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Disseminating Stingless Bee Honey Value Chain among traditional family agriculture to help saving the Brazilian Amazon

Five thousand traditional families in the Amazon become bee-keepers generating income, conserving biodiversity and combating climate change

Photo of Joao Meirelles Filho
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Instituto Peabiru

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Belém, Pará state

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Municipalities near Belém, in approximately 50 km radius to the west, specially Acará, Mojú, Barcarena, Tomé-Açú and Abaetetuba, Pará state.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Peabiru has been working in 7 municipalities in different regions of Pará and Amapá states for 12 years but concluded that it is essential to concentrate efforts in the area of Belém. At the moment we have family agriculture partners involved in raising native bees in Acará and Barcarena. Considering the impact on biodiversity and on climate change we learned it is important to concentrate beekeepers in the same vicinity. Ideally each group of beehives should stay not more than 500 meters from the next beehives. In a previous study funded by BNDES/Fundo Amazônia, by using satellite images, Peabiru proved that beekeepers are able to become efficient forest guardians in a 500-meter radius from their home. Although stingless bees can fly up to 2,000 meters, they would prefer collecting pollen and nectar from flowers in a smaller distance, especially if they find concentration of palms and fruits. Most of the properties in this region are small, usually family scale. We are targeting small associations and cooperatives in an approximately 100 km radius from Belem western municipalities (Abaetetuba, Acará, Barcarena, Mojú and Tomé-Açú) to expand the Melipona honey value chain (non-stinging bees honey) because: a) they can be easily accessed from Belém all-year round (offering them easier rural assistance and harvesting support); b) these municipalities are suffering increasing deforestation pressure and increased number of forest burning; c) this value chain offers complementary income from a forest-based product and can have positive effects in the local economy; and d) if family agriculture learns how to protect pollinators they will have a bigger production and better income. In most cases, Melipona bees can offer up to 30% in fruit availability. Besides that, this region has no public conservation unit and is among the most threatened areas in the whole Amazon (as part of the Belém Endemism Center). 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

This is a super humid area, with more than 3,000 mm/rain/year, with averages temperatures between 24oC and 27oC whole year round (never under 21oC). Most of the rural area surrounding Belem is based on family agriculture. Most are very poor (under US$ 2/day/capta). In these municipalities there are more than 50,000 families in family-based agriculture. Most of the rural area surrounding Belem is based on family agriculture. Most are very poor (under US$ 2/day/capta). In the floodable areas prevails seasonal traditional fishing (shrimp and fish) and harvesting açaí palm berry. Açaí market is booming since it has been associated as a health food (super fruit). In Pará and Amapá states (that represents 90% of the açaí market), there are at least 120,000 families involved in harvesting the fruit six months a year. Açaí depends on Melipona bees for pollination and this palm tree is not a natural place for the beehive in the wild. Bees build their beehive in other trees. But the açaí boom has placed significant pressure in other trees causing serious deforestation at local level, cleaning other tree species, what can seriously compromise production in the future. 

In dry land areas family agriculture area also planting açaí, but most traditionally their income derives from planting manioc (specially for the manioc flour), and other fruits such as Cupuaçú (a cousin to cocoa, where pulp is largely consumed regionally). Large properties with cattle ranching, palm oil and soya are increasing their pressure on family agriculture. Cattle ranching and soya represents a total change in the environment. Peabiru has done research in the area and found out that in a pristine forest more than 20 Melipona bees can be easily found, while in cattle areas no more than 2 species can be found. In a different situation from Southeast Asia, palm has been planted in abandoned cattle ranching fields and up to now did not represented a direct threat to family agriculture as more than 2,000 family agriculture are involved on it in reasonable agreements. 

