At this time of year I'm especially appreciative that I have a roof over my head and food in my belly when so many in the world have neither. You don't need to be a Christian to celebrate the idea of Christmas which should be a time of peace, love and selfless giving rather than the modern concept of commercialized overconsumption. Here are a few Christmas gift suggestions that we can give to beekeepers less fortunate than ourselves.
In many countries beekeeping is a practical solution to reduce poverty and relieve suffering. Beekeeping requires little space, minimal cost and offers much needed income from the sales of honey, beeswax and pollen. In addition increased pollination from the introduction of these bees can substantially increase fruit and vegetable yields as well as pollinating native plants. For most beekeeping has become a supplement to the family income but for an increasing number it has become a major part of the village economy. This is one of reasons we created our Beekeepers' Library, to provide free localized information to beekeepers worldwide. There are many good philanthropic beekeeping organizations worthy of your Christmas donations like "Bees for Development", "ICIMOD", "Global Hand", "Bees Abroad", "The Bee Cause", "The Bumblebee Conservation Trust", "The Xerces Society" and for me, in my community "Hives for Humanity".
One organization on my gift list is Oxfam's Plan Bee where for as little as $74 Canadian dollars (35 British pounds or $54 U.S.) you can buy a beehive for a struggling family in Ethiopia. Another organization that I support is "Heifer International" which has been operating throughout the world for over 70 years. For a mere $30 you can give the gift of honey bees.
Although I grow much of my own food and support local, organic farmers an organization that I support at Christmas and throughout the year is Fair Trade. Farmers in developing countries have traditionally been exploited by greedy food distribution corporations. A small portion of the price you pay for agricultural products from developing countries goes to the farmer. The concept of "Fair Trade" has empowered these farmers and provided them and their communities with a fair income which has allowed them a healthier, happier lifestyle. This documentary "Hope is Golden" is about the beekeeping cooperatives in Brazil’s arid Caatinga region that produce Fair Trade certified honey.
The Fair Trade organizations provide funding for the infrastructure required by farming cooperatives in developing countries. "Fair Trade International" began 25 years ago and in 2012 the number of Fairtrade producing organizations grew by 16%. It works and it is growing. Each time you buy a Fair Trade product you are supporting the farmer and their family in the developing world rather than the multinational food distribution corporation. Buying "Fair Trade" products (honey, tea, chocolate, sugar, fruit, flowers and coffee), easily identifiable by the "Fair Trade" symbol is a good idea throughout the year.
Another organization that I support is "Schools for Chiapas". Mexico is a prime example of how corporate agriculture exploits local farmers in developing worlds. The Zapatista organization "Schools for Chiapas" struggles to educate (Schools for Chiapas projects) and empower local, native communities. One part of this is the promotion and education of the beekeeping tradition of Meliponiculture. Melipona beecheii are stingless bees native to Mexico, Central America, the Carribean, and many parts of South America (Stingless Honey Bee of the Maya) which were domesticated by the Mayan people long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. In much of Latin America stingless beekeeping has been replaced by the introduction of the Africanized European Honey Bee (Killer Bees). The native stingless bees are the only honey bee native to the Americas and are essential for the pollination of some native plants and Schools for Chiapas is supporting a revival of this traditional beekeeping practice. You can support this initiative through the American Stingless Bee Recuperation Gift of Change. They are also working to preserve the native, non gm varities of corn. (other Gifts of Change).
In this video a group of Mayan women are challenging social norms and preserving an endangered species (The stingless bee, Melipona Beecheii). Traditionally the prerogative of men in Mayan culture, beekeeping is providing this collective with a source of income and a reason to keep the species from going extinct.
Organizations that I do not support or legitimize are Monsanto's Honey Bee Health, Bayer's Bee Care and Syngenta's Operation Pollinator. There are a number of factors contributing to the demise of all species of bees including imported diseases, pests and diminished available forage but a major cause is the overuse of agrichemicals. Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta are in the process of monopolizing the world seed market with patented genetically modified seeds that contain or are designed to accept massive quantities of agrichemicals that are dangerous to both bees and humans. Their bee programs are a public relations ploy to divert you from the true danger of their products.
A free gift I recommend to beekeepers of all ages is the wonderful book, "The Travelling Beehive". This book is written by Elena Garcia and Manuel Angel Rosado and beautifully illustrated by Juan Hernaz. It is published by Apolo which is an organization dedicated to the preservation of pollinators and their habitat. You can follow Polli the honey bee and her friend Dipter the hover fly as they face the challenges of a disappearing green space. They are joined in their struggle by Bazumba the wild bee, Missus Bombus the bumblebee, Lepi the butterfly, her majesty the queen, Dorian the farmer and Ramon the beekeeper. Sit back with your children or grandchildren and enjoy the The Travelling Beehive (Spanish version).
The bees are snuggled in their hives waiting for Santa. Penny, from the Natural Beekeeping Trust of the United Kingdom says "Traditionally, Christian beekeepers have visited their colonies at midnight on Christmas Eve to tell the bees of the nativity. They also hoped to hear the special melodious humming that the bees were said to perform at this time, portending health and prosperity throughout the coming year. It was thought that this custom was predated by an earlier pre-Christian one when the return of the sun was by no means guaranteed!" If you're wondering what to recite to your bees on Christmas Eve here is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy.
The Bee Carol
Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight's key;
all the garden locked in ice -
a silver frieze -
except the winter cluster of the bees.
Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.
Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.
Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive -
trembling stars cloistered above -
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.
I hope that you, your bees and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. Peace on earth and good will to all.