“This is the most cohesive group we’ve partnered with,” says Genaro Simalaj, Pueblo a Pueblo’s Senior Beekeeping Project Technician. “They work very well together, and they are well-organized—and as a result, their hives are more stable and more successful than we’ve seen from any other partner group at this stage in the project.”
They are Batz’ib’al Juyu’, a group of beekeepers-in-training based in San Pablo La Laguna, Guatemala. They are about to wrap up their first year as Pueblo a Pueblo Beekeeping project partners. Genaro has mentored each of Pueblo a Pueblo’s beekeeping partner groups, but he sees something special in the way the San Pablo beekeepers learn and work together.
What makes these beekeepers-in-training such an effective team? It is their shared commitment to their families, their community, and the earth. A web of personal relationships, common values, and shared identities connects the San Pablo group, and it has set them up for success in their endeavors as beekeepers, honey producers, and entrepreneurs.
Perhaps the most powerful force uniting this group of beekeepers is their desire to build a brighter future for their families. Farming families like the San Pablo beekeepers’ can increase their economic stability by diversifying their sources of income through activities like beekeeping. Keeping bees is an opportune way for families to earn extra income because it requires few additional hours of labor per week, especially when tasks and responsibilities are shared among members of a collective like Batz’ib’al Juyu’.
Ana Maribel Quicain Ajpan (left) is the group’s president and the single mother of a 13-year-old son. Although she works as a weaver and harvests coffee on a seasonal basis, she worries about making ends meet. “I can see that what I earn isn’t enough,” she says. “That’s why I am always thinking about how I need to find another job, that I need to find alternatives—like this beekeeping project.” Maribel is optimistic that beekeeping will provide her with the extra income she needs to provide a more secure life for her son.
Maribel and the other beekeepers were born and raised in San Pablo La Laguna, a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala’s western highlands. In San Pablo, the vast majority of residents—our beekeeping partners included—identify as indigenous Maya Tz’utujil. The ten beekeepers meet each week to discuss everything from hive maintenance to business planning, and every two weeks a team of four group members makes the hour-long trek to the apiary to check on their hives. “These beekeepers are committed to making time for their work as a group,” says Genaro. “This level of organization makes them unique, and it will help them in the long term.”
Group members at a trainingThe name they chose for their group reflects their shared value of environmentalism. Batz’ib’al Juyu’ is a phrase in Tz’utujil, the local Mayan language spoken in San Pablo. While it cannot be translated directly, the phrase combines the words “batz’” (thread), “bal” (machinery), and “juyu’” (volcano), to describe the living, breathing ecological fabric of the beekeepers’ lakeside home and their role as stewards of its native biodiversity. The group’s logo shows the Maya god of maize face-to-face with a honey bee, both contemplating a young corn plant. Every jar of honey produced by Batz’ib’al Juyu’ carries this logo, an homage to the group’s common values and worldview.
Beekeeping is important to the San Pablo group as a way to conserve local bee populations and the health of their entire ecosystem. “The native bees and native plants in this region are like an inheritance given to us by our ancestors, and we must take care of them,” says Maribel. “I want to be a messenger to my community regarding the importance of bees to our natural world.”
Maribel and her team have a vision of a brighter future. Now Pueblo a Pueblo is equipping them with the tools they need to turn their plans into reality. We provide each Beekeeping partner group with an initial donation of materials—bees, hives, smokers and protective gear—followed by training and mentorship in beekeeping techniques and business skills, courtesy of Genaro. By the end of the project’s three-year timeline, the beekeepers of Batz’ib’al Juyu’ will be ready to operate as a fully independent beekeeping collective and honey enterprise!
When the San Pablo beekeepers look toward the future, they see a world of opportunity to share the benefits of the project with other members of their community. “I would like to teach my son and my siblings what I have learned so that they can become part of this project,” says Maribel. “I want to share my knowledge of both the theoretical and practical aspects of beekeeping with my family and my community.”
Maribel and her team have already carried out one spectacular harvest, yielding over 200 pounds of beautiful golden honey. “This was an extremely impressive first harvest,” Genaro notes. “I’m proud of the group’s progress so far and I look forward to seeing what they continue to accomplish.”
The group’s next step is adding native stingless bees to their apiary. Wherever the future takes them, Batz’ib’al Juyu’ will go there together. Maribel believes that there is much she and her team can achieve through beekeeping. “And,” she says, “I have the energy, I have the will to see it done.” The San Pablo beekeepers’ passion, together with Genaro’s expertise and Pueblo a Pueblo’s support, makes them a powerful force for change in their communities and in their future of their families. We are proud to be part of their journey.
As the beekeepers of Batz’ib’al Juyu’ move into the second phase of their training, our team is gearing up to welcome a new partner group to the Beekeeping project. With your support, we can equip a new group of beekeepers-in-training with the tools they need to succeed—together.