Most of the family agriculture has a variety of plants in the same area, usually in an agroforestry system. Although most are not efficient and not economically viable, they have great potential to become viable and bee keeping can increase their chance. Japanese migrants proved that tropical agroforestry in Tomé Açú can be very profitable, sustainable and employ a great number of people.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The major challenge is to involve a significant number of families in order they have better earnings from a forest product – the Amazon stingless bee value chain, and at the same time  have positive impact to conservation and climate change, as there will be less deforestation, forest fires and a better understanding of pollinators and endemic bees roles. If we start working with 10 producers, in 10 years we can benefit 250 families, and in 30 years, 5,000 families. Five major objectives can be outlined (here figures are for a group of 10 famiies): 1. Conservation – disseminate understanding of the role of pollinators, especially native bees; to have impact on diminish deforestation and forest fires in an area of at least 20 hectares/family or group. In groups of 10 families deforestation/fire impact will be of 200 hectares. At the 10th year we expect to have in impact in 500 hectares/group. 2. Finance: amplify the capacity of generating income and introduce and evaluate innovative financial mechanism. At the end of the 4th year we expect an income of approximately US$ 91.46/month/family or group. In Year 1 – 10 farmers/groups will receive a 30 beehives/each on a loan mechanism and will receive US$18.23/month in advance. In the 2nd year these farmers will receive US$ 29.26/month and are able to start paying back their loans (paying 30 beehives to the Revolving Fund). In the 3rd year the other 30 beehives will be payed and there is no more compromise. 3. Production increase & Chain Development: Strength the development of the Honey value chain and empower Honey producers; Year 1 – 300 kg/honey produced - potential to generate US$ 219.10/family or group; Economic diagnosis – Evaluate production/community; logistics/costs/kg in each community; define measures – Year 2   - 480 kg/honey produced, potential to generate US$ 351.20/family or group. Each producer will have 30 beehives at the end of Year 1, 60 beehives at the end of year 2. And in Year 3, 90 beehives and stabilizing at 150 beehives in Year 4. From Year 3 onwards the producers will be self-sufficient. 4. Organizational Development: Strength the institutional capacity of local associations involved. Year 1 – General Diagnosis (able to compare strong/weak points in each organization), basic onsite training, discuss with the associations how to be the intermediary with the producers and build an administrative capacity to manage and monitor the agreements with producers and Peabiru.; Year 2 – specific assistance to each organization, measuring development; 5. Knowledge Development: Improving monitoring and evaluation systems and promote environmental education; and increase capacity to measure the impact of the intervention and to increase producer’s awareness on environmental and social issues affecting their livelihoods.  We can also include the commercialization of this honey as a challenge. But even if we sell it in similar prices of the Apis honey it will be viable in the long run.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Peabiru developed its own approach to value chain development to build the Peabiru Stingless Bee Program. It is based in the 2007-2009 partnership with Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), from Holland. According to the concept of pro-poor value chain development, based on: 1. Chain mapping and assessment: sector and market analysis, mapping the business and policy environment; mapping and profiling the chain actors; assessing farmers and their organizations. 2. Building engagement:matchmaking and partnering, including identifying common and conflicting issues; identifying chain leaders and facilitators; strengthening linkages and building trust; developing a joint chain strategy, facilitating chain platforms. 3. Chain development:identifying and implementing strategies to improve supply chains; strengthening producer organizations; bridging capacity gaps; developing entrepreneurship; supporting chain platforms. 4. Chain monitoring and evaluation: monitoring chain development and evaluation of its economic, social, pro-poor and environmental impacts. 5. Learning and innovation: learning from operational experience; facilitating learning alliances; developing tools for private sector engagement. According to challenges described above, this is how we are going to address the five challenges: 1. Conservation – by offering permanent rural assistance and environmental education to partner family agriculture. It includes increasing production with sustainable agroforestry systems, agriculture without fire and other sustainable techniques. 2. Finance: assisting families on finance education, increasing their associations to create local savings mechanisms, as savings capacity as most of them have no access to formal banking system and are accustomed to immediately spend what they earn. As a “Chain Development” strategy, we believe the best option is to introduce a lending system. This system is based on lending beehives to the communities and offering a minimal wage – “forest fellowship”. Technically this is a “rent” as they are keeping the beehives for the association. 3. Production increase & Chain Development: Strength the commercial capacity of Peabiru, the commercial partners and its own firm (Peabiru Forest Products – created to sell the honey and other products) in order to put the production in the market at the best prices and to pay as much as possible to producers according to fair trade. 4. Organizational Development: offer courses and permanent technical support for local associations and cooperatives in order to strength their institutional capacity; 5. Knowledge Development: develop a monitoring and evaluation system organizing a learning process involving producers, NGOs, local associations, researchers and local government; as well as structure a communication mechanisms in order to spread the word about the Meliponiculture to other Amazon areas. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

