.sciencenews.org/20020622/food.asp).
Africanised bee colonies are rented to Brazilian farmers for pollination
of a variety of crops: apples, pears, citrus fruit, melons and kiwi
fruit, as well as and other fruits and vegetables. Honeybees, aided
by well-developed beekeeping techniques, are also used as the main
method of crop pollination in the Northern Hemisphere (http://www.pollinator.com/linksto_culture.htm).
However, a parasite, Varroa destructor, has caused a decline
in the numbers of foraging honeybees in cold areas. Africanised
honeybees (AHBs) present another unexpected trait: they control
Varroa infestation, as presented in the Study
case 02 (Varroa research in Brazil).
with AHBs brings a high honey harvest in a short period of time.
Whether AHBs produce more honey, wax, or royal jelly or whether
they are used as pollinators depends entirely on how they are managed.
Obviously, good protective clothing is essential for working with
AHBs. However, protection from stings should not be the primary
consideration. We have improved our methods of handling the bees
quite a bit, but we still need to develop better equipment. Some
of the equipment that most requires improvement is related to the
transport of hives, etc. It is important to remember that the world
beekeeping industry we have today has its foundation in a long history
of technical development and a large body of research with European
bees. Therefore, the current technology is quite efficient. Much
research still remains to be done in order to achieve the same level
of proficiency with AHBs. However, the technicians, beekeepers and
researchers in Brazil appear to have made a good start with the
steps they have taken so far. Development and beekeeping activities
have recently increased in Brazil, especially in the Northeast,
where a boom in beekeeping is now being seen. Thus, the future of
our beekeeping industry in Brazil looks positive.
beekeeping, also known as meliponiculture, has a strong tradition
in some Latin American countries, where the indigenous peoples knew
how to manage them (for example, the Mayas and beekeeping with Melipona
beecheii). In Brazil, Kayapo Indians breed several species of
stingless bees. In rural areas of northeastern Brazil, meliponiculture
is also a tradition (http://www.ib.usp.br/jandaira
stingless bee beekeepers are only honey harvesters. Recently, the
market for stingless bee colonies has increased, and nest multiplication
is the most significant source of income for breeders. Compared
to honeybee honey, stingless bee honey also has a greater local
market and sells for a higher price. The The Study
case 03 (Evaluation of
the introduction of new management systems to Melipona fasciculata
(Apidae: Meliponina), with small farmers in Bragança, Pará
State, Brazil) shows a programme of stingless bees being raised
for rural development in Amazon region.
There are a
wide variety of types of stingless bees. Size, tong length and floral
preference varies among species. Native stingless bee species are
important pollinators of natural environments because they partition
floral resources. They increase biodiversity, and are essential
for maintaining the original flora.
of plants that are considered key for nesting or are important food
sources for bees is also an activity compatible with sustainable
development. Thus, plant nurseries play an important role.
breed stingless bees have two marketable products: the honey and
the nests. In addition, they also have better fruit crop harvests
because these bees act as pollinators. Although the efficiency of
pollination by bees has been studied and some bee species are already
being used as pollinators, this fact has not been well publicised
in the agribusiness world, where all the economic impacts on yields
are closely evaluated.
Bees as pollinators
In order to
use bees as pollinators, it is necessary to know how to breed them
in quantity. Because of this, the honeybee, a generalist pollinator,
is used for this function worldwide.
in the honeybee population in subtropical areas introduced a need
to find other crop pollinators and inspired the International Pollinators
Initiative, approved by the COP5 from the Convention of Biological
techniques for the bumblebee known as Bombus terrestris were developed
around 1985 (http://eco.ib.usp.br/beelab/livro_02_velthuis.pdf).
They have been used successfully in greenhouses for tomatoes, eggplant
and bell pepper. Consequently, breeding companies have arisen in
several regions. Some have exported colonies of Bombus terrestris;
others have raised their own pollinators for local use. The value
of Bombus terrestris as pollinators was evaluated in an impact
study for their introduction into Australia: for each US$1 paid
for a colony, farmers realised a US$100 increase in crop yield (http://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/workshop/append2.html).
Although there are six Bombus species in Brazil, they are
too aggressive for use in greenhouses and have not been raised commercially.
are good pollinators. In Mexico, the stingless bee Scaptotrigona
mexicana is used as an avocado pollinator and has actually been
exported to Israel. They are also used as pollinators in Australia,
where a lot of breeders have stingless bees whose main activity
is pollination (one breeder's site: http://www.uq.net.au/~zzrzabel/).
In Brazil, the agricultural benefits of this activity are still
under study. For example, Nannotrigona testaceicornis and
Tetragonisca angustula are used for greenhouse strawberries,
Melipona subnitida is used for guava (Psidium guava) orchards.
