There are around 400 known species of stingless bees that live in the world’s tropical and subtropical zones. The Yucatán Peninsula is home to 16, including Melipona beecheii, which for hundreds of years has been the most commonly reared.
Locally known as Xunankab (“lady of honey” in the Mayan language), its honey and wax were greatly appreciated by the Mayans. In the pre-Hispanic period, the honey was used in traditional medicine, as well as being the only known sweetener and used as a trading currency. In Mayan mythology, there is even a god, called Ah Muchen Kab, who guards the stingless bees. The honey is still used to treat eye, skin, hearing, respiratory, and digestive system problems, and is eaten by women who have just given birth. Amber in color and with a liquid consistency, creamy and without crystals, it has an intense flavor and a pleasant acidity.
Stingless bees are smaller and paler than Apis mellifera, the Western honey bee. Because of their lack of sting, they attack intruders by biting them. The colonies build their nests in empty tree trunks in the forest, known as jobones. The queen completes her nuptial flight and lives in the colony with thousands of worker bees. The Yucatán stingless bee has a dual relationship with the forest (selva): many wild plant species depend on the stingless bee for pollination, and likewise the bee could not survive without the selva. The disappearance of this ecosystem and competition for food and nesting places with the Apis mellifera (which is more productive) are threatening this indigenous species.
Presidium supported by
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The Presidium is made up of 43 beekeepers organized into six groups who have been partnering for some years with the U Yits Ka’an Ecological Agricultural School in Maní.
The school is a multidisciplinary educational project that involves farmers, academics, Catholic priests and alumni who want to support rural families and adopt agroecological practices as a model for a sustainable way of life. The producers, working with the school, have been reproducing the Xunankab bees in wooden hives or traditional jobones.
The Presidium was started in 2016 as part of the Slow Yucatán project, which promotes a sustainable system of food production and consumption in order to improve the life of indigenous Mayan communities and bring them economic, cultural, social and health benefits. The Presidium’s main aims are to increase production, to create honey-base products, such as cosmetics, and to promote access to a more profitable market, through improvement of the honey’s packaging and the support of the local and national Slow Food network.
Maní, Yaxcaba and Mama municipalities, Yucatán state
43 producers who work with the U Yits Ka’an Ecological Agricultural School in Maní