TACOMA, Washington — Costa Rica has one of the lowest poverty rates in Latin America. This came about primarily as a result of a proactive cooperation with rich nations who were willing to buy Costa Rican exports. Through wise policy decisions and social investment, the Central American country was also able to stave off the many detrimental effects of foreign loans. One of the exports that brought Costa Rica to upper-middle-income status was the sale of honey products. However, deforestation and deadly pesticides have slashed bee populations. The coronavirus pandemic has also steeply impacted export revenue. In response, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) is working to combat the economic hardships via beekeeping in Costa Rica.
Significance of Bees to Costa Rica
Primary sector jobs, like beekeeping, account for the majority of Costa Rican employment. Ground-level jobs like these incentivize foreign investment and provide food for Costa Rican families. In addition to honey, bees also help stimulate other primary jobs, like farming. Bees are essential for pollination, and therefore, are also responsible for crop production. Since much of the country’s economy relies on agriculture, the protection of bees is crucial for maintaining healthy crops.
In an interview with the UNDP, the National University of Costa Rica reported that “65% of the plants on the planet require pollinators, and of these, the most important are bees.” Bee-dependent crops, including coffee, strawberries and tomatoes, generate $250 million to the Costa Rican economy annually.
The Decline of Beekeeping in Costa Rica
Unfortunately for Costa Rica, bees are disappearing and agricultural farmers are facing a pollination crisis. More than 1,000 Costa Ricans earn their living through harvesting more than 50,000 hives, according to the UNDP. However, the amount of honey Costa Ricans consume annually — 1,200 tons — on top of export demands outweigh the supply. Currently, the supply is especially low. Bees rely on trees and plants for nectar in order to generate honey. But, due to deforestation, farming chemicals and rapidly changing agricultural practices, bees are struggling to survive.
How the UNDP Provides Support
Through support and supplies, the Small Grants Programme of the UNDP is focusing on restoring beekeeping capabilities in the Jesus Maria and Barranca River watersheds. These are two of the most degraded watersheds in Costa Rica, and as such, need the most support. On the ground, the UNDP is working directly with 24 beekeepers who manage more than 1,000 beehives collectively. In partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the program works to teach beekeepers how to harvest honey more efficiently and sustainably. To facilitate a smooth transition into the plan’s new practices, the UNDP is providing supplies like sugar, honey extraction units and new suits.
Beekeeping in Costa Rica will continue to face new challenges as climate change and unsustainable development threaten trees and plants essential for honey-making. However, initiatives like this one from the UNDP provide new opportunities to these farmers and the bees they cultivate. On a wider scale, the protection of bees has the potential to strongly benefit the Costa Rican economy.
– Laney Pope