Bees for Development Journal Edition 134 - March 2020

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Bees for Development Journal 134 March 2020

Wild honey of the Wichi people A treasure to be discovered Images © Archivo Slow Food

The indigenous Wichi community live in the arid area of the Chaco Salteño* in Argentina, a region with little annual rainfall except for heavy downpours in November. One of the most important products for the community is honey gathered from twatsaj (wild bees) living in hollow trees. Two months after the start of the flowering season in mid-August, honey starts to accumulate and the best time for harvesting is November when the rains begin. The men observe the bees’ activity to identify the trees where honey can be found. During collection some honey is left for the colonies to feed on. The honey and wax mixture is pressed to separate out the honey, which is then filtered three times through cloth, to remove impurities, before being packaged for sale. The Wichi Wild Honey Presidium was started with the involvement of Larguero, a community of about 50 Wichi people not far from the Pilcomayo River and the border region between Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. 70% of Presidium honey harvesters are young people and have been collecting and selling the honey for over 10 years. Although not formally organised they recently started promoting their product outside the collection area and primarily in Buenos Aires, in fair-trade shops and through sustainable food-buying groups. The Presidium also supports the work of women in the community, who gather wild fruit from many different species to make highly nutritious and flavoured flours. Slow Food interviewed Juan Ignacio Pearson, an agricultural engineer and Coordinator of the Wichi Wild Honey Presidium, and Marcela Biglia, an agricultural engineer specialising in organic production and certification, and a Presidium Collaborator: What does the community aim to achieve with the Presidium? The Presidium supports the harvesting of Wichi wild honey using traditional collection techniques passed between generations for thousands of years. It aims to raise the profile, improve local consumption and production, and the commercial supply chain of the honey. What does this product represent for the indigenous community?

The Wichi people collect honey from colonies of twatsaj (wild bees) living in hollow trees

Wild honey is vital for the Wichi people, as it is directly linked to their culture, their knowledge and their bond with the land. Therein lies its enormous value, in that collection of the honey is an activity in which the value of ancestral Wichi knowledge is demonstrated and, at the same time, the Community’s ownership of its lands is reaffirmed. The honey has a unique and unmistakable taste, closely linked to the gastronomic memory of the region and plays an important role in dietary balance. This is due to the combination of flowers that the bees visit to produce the honey and that grow specifically

on the land of the Community. Throughout history the Wichi People have also collected honey from stingless bees (Meliponidae): Wos Chalas, Wejñat, No´tewos and Wosa (these species nest in hollow trees) and Nezla which nest underground. Stingless wasps, which hang their hives from the branches of trees such as the Wo´na or No´walhek, also make truly delicious honey, which is also eaten. All these honeys are eaten, however it is possible to 8