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Zoom in on Bolivia

Bolivia is a landlocked country in the middle of South America. The majority of the population used to live in the Andean altiplano but with closure of silver and tin mines the tropical sector -is now the fastest growing region. There are large, wild parklands set aside with debt-for- nature monies for natural resource conservation offering a great potential for beekeeping.


Bolivia is considered an Andes country but two thirds of the geography is tropical. There are three major climatic types. The Andes mountain aitiplano of the western third of the country bordering western Argentina, Chile and Peru is very high and dry much of the year with permanent snow above 5000 m. The tropical region borders Brazil on the north and east and 1s extremely wet and humid The south, bordering Paraguay and Argentina, is drier grasslands (//ano) In between, the eastern frontal range of the Andes 1s extremely wet The high mountain valleys of the western slope are subtropical to temperate (depending upon altitude) with a short intense spring when the rains reach over the mountains


1,100,000 km² 


6.5 million with three major cities over one million inhabitants each, one in each region: La Paz the world’s highest capital at 3600 m, Cochabamba, a front range city in a large intermountain valley at 2560 m, and Santa Cruz (420 m) the largest city and most rapidly growing region in the Bolivian tropics


There is little exportation of agricultural goods with most farming at subsistence level The tropical region has large cattle growing ranches and some cultivation of cotton, rice, soya beans and sunflowers Coca Is grown legally for consumption of the whole leaves for altitude endurance by higher elevation inhabitants Leaves are smuggled to Colombia and Peru with some processing into coca paste for international cocaine markets In the Highlands grains and potatoes are grown, and ‘lama (and relatives) and sheep plus chinchilla are kept.


Early imports of European Apis meliifera were from Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Africanised honeybees Apis mellifera scutellata arrived in the tropical lowlands in 1967 and have spread throughout the entire country Bees at higher elevations are more manageable than those in tropical regions. Swarms and feral colonies are more common in the humid tropical regions than in the dryer southern grasslands and Intermountain valleys of the Andes. There are few bees at higher elevations of the Andes Mountains


The tropical region and front mountain range of the Andes are extremely varied in the flora available for bees that forage throughout the year There is some sunflower pollination by bees with the potential for their loss due to pesticide poisoning Intermountain valleys have an extremely short 2-3 month flowering season of varied flora (introduced weeds and indigenous varieties) when the rains manage to get over the mountains In the 1980s Professor of Botany Noel Kempff Mercardo prepared a ‘floral guide and annual management scheme based on flowering in the tropical areas before he was accidentally killed when he wandered too close to a jungle cocaine  ‘factory’ whilst looking for bee flora. There is a large National Park dedicated to his memory in remote tropical eastern Bolivia along the border with Brazil


As the number of swarms and feral colonies has Increased following Africanisation, honey hunting and harvesting of bee trees and local hives has been Increasing, especially in rural areas Beekeepers in the tropical regions around Santa Cruz manage 1000-2000 colonies (before Africanisation this number exceeded 5000 colonies) with an active beekeepers’ association that conducts a honey festival each year. There are large numbers of beekeepers keeping small numbers of colontes in the rest of the tropical region and in the two coca growing regions of the front range of the Andes (Chapare region between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba and Yungas region between tropical north Bolivia and La Paz). From 4000-5000 colonies are in Cochabamba valley and smaller numbers in other high valleys (such as Mizque) are kept in both Langstroth and local hives. About 1500 colonies migrate from Cochabamba to Chapare at the end of the flowering season in the high valleys. There are very few feral or managed colonies in La Paz or the altiplano region


Equipment supplies are mostly imported although Langstroth hives and frames are made in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba Foundation Is imported from Brazil since the bees need the smaller Africanised bee size cell bases


A number of foreign agencies including CIDA (Canada), EU agencies for example GTZ (Germany), FAO and USAID currently have beekeeping development projects in Bolivia Bolivia is the largest American continent recipient of USA foreign aid and there is a major Alternatives Programme designed to train campesinos (subsistence farmers) to abandon coca cultivation and cultivate alternatives beekeeping is an alternative component! EU and FAO funding also supports this approach. Most of the projects are in the Chapare and Yungas regions There are several NGOs working with communities throughout the country with active beekeeping projects Japanese and US Peace Corps and Caritas, the Catholic Church Development Agency, support small but active projects Farmer-to-Farmer (USA) supports a beekeeping project In Cochabamba connecting North Carolina beekeepers with those in Cochabamba Florida beekeepers supported the Santa Cruz beekeepers for a number of years shipping Florida reared queens and sending Langstroth bee equipment to Bolivia.


Non-Africanised queens do poorly alongside Africanised queens and therefore the importation of queens mentioned above has largely ceased Luckily (so far) American foulbrood has not been imported into the country. Varroa mites are present but few beekeepers have had to use control measures, as the numbers of mites remain low and not destructive.


Several companies in Cochabamba and La Paz export pollen and other bee products of medicinal value to Asia: these products remain free of major pollutant chemicals found in other countries. Honey consumption within Bolivia IS quite low and markets have been relatively easy to develop for quality products There Is strong competition from bee products produced in Argentina and Brazil.


Beekeeping is taught at Universities in Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Development projects often employ a technician who helps beekeepers participating in the project and who manages the central honey extracting facility The author describes this type of project for the Mizque valley in Reference 3 Two manuals are available for beginners (references 1 and 2)

Information and illustiations provided by Dewey M Curot

1. ARISPE, O (1988) Manual practico de iniacion apicola.Apisbol, Cochabamba, Bolivia. 60 pp

2. CARON, D M (1995) Guia practica - Apicultura. CE.DEAGRO Cochabamba, Bolivia, Mimeo. 40 pp

3. CARON, D M (1996) Mizquw valley Bolivia - example of an effective rural beekeeping project. Amercian Bee Journal 136: 407 - 408

4. CARON, D M (1996) Is beekeeping an alternative to coca growing? Bee Science 4: 84 - 86

5. CARON, D M (2001) Bolivia. In: Africanized homey bees in the Americas Chapter 9: 111 - 127. A I Root Company, USA. (see page 4).

6. KEMPFF, M N (1980) Flora apicola subtropical de Bolivia. Univ Gabriele Rene Moreno, Bolivia. 77 pp