Study case 04 (Stingless Bees
As Important Tropical Crop Pollinators) supplies additional
data about Brazilian initiatives.
As soon as the
role of stingless bees as pollinators receives the proper attention
and the economic value in crop yields becomes known, their use will
be widespread. Demand for their nests will rise, farmers will raise
colonies for agriculture and those that live in conservation areas
or rural landscapes will find raising stingless bees to be a good
source of income.
How to choose
between beekeeping with honeybee and beekeeping with stingless bee?
Both activities aid sustainable development, because bees depend
on flower products (nectar and pollen) for their food and energy
supply. Honeybee colonies have larger populations than do those
of stingless bees and choose more productive food sources. They
are very useful for agricultural crops. Stingless bees, very diverse
and with a preference for visiting different plant species, are
important for biodiversity conservation. To choose between them,
it is necessary to evaluate their impact on the environment and
the value of their products to the breeder.
bee species, also known as pollen bees because they lay their eggs
over a ball of pollen and nectar, are very important as pollinators.
Study case 05 (Economic value
of cashew to Brazil and its need for pollination) and Study
case 06 (Rational Management of solitary bees of the genus Xylocopa
and Centris for pollination in agricultural areas) deal
with them. Study case 07 (Priority
Researches Needed with Solitary Bees to Make Possible Their Large-Scale
Use as Pollinators in Agricultural Settings) lists the studies
that will be necessary prior to establishing the use of solitary
bees as pollinators in our country.
Brazil is also
very rich in Megachilidae (around 160 Megachile species). Like Centris
and Xylocopa, Megachile use cavities (generally dead tree
trunks) as nest sites. They mainly pollinate Fabaceae and Asteraceae
flowers, and could have an important role in food and in forage
production (including in alfalfa seed production). This is an unexploited
market. See Study case 08
(Leafcutter bees in Brazil as pollinators).
Are populations of pollinating bees declining?
populations are declining in several disturbed habitats, including
those with fragmentation. Anthropic activity, firewood gathering,
in the Brazilian caatinga for instance, destroys trees used as nest
sites for native social bees and eliminates all dead tree trunks
and branches used as nest sites by solitary bees. In the caatinga,
honey hunters have also systematically destroyed several trees in
the process of collecting honey for eating or selling (see Study
case 09 - Honey Hunters And Pollinators Conservation).
conflict between timber harvest and bee conservation in managed
forests in Southeast Asia, where the vast majority of nests are
found in hollows in or under large timber trees, was considered
by Eltz et al. The authors estimated that more than one third of
nest trees (and nests) would be destroyed during an average selective
logging operation. They also suggested that, as meliponine colonies
are long-lived, direct impact from logging may have lasting effects
on bee populations and community composition (http://www.uni-duesseldorf.de/MathNat/Zoologie/eltz;
et al. 2002). In Brazil, concerns about conservation of trees
as nest sites as crucial for stingless bee survival in natural environments
revolve around the selection of several tree species as nest sites
for stingless bees (Table 1). Those tree species are suitable for
lists for environmental compensation programmes. Ecological compensation
is obligatory for companies that, through their activities, destroy
natural environments. This compensation may be in the form of reforestation
of the disturbed areas or other means of improving the quality of
have shown that trees are also used as nest sites for stingless
bees in Central America and that environmentalists there have similar
The study cases presented here also show the shortage of solitary
crop pollinators. This is true for both small and large crop areas.
Landscapes and pollinator abundance merit further study.
(Scrub savanna) (Bahia)
species (mainly Apis mellifera, Melipona quadrifasciata
anthidioides, Melipona asilvae)
29,7% Schinopsis brasiliensis
et al., 2001
(Scrub savanna) (Rio Grande do Norte)
Caesalpinia pyramidalis and Commiphora leptophloeos
22,3% C. pyramidalis
et al., 2002
is a sustainable development activity. When the value of the environmental
service they provide (estimated at US$65 billion/year) and their
value to selected crops becomes available, breeding them will have
more impact on family finances. The prospects for rural development
are very good, but depend upon an efficient release of results,
a commercial plan linking rural properties, co-operatives and training
at all levels.
also are important in the agenda of forest management and timber
logging operation. Studies concerning pollinators in forested areas
are almost non-existent in Brazil, even in biodiversity hot spots
such as the Atlantic rain forest or the Amazon.
have a tradition of bee breeding, we have far to go before honeyhunters
become beekeepers, pollinators become a part of sustainable agriculture
and agribusiness and rural communities begin to use bees as a keystone
of their sustainable development. In order to achieve these goals,
a join effort will be needed.