Region, Nature

A sweet alternative to protect the tropical dry forest

Esta publicación también está disponible en: Español
Translator: Ariana Hernández

It’s 10:10 a.m. on a Friday in September. The sun beats down over a farm located in the Paso del Mono Aullador (Howler Monkey Passage) Biological Corridor on the outskirts of the city of Cañas.

Daniela Robleto, a 26-year-old entrepreneur from Cañas, points out to me the place where we should walk while taking advantage of the nobility of the only shade we manage to find.

We don’t fully appreciate it at first glance, but when we look closely, we see some green and white boxes in the distance. They’re home to thousands of bees and are the real reason why we are here.

In bees, Daniela found a way to take financial advantage of nature, while at the same time protecting natural resources.

In 2021, she founded Miela, a brand of bee honey inspired by the biodiversity of the tropical dry forest and the first venture with the seal of the Paso del Mono Aullador Biological Corridor. This distinction is awarded by the local committee in charge of the corridor in recognition that her project is in line with the corridor’s objectives to serve as a connecting point between ecosystems.

She graduated as an agricultural engineer from Earth University’s Guacimo campus in 2017 and, since then, she has returned to her hometown of Cañas with one idea in mind: to use what she has learned to be part of her community’s sustainable development.

The university education was always about being a local change agent, but from there to the reality of going back to a rural area where opportunities are quite scarce, I think it’s quite challenging,” explains Robleto as we walk along the path that leads us to her apiary.

Despite the challenge that returning to Cañas meant, after a few months, Daniela began to produce organic chan along with two other producers, in order to sell it throughout the country. However, they weren’t able to continue with the project due to production costs.

Despite this, it was in these cultivated fields that her admiration for the work carried out by bees blossomed.

“I noticed that the lives of plants and of their pollinators are so intimately linked that they can’t live without each other. So I said, ‘well, what if I start to develop a venture that’s different, that connects with the type of medium I’m in, in order to get differentiated products from the ecosystem?’” adds Robleto.

Smokers have to be used to calm the bees while the hives of the apiaries are being checked.Photo: Rubén F. Román

More Than Satisfying the Palate

Bees are nature’s invisible hand, Daniela remarks when she begins the ritual of preparing to open the 20 hives that she has on this property. She has 20 more on another farm.

What Daniela comments about is a silent reality: Bees pollinate 70% of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

To put it another way, the food that you have on your plate probably got there thanks to these insects.

Each bee collects enough pollen for its own food and also for the needs of the hive. In a single day, a bee can visit thousands of flowers, collecting nectar and pollen and spreading the granules on other flowers.

Now Daniela lights the smoker with coyol seeds. The device expels smoke and helps reduce the bees’ flight and their stinging behavior. A good portion of them even go away from the place momentarily.

Next, we put on the protective suit and Daniela proceeds to open the lid of a hive.

Immediately, the buzzes that are heard generate a first adrenaline rush that’s hard to explain. The infinite amount of bees that begin to surround us is terrifying and absolutely peaceful at the same time.

This time, Daniela limits herself to checking her hives and showing them to me. At other times, she collects the honey that she takes to her production room, where she packages it in order to later sell it out of her house.

Two years ago, Daniela founded Miela, a beekeeping business that takes advantage of the bounty of the tropical dry forest.Photo: Rubén F. Román

Harnessing the Power of Bees to Benefit the Forests

Daniela chose the Paso del Mono Aullador Biological Corridor as the ideal site for her project. The corridor surrounds part of Cañas, Abangares and Bagaces, and is key to the connectivity of Guanacaste’s tropical dry forests.

In addition to having a rich floral diversity, the main purpose of the corridors is to provide connectivity between protected wildlife areas, landscapes, ecosystems and habitats, to ensure that biodiversity and ecological processes are maintained.

Paso del Mono Aullador is just one of 44 biological corridors throughout the country, established by the National System of Conservation Areas (Spanish acronym: SINAC) National Program of Biological Corridors.

However, there is a whole social and economic dynamic within them. They’re not like protected wildlife areas, which are mostly dedicated to conservation and research. People live in the corridors and most of the territory they cover is private.

Steven Fernández Cabezas, the agricultural official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG), explains that the threats facing this biological corridor intersect with those of bees.

“In short, the main problems that are affecting these insects and the corridor right now are climate variations, the use of pesticides and forest fires,” he adds.

Despite the difficult circumstances for the ecosystem, Fernandez believes that beekeepers are great allies to conserve and sustainably take advantage of forests.

That’s exactly what sustainable development is about, that we can make use of the resources, but without exhausting them and without affecting future generations either,” adds the expert.

Robleto explains that she didn’t want to focus only on the products that bees give us, but also to be more intentional about what is around her to try to conserve that.

“I wanted to help counter those threats to ensure not only the survival of the forest and the bees, but our own as well,” she added.

In Costa Rica, there are 1,749 apiaries, according to data from the 2022 National Beekeeping Census by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.Photo: Rubén F. Román

Integrate the Community

When she decided to start the venture, one of the questions she constantly asked herself was how to start if she didn’t have a farm or a large place where she could put the hives.

“One of the limitations that rural youth have is being able to access land. Land posession, precisely, is not in the hands of young people or women,” says Daniela.

Frustrated by the situation, Daniela decided to approach two farmers from Cañas.

“I spoke with them about the importance, not only for my benefit, but also the ecological importance that bees could have on their farm. And explaining to them a little more in depth what pollination does in itself and what the project of conserving those native species of flora that are in Guanacaste is about, they agreed to lend a little piece of their land,” she relates.

According to Fernandez, this type of agreement is very common among farmers in this ecosystem.

“The people who agree to lend their land can benefit from the pollination of their trees and greater biodiversity on their farm, and in turn, the beekeeper benefits, since that’s where the honey is going to be produced,” he points out.

In Costa Rica, there are 1,749 apiaries, according to data from the 2022 National Beekeeping Census by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.Photo: Rubén F. Román