According to the five challenges 1. Conservation – with more attention to pollinators, forest burning, and deforestation, environmental services and biodiversity will play a key role. 2. Finance: with better understanding of the importance of savings and alternative savings and banking mechanism there is more money for food security and investment. 3. Production increase & Chain Development: producers will play a more significant role not only in the honey value chain but in other value chains as they have a better understanding of power structure in value chains. 4. Organizational Development: stronger associations and cooperatives means more power to negotiate public benefits (rights-based approach) and economic alternatives to the community as a whole. Honey value chain can introduce the valorization of forest products, origin and culture oriented; 5. Knowledge Development: family agriculture will be able to evaluate and monitor its own value chains and participation in different economic and political issues. Producers will be able to introduce the business to other producers. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Bee the new generations – On a recent field visit, a 4-year-old girl stood next to her mother, watching a training session around an Amazon native bee beehive. After listening carefully, she turned and looked up at her mother who was expecting her next child. She wanted to know whether they could raise a hive of bees for her new sister. This child had understood the essence of native beekeeping. The new beehive would represent an investment for the future in which her sister would be born. The bees, naturally stingless, would be a safe and gentle presence in the baby’s life. She and her sister may well be a part of the new generation of Amazonian youth making their living from the forest and helping to ensure its continuity. 


A global challenge - With the world population growing extensively, food security has become a major issue of our time. Yet, mMost of our food production depends on pollination, which means that we rely on bees, other insects, birds and bats for our food. However, due to the growing incorrect use of pesticides and the destruction of bee’s natural habitats for in favor of pastures for cattle & other animals and monocultures, bee and other pollinators’ populations are declining. In the Brazilian Amazon, there are over 80 endemic, non-stinging bee species of the Melipona family that contribute significantly to the conservation of biodiversity and are threatened because of ongoing deforestation. They also play a key role in pollinating açaí, cocoa, Brazil nut and other commercial crops. Pollination is a global agenda. We have to remember that Bees vary in size, shape and habits. Bees visit flowers to collect their food (Michener, 2000). This makes them pollinators by excellence (Delaplane & Mayer, 2000; Ricketts et al., 2008). Most of the food we eat is produced thanks to pollinators. Globally, the economic value of bee pollination is estimated at 1/10 of the value of agriculture – US$ 153.10 billion [Gallai et al, 2009].  Using pollinators to increase agriculture productivity is a reality all around the world (Imperatriz-Fonseca et al., 2012). In Brazil, most agriculture areas depend on pollinators in the wild (either native Melipona or introduced Apis bees or other animals). Habitat destruction, extensive areas on monocultures, excessive use of pesticides and other chemical products is provoking visible pollinators population decrease. (Potts et al., 2016). Bees are disappearing worldwide; between 1947 and 2005 in the United States, domesticated honeybee colonies decreased by 60% [Meet our prime pollinators – Nature]. At the same time, in the last 50 years, global agriculture that depends on animal pollination increased by 300% [Aizen, M. A. & Harder, L. D. Curr. Biol. 19, 915–918 (2009)]. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), created to monitor global loss of biodiversity, has an agenda that includes pollinators, pollination and food production. The assessment is being evaluated since the 2016 Kuala Lampur meeting, in order to deliver worldwide through outreach programs. 

The Amazon – The Amazon is the largest biome on EarthEarth and it occupies an areas of 5% of Earth’s surface and. holds more than half of the remaining 1 billion hectares of tropical forest in the planet. It originally covered 7.8 million sqsq. km (equivalent to Australia) and encompassesin nine countries, and it lost 1 million sq. km, most of all in the last 50 years. As the most complex known biome ever known, Amazon houses an estimated 1.5 million species. This means that presumably ¼ of all living species are found in 5% of the Earths’ surface, ¼ of all living species are found. The Amazon represents at least 40% of the surface of eight countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guiana, France (Department of French Guiana), Peru, Surinam e Venezuela) and it is organized in more than a dozen states and more than 1,000 municipalities. Thirty-three million people live in the region, including 385 original peoplenative Americanindigenous groups, besidesnot counting isolated groups [RAISG, 2012]. In Brazil, theAmazon biome occupies more than half the country’s territory, an area of  of country (4.9 million sq. km), equivalent to the sum of all European Union’s 28 countries all together).

If we only consider the Amazon forest, up to 90% percent of native trees depend on bees as prime pollinators [KERR et alii, 1996]. In turn, bees depend on forest. An old growth Amazon forest can carry many dozens of species of Meliponini bees; in degraded pastureland this number drops to 0-2 species. Scientists estimate that there are 25,000 species of bees in the world. Among them is the Melipona family (stingless bees), with 600 species worldwide. Brazil has 244 named species and 89 species not yet described, among which are 114 species in the Amazon (what represent 19% of world species in the planet) (Pedro, 2014). Most bees breed & managed in the Amazon are big, docile and inoffensive. They are easy animals to breed. Their colonies are small, usually with 4,000 bees what is very small if compared to Apis colonies. The colonies can last in definitively if well protected, what is very simple. Peabiru has been working with six species, but two are the most relevant (Melipona flavolineata and Melipona fasciculata). In the Amazon, if wild bees disappear, local biodiversity will be seriously compromised. Major crops will also suffer­–all palms including açaí (Euterpe olereacea), Brazilian nut (Bertholletia excelsa), cocoa (Theobroma cacao), cupuaçú (Theobroma grandiflora), peppers (Capsicum spp) and most fruits.

The Brazilian Amazon forest guardians – We have to take into account that there are more than one million families living in rural underdevelopment in the Brazilian Amazon – among Indiansindigenous, quilombolas (ex-slave descendants of former enslaved people) and traditional agriculture families are the major Amazon forest guardians. How powerful it would be if each of these families worked to raise native bees. Furthermore, Instituto Peabiru estimates that morMost of them live in a situation of poverty and exclusion (i.e. with poor access to water, electricity, education and reliable income). In order to survive, they often fall back on economic practices based on the exploitation of natural resources. Sustainable agroforestry is one of the most effective alternatives to cattle ranching and other high impact non-sustainable economic activities. Honey from native bees can become a complementary activity which takes demands no more thanonly a few hours of work per week and generates extra income from honey, increases significantly cash local crops’ productivity, and and ensures food security, diminishing pressure on forest.

Tropical Countries – We also have to consider that ninety out of two hundred countries in the world are tropical countries and have their local Melipona bees.

Our vision – We envision every Amazonian home garden flourishing under the enterprising activity of these small workers. We see our initiative with the potential to eventually reach a greater population, preparing the forest farmers of the future. In these municipalities there are more than 50,000 families in family-based agriculture and our intention is to involve 10% of these families in the Melipona honey value chain in the next 30 years. As mentioned before, on the Brazilian Amazon alone, we have more than 1 million family agriculture that can learn from this experience, scale up and replicate it with NGO, business and government support. 

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Attachments (2)

20072012©Rafael Araujo-Curuca-Peabiru-00395.jpg

Curuçá, Pará state, local producers teach students how to raise bees and multiply beehives. One beehive can be transformed in two every six months. Peabiru considers one multiplication (division of beeboxes) once a year.

ManualAbelhasNativas-CasaDaVirada-Peabiru copy 2.pdf

This is the manual to train local communities (in Portuguese)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Adrian Omar Watson

I like this intiative Jamaica has some stingless bees but we havent studied ours here. They are deep within our forests. Would love to learn how to work with them.

Photo of Joao Meirelles Filho

Adrian, thank you for the comment. I guess you could check if there is any researcher at the university studying the Melipona bees! Good luck

Photo of Adrian Omar Watson

None here locally but the ones in your video looks similar to the ones here. Was wondering if there are any research materials on the ones you have that you could share??? especially on how to find and preserve them where they are in the forest? if they can survive outside of the forest etc.